Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Make mine zombie

Hammer cracked out The Plague of the Zombies using the same crew, the same sets, and some of the same cast as The Reptile as the two films were filmed side by side by John Gilling.

Once again there are two outsiders brought to a Cornish village because of a string of mysterious deaths and disappearing bodies. The locals are unfriendly to the new people even when one of them is a distinguished Professor of medicine whose former colleague, now the local GP, has summoned him. But the GP's wife, played by the equally doomed Jacqueline Pearce is not at all well and seems in thrall to the sinister local squire who lives in a rather familiar big house.

Possibly the greatest Professor Quatermass Andre Morell is brilliant as Professor Forbes who represents a mix of Quatermass, Doctor Who and Van Helsing all wrapped up into one. Michael Ripper trousers another pay cheque, this time as a sensible police sergeant who is soon acting as backup for Forbes. And yet again there's lot of grave robbing to bring up a succession of empty coffins and all filmed on exactly the same set as the Reptile. I'm sure they coordinated the diggings to fit both films,

But of course we want Zombies and before long they appear with their flaky grey face make-up, painful looking complete white contact lenses, and strange monk like sacking robes. Their appearance provokes many a scare and one notable dream sequence that pre-dates the Romero horrors to come one year later. However when we learn that evil Squire is killing off the locals, turning them into zombies, and then setting them to work in the tin mine beneath his house it does seem rather a waste of the potential horror of a new Hammer monster. Well it is a creative use of a wage-less workforce to create capital. Left unchecked the Squire would probably have gone on to a seat in the House of Commons or a job at a city bank. But despite his voodoo powers and his always on tap trio of tribal drummers he is doomed for a sticky end as his workforce turns on him in a zombie occupy movement against the 1%.

And the big house goes up in smoke again, or probably at the same time as in The Reptile. The presence of Andre Morell makes this a success along with the genuinely creepy zombies who would be much more effectively used by Romero, although interestingly Hammer had spotted their potential as a signifier of social injustice. Plenty of good bits in this film, four out of five uncomfortable zombie contact lenses. And next we'll find that fangs ain't what they used to be.

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