One of the best (and scariest) zombie films of all time came to us from Hammer Studios.
The 1966 film, The Plague of the Zombies, takes place in a small, fog-filled English village. The village has been hit by a plague, one that is wiping out all of the inhabitants. Unable to combat or even diagnose the mysterious illness, Dr. Peter Tomlinson (Brook Williams) calls in his friend, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morrill) for help. Sir James arrives with his daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare) and suggests that the graves of the recently deceased should be dug up so that he can examine the bodies himself.
Sounds like a reasonable idea, right? There’s only one problem. ALL OF THE COFFINS ARE EMPTY! Now, before anyone asks, they weren’t empty when they went into the ground. There were dead bodies in them when they were originally buried. But now the coffins are empty, the bodies are missing, and that can mean only one thing — ZOMBIES!
And since this is a Hammer film, that also means that a squire is to blame! Seriously, if there’s anything that I’ve learned from watching British horror films, it is to never trust a squire. Squires always seem to end up practicing some sort of black magic. In this case, Squire Clive Hamilton (Jack Carson) has just returned from Haiti, where he apparently spent some time researching the art of zombie creation. Squire Hamilton has a tin mine to manage and undead workers are apparently far less demanding than living workers.
(Of course, today, Squire Hamilton could have just automated the mine and brought in robot workers, who would probably be even less demanding than zombie workers. In fact, with the march of progress, there may soon be no need for zombie workers at all.)
This is a Hammer film so, needless to say, Sylvia eventually gets kidnapped and it’s up to Dr. Tomlinson and Sir James to put an end to the Squire’s evil plans before Sylvia is transformed into a zombie herself. That’s not going to be as easy as it seems, because there’s zombies everywhere!
The Plague of the Zombies is one of Hammer’s best films and it’s also one of the few that, even to a modern viewer, remains frightening. The village is a wonderfully atmospheric location, mixing all of the usual gothic tropes that we’ve come to expect with Hammer films with a very real feeling of decay. Even before the whole zombie plague started, one gets the feeling that the village was already dying a slow, economic death. The tin mine may be the only way to keep the village alive but, at the same time, killing the village is also the only way to keep the tin mine open. The Plague of the Zombies is a moody and rather sad film, one that has a bit more on its mind than just supplying the usual Hammer combination of cleavage and blood.
Speaking of blood, Plague of the Zombies has one of the scariest zombie scenes of all time, in which one of our heroes finds himself wandering through a mist-covered cemetery while the dead rise around him. At one point, he literally steps over a pool of blood. Of course, the scene itself turns out to be a dream but it’s still effectively frightening. Also frightening are the zombies themselves, with their pasty, decaying flesh and their blankly hostile faces. It has been suggested that Plague of the Zombies was an influence on Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and you can definitely see that in its portrayal of the zombies as being a threat not because they’re fast but because they’re so relentless and pitiless.
The Plague of the Zombies is one of the best Hammer films out there so watch it this Halloween!