DENIS GIFFORD'S
MONSTERS OF THE MOVIES
(1977)

 

Monster #46 - The Zombie

 
 
 

United Kingdom, 1966

A Hammer Films Production
90 mins, colour
1.66:1 aspect ratio

Director - John Gilling
Writer - Peter Bryan
Cinematographer - Arthur Grant
Production Designer - Bernard Robinson
Editor - Chris Barnes
Music - James Bernard

Andre Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson, Alexander Davion, Michael Ripper


 

The Zombie from Plague of the Zombies was the last monster on Denis Gifford's alphabetically ordered list - and the image of that last double-spread page of Monsters of the Movies would stick with me forever.

Roy Ashton's Zombie make-up was, with one or two exceptions, absolutely stunning, featuring ghoulishly blue and grey decaying skin and large, uncanny white eyes. It was highly effective even in black and white, as the image used in Monsters of the Movies illustrates.

Although the Zombies in Plague of the Zombies are of the "classic" Voodoo variant (along the lines of the 1932 White Zombie, Gifford's Monster #42), its visuals are widely accepted to have influenced many later Zombie films, including George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968).

 


(Carousel Books / Transworld Publishing)

 
Plague of the Zombies is a wonderful gem, a perfect specimen of true Hammer mid-1960s horror movie vintage. Working on a budget of around 100,000, production started in late July 1965 at Hammer's Bray Studios on the River Thames.
 


Original 1966 Lobby Card (personal collection)

  In order to cut costs, the movie was shot back-to-back with The Reptile (which made it onto Denis Gifford's list as Monster #38), allowing Hammer to use the same sets (a Cornish village created on the backlot by Hammer's production design genius Bernard Robinson) twice.

First released both in the UK and the US in January 1966 (in some cases as a double feature together with Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness), it was a success at the box office and netted its producers a nice profit.

Plague of the Zombies has also been well received by critics. At the time of its original release, Variety called it "a well-made horror" film, while The Monthly Film Bulletin even declared it "the best Hammer Horror for quite some time", pointing out that "visually the film is splendid, with elegantly designed sets, and both interiors and exteriors shot in pleasantly muted colours; and the script manages quite a few offbeat strokes".

 

It has aged well and continues to receive positive reviews, mostly focussing on the strongly portrayed atmosphere and the twinning of Hammer's classic gothic visuals with the Voodoo/Zombie theme. The underlying subtle social commentary is also praised.

I watched this movie for the first time on Studiocanal's 2012 Blu-ray release, featuring a restoration of Plague of the Zombies based on an original negative. The result is a gloriously high-definition rendition of both image and audio. The rather ineffective day-for-night shots (most of which clearly remain daylight shots) have not been corrected, respecting the original material. The Blu-ray features a number of extras, the most exciting of those being a documentary on the making of Plague of the Zombies.

Plague of the Zombies is a fantastic film for its time and easily one of my favourite Hammer films; it deserves greater recognition. The classic Caribbean voodoo background of the Zombie puts it somewhat at odds with Hammer's gothic tones and settings, but John Gilling's direction, Peter Bryan's script, Arthur Grant's camera work and Bernard Robinson's sets found the perfect approach. Plague of the Zombies would, however, remain the one and only Zombie movie Hammer ever made - all the more reason to enjoy it.

 

 
 
 
Monster Factor:

Overall Movie Rating:

  IMHO:

Plague of the Zombies delivers on all levels and, unlike some other monsters from Denis Gifford's list, is far removed from just being a horror movie buff's oddity. Both the monster factor and the way the movie works overall are absolute tops. Required viewing!

 
 
 
 

Denis Gifford on Plague of the Zombies
in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (1973)

"One of the better Hammers was Plague of the Zombies (1966), a tale of the Cornish tin mines."

 
 
 
 


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The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction in this non-commercial review and research context is considered to be fair use
as set out by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107
and in accordance with the the Berne Convention
for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

All images from Monsters of the Movies (Carousel/Transworld) were scanned from my personal copy purchased in 1977
All images of Blu-ray or DVD covers were scanned from my personal copies
All images of lobby cards were scanned from copies in my personal collection

Page created 15 February 2023
Last updated 2 September 2023

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