Horror Scenes I Love: The Cemetery Scene From Plague of the Zombies

Since I reviewed the film earlier today, I guess it makes sense that today’s horror scene that I love should be the cemetery scene from Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies!

Enjoy and watch your step!

Book Review: David Warbeck: The Man and His Movies by Raymond J. Slater and Harvey Fenton

David Warbeck

Anyone who is a fan of Italian exploitation films will knows the name and the face of actor David Warbeck.  Warbeck was the handsome, rugged, and surprisingly likable New Zealand-born actor who went from studying at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to appearing in films that were directed by everyone from Russ Meyer to Antonio Margheritti to Lucio Fulci.  He played a small but pivotal roles in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dynamite and then went on to star in The Beyond, The Black Cat, The Last Hunter, Rat Man, and so many others.  While his films may never have been critical favorites at the time of their release (though several have been positively reevaluated), Warbeck’s movie did well enough at the box office that he was even considered for the role of James Bond,  Warbeck was one of those actors who was consistently good, regardless of the quality of the film in which he was appearing.

Sadly, Warbeck passed away in 1997, before many of his films were rediscovered.  It’s a shame because — as the commentary track that he and Catriona MacColl recorded for The Beyond shows — he was a charming raconteur who had a way with a story.  Fortunately, in 1996, Warbeck did sit down and gave a lengthy interview to Jason J. Slater, in which he discussed his career and shared many anecdotes about his life as an international exploitation superstar.  That interview is at the center of a short but interesting book called David Warbeck: The Man And His Movies.

The book not only features the interview with Warbeck but it also takes a detailed look at his filmography, reviewing some of his more interesting (and, in some cases, infamous) films.  The reviews are well-written by people who obviously love these often underappreciated films.

If you’re a fan of Italian exploitation, this book is simply a must-have.  Admittedly, it’s not an easy book to find.  I ordered a copy off of Amazon and it wasn’t cheap.  But it was worth it!

International Horror Film Review: The Iron Rose (dir by Jean Rollin)

“Let’s go to the cemetery.”

That line is actually from another Jean Rollin film, Requiem for Vampire, but it also perfectly sums up the plot of his 1973 masterpiece, The Iron Rose.

A man (Hugues Quester) meets a woman (Francoise Pascal) at a wedding party.  They agree to go on a date, one which includes a railway station, a picnic, bicycling, and finally a walk that leads to a seemingly deserted cemetery.  On what seems to be a whim, the two of them enter the cemetery.  The woman seems to be fascinated with the place.  The man is dismissive, saying that funerals are an expensive, waste of time.  The woman believes that there is something after death.  The man is cynical, saying that once you’re dead, you’re dead.  As any couple would do after having a theological conversation, the two of them enter a crypt and make love.

While they’re busy making love, we discover that there actually are others in the cemetery.  There’s a clown that places flowers on a grave.  There’s a mysterious man who has been watching the couple as they walk among the graves.  (In the credits the man is called “Le vampire,” though he never actually does anything in the film that would indicate that he’s a bloodsucker.)  And then there’s the old woman who, as night falls, promptly closes the cemetery gates.

When the man and the woman emerge from the crypt, they discover that they are trapped.  There’s no way to open the gate and there’s no way to get out of the cemetery.  The two of them start to walk around, searching for either an exit or, at the very least, some sort of shelter for the night.  As they walk, strange things start to happen and we’re forced to reconsider our previous assumptions about not only the man and the woman but also the cemetery itself.  Did they enter the cemetery on a whim or did one of them specifically lead in the other?  As the night progresses, the feeling of impending doom only grows.  It all leads to a rather macabre fate for one of our lovers and a dance among the tombstones for another.

The Iron Rose is one of Jean Rollin’s best films and, sadly, it’s also one of his most unjustly obscure.  Even by the standards of Rollin’s early vampire films, The Iron Rose is a surreal film, one that is far more interested in creating a haunting atmosphere than in telling a traditional story.  What is the real reason that leads to the man and the woman entering the cemetery?  The Iron Rose is full of hints but, for most part, it’s left to the audience to answer that question for themselves.  The film’s haunting final scenes force us to reconsider everything that we previously assumed by the characters and their actions.  Are they obsessed with love or are they just in love with death?  There are no easy answers.

Obviously, a 90-minute film about two people walking around a cemetery is going to have some slow spots but, in this case, those occasional moments just add to the film’s ennui-drenched atmosphere.  As filmed by Rollin, the cemetery becomes as important a character as both the man and the woman and a reminder that the present is always going to be tied to the past.  The Iron Rose is Rollin at his dream-like best.

Horror Film Review: The Plague of the Zombies (dir by John Gilling)

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!

Horror on the Lens: Dante’s Inferno (dir by Henry Otto)

Today’s horror on the lens comes to us from 1924!  In Dante’s Inferno, a businessman visualizes Dante’s trip to Hell while little realizing that his behavior is going to lead him to the same destination.

There’s a lot different prints of this film floating around.  The original version ran for 60 minutes.  The version below was a 49-minute version that was released on VHS.  At the time of its release, it’s vision of Hell was considered to be so frightening and definitive that clips of this film were actually used in other films that depict Hell.  In fact, Ken Russell used clips from this film in 1980 to depict a drug-induced hallucination in the film, Altered States.

The quality of the upload is not the best (again, largely because it was taken from an old VHS tape) and it’s impossible not to cringe at the character of the butler (whose portrayal, sadly, is typical of how African-Americans were regularly portrayed in films up until the 1960s) but this is still a bit of cinematic history.

Music Video of the Day: First Date by Danko Jones (2006, dir by Micah Meisner)

Today’s music video of the day brings us a little more vampire action.  I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.  Vampires always seem to inspire musicians in a way that werewolves don’t.  This video came out two years before Twilight and it basically tells a less romanticized version of the same story….

Still, there is an odd romance to vampirism, though that might not be obvious from this video.  In this video, the vampire just comes across as being a pervy stalker but, in the popular imagination, there’s usually nothing sexier than a centuries-old vampire.  Maybe it’s all the ennui.

To be honest, I just like the bottles of blood in the refrigerator.  That makes me laugh every time I see it.


Horror On TV: One Step Beyond 3.5 “If You See Sally” (dir by John Newland)

On tonight’s epiosde of One Step Beyond, we visit the legend of the ghostly hitchhiker.

Will Sally ever make it home?

This episode originally aired on October 18th, 1960!