RJ Bayley Reviews:The Plague of the Zombies

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The words ‘charming’, ‘cosy’ and ‘very English’ are not ones you’d normally, or really want to, associate with a zombie film.

1966’s Hammer horror The Plague of the Zombies, however, is those things.

And it’s genuinely enjoyable because of it.

The Plague of the Zombies pre-dates Night of the Living Dead by two years, which, in a way, gives it freedom from rules set up by it’s vastly more famous successor. While looking back retrospectively it doesn’t feel exactly fresh, but it’s markedly different from any other zombie film you’ll see.

The Plague of the Zombies takes a monster we know perhaps too well in these times and temporally transports it to the vaguely defined ‘ye olde times’ Hammer was so fond of back in the day. Here Hammer simply takes another monster and gives it the same treatment that succeeded with its others. The telltale fingerprints are the decidedly the traditional representation of the zombies, being slaves to a voodoo master, and  the dastardly master himself: Squire Clive Hamilton. John Carson as Hamilton is so delightfully villainous he’d be twirling his moustache if he had one. Even better, he’s got 5 other men living in his house, which is wonderfully, weirdly, unexplained.

Speaking of moustaches, André Morell’s Sir James Forbes is a charming old fashioned, vintage hero. He’s got a real Sherlock vibe about him and he left me commiserating that his distinguished champion didn’t get his own fiend fighting franchise. This battle between gentility almost makes up for decided un-plague-like lack of actual zombies in the film.

The Plague of the Zombies is a frankly sedate affair. The thought of the apocalypse, something we take for granted in a zombie flick, never even crosses its rarefied mind. Still, it’s a unique and enjoyable piece of zombie history.

★★★★

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