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Plague of the Zombies

Plague of the Zombies

1966, Dir. John Gilling

Andre Morell, Diane Clare, John Carson


Ah, the glory that was Hammer, purveyor of fine low-budget horror throughout the '60's. Hammer, that gave us Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and of course, Michael Ripper . "Plague of the Zombies" is their only zombie related effort, and it's actually pretty damn good. I'm still gonna make fun of it, though. As the credits open, we see three tribal drummers frantically pounding away while wearing the headgear of The Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo. Behind them, a strange ritual is going on that, revealed to us by cut scene, is having a strange effect on Icelandic siren Bjork. Actually, it's not Bjork, it's Alice, who is sleeping fitfully. As the masked person performing the ritual drips blood onto a small clay voodoo doll, a bandanged wound on Alice's wrist begins bleeding and she awakes screaming. The drums intensify and cut abruptly, building suspense until we cut to ... an old man, Sir James, in his study tinkering with a fishing rod. Ooh, suspense. Anyway, his daughter Sylvia brings him in a letter. We're sure of their father / daughter relationship because she calls him father nine friggin' times in the course of a three minute scene. (This of course prompted me and my girlfriend to add the suffix "father" to her every utterance, no matter who she was speaking to. This proved almost fatal in the next scene.). The letter is from Peter, a former pupil of Sir James who is town doctor over in Cornwall, and is married to Alice, the afore - mentioned bleeding Bjork. Sylvia also knew Alice back in school, so in one tidy scene the relationships of all our principals are summed up. Peter's letter asks Sir James' assistance in a matter that has Peter stupefied. It seems the villagers are dying at a steady clip, and Peter has no idea why. So after some cajoling and convincing, Sir James agrees to go to Cornwall with Sylvia, but not before telling her that he wishes he had "drowned her at birth". It is in these first scenes that we get the impression Sir James is trying to win the crochety curmudgeon contest, for he acts like a disagreeable bastard.

Call me father one more time ...

In a coach en route to Cornwall ("How much farther, father?") Sir James and Sylvia come across a fox hunt. The group of young men chasing the fox lose it and halt the carriage to ask if they have seen the fox. Sylvia, protector of furry animals everywhere, misdirects the men. As they ride off, the lead rider says, "We'll catch that fox, never fear!" "Never fear"? This fox must have been slaughtering villagers to deserve a "never fear". As they ride away, Sir James realizes that Sylvia has lied to the rider and says; "I hope you don't meet him again." Foreshadowing, methinks. It doesn't take long for them to meet again, for as the coach rolls into Cornwall, the riders disrupt a passing funeral procession, knocking the casket into a ditch. The casket falls open and the face of the corpse is visible. The rider threatens Sylvia, the dead man's brother warns Sylvia and Sir James to stay away, and the vicar mentions something about "God's Punishment". Way to make an entrance.

I told you if you kept making that face it would freeze that way.

Sir James and Sylvia arrive at Peter and Alice's, and it takes Alice a second to recognize them. Sir James inquires about her wound, and Alice is of course evasive and nervous. She also looks somewhat dissheveled. We learn that Peter's business is faltering (read: his clients are dying). Alice goes off to make tea, and Sir James wonders if they have anything stronger. Peter has found something stronger, for he's having a pint at the local brewhouse when Martinus, the pissed off brother from the funeral procession enters and confronts him. The villagers demand to know why their new doctor can't stop the epidemic. Apparently, they won't allow Peter to do an autopsy. The argument heightens until Sir James shows up and placates the villagers by buying them a round. At dinner Alice just looks like shit. Sir James sends the ladies to bed and says that he and Peter will do the dishes. Pretty enlightened of the old codger, huh? The ladies retire and Peter immediately hits the brandy. "That's not the answer", admonishes the man who was looking for something stiff as soon as he got in the house. They discuss the symptoms; among them are loss of appetite, skin color, and reflexes. Sounds like a zombie epidemic to me. They then discuss the issue of autopsy, and Peter reveals that the town has no coroner. All the civil services are run by the town Squire, Clive Hamilton, who Peter doesn't like. We cut to another house, where a man wearing a strange ring is lighting a cigar with a candle. He is approached by a black servant with a thick Carribean accent who he instructs to "Tell the others to prepare for tonight". As we all know, every time something has to be "prepared for tonight", evil is afoot.

The diabolical Squire Hamilton.

Back in Alice's bedroom, she and Sylvia are preparing for bed. Now, were this a Spanish zombie film there would be a hazy lesbian scene. This however is a British zombie film, so Alice begins talking about how wonderful Squire Hamilton is. Sylvia suspects something, but Alice assures her that nothing is up. She reinforces this by acting furtive and leaving abruptly. As the men manage to break most of the dishes, Sir James unveils step one of his plan: graverobbing. OK, we get a well - respected doctor, professor, and man of science to help with a mysterious epidemic and that's his first bright idea? Meanwhile, Sylvia sees Alice scurrying away and follows her. Alice arrives at a seemingly abandoned mine after passing though the set of "The Blair Witch Project", whereupon she is menaced by a large shadow hand. Sylvia is startled by a hammered Martinus. She runs away, only to be accosted and kidnapped by the riders, who bring her to a house and play hot potato with her. They then draw cards to see who gets to have their way with her. Denver, their leader, picks the king of hearts and makes his advance. He is interrupted by Hamilton, who enters with an enormous dog that promptly dissappears. Hamilton decks Denver and the men disperse. He attempts to apologize to Sylvia but she isn't hearing it and walks home. Hamilton calls for Denver who assures him that "Everything is ready, master". Now we know that eeviiiilll, not evil, is afoot.

We cut back to the cemetery where Sir James and Peter are digging away. Back to Sylvia, who is hoofing it home. As she passes the mine, she hears a noise and turns to see the zombified version of the corpse from the funeral procession holding Alice's limp body. With an unearthly screech, the zombie unceremoniously dumps Alice's body to the ground, where she rolls to Sylvia's feet. The zombie dissappears, Sylvia runs away. Back in the cemetery the sargeant (Michael Ripper!) and his constable (the entire police force of Cornwall) discover our diggers. Sir James, playing immensely dumb, asks what they are being charged with. He quickly turns to open the casket (apparently Cornwall has no nails) only to find it empty. Because of Sir James' reputation, the strangeness of the situation, and the fact that the sargeant's son was a victim, the sargeant agrees to keep the matter hush hush and to help. As Sir James returns to the house, he sees Sylvia collapse. In the next scene, Sir James has the unenviable task of telling Peter that his wife is dead. Then, Sir James does the most comforting, sympathetic, tactful thing he could think of. He tells Peter that he wants to perform an autopsy on Alice. Slick, Sir James. Sorry your old lady kicked off, mind if I cut her up? A crushed Peter assents, for science I guess. A search party consisting of Sir James, Peter, Sylvia, and the police look for Alice's body. They stumble over a drunken Martinus, who attempts to flee, only to literally stumble over Alice. So they take her home and clean her up for an autopsy, which reveals nothing, except for the fact that the blood on Alice's face isn't human blood. Since the trail is coming from her mouth, this can only mean that Alice is not human. Meanwhile the cops are questioning Martinus, who denies murdering Alice but claims to have seen his dead brother. He relates the story to Sir James, who believes him. Sir James questions Sylvia about who she saw with Alice, and her answers substantiate that it was Martinus' brother. Sir James, Peter, and the police go to the mines, leaving Sylvia alone. Of course, Squire Hamilton shows up to express his condolences. After tooting his own horn about his defiance to conformity and honesty, he asks for a glass of water. He drops it, and when Sylvia picks it up he accidentally squeezes her hand and she is cut. He catches the blood in a cup and transfers it to a vial when she isn't looking. He takes it back to his study, and goes in a drawer that contains little coffins and clay voodoo dolls. What's going on here?! At home, Sylvia checks out Alice's corpse. She sees the cut on her wrist, looks at the cut on her finger, puts two and two together, and runs from the room. Alice's funeral coincides with another ritual, and as blood is poured onto another clay voodoo doll, Sylvia begins to swoon.

The lead singer of Slipknot performs the zombie ritual.

Damn, this review is getting lengthy. Sir James, Peter and the vicar discuss the matter, and based on his research in the vicar's library, Sir James concludes that there is in fact voodoo going on here. Voodoo, according to Sir James originated in High-eetee (Haiti?). So they decide to watch over Alice's grave. The vicar leaves the cemetery and is followed and attacked by Denver, in ritual costume. Sir James and Peter hear the struggle and run to the vicar's aid, leaving the grave unattended. This creates an opening for Hamilton (also in ritual costume) and his lackeys to start digging. They manage to unearth the casket and open it before they hear the footsteps of Sir James and Peter returning. They run away, leaving Alice.


1. Sound carries at least three blocks in Cornwall.

2. You can walk around Cornwall in ritual costume with a bunch of men with shovels and no one will think it's weird.

Zombie Bjork.

As Sir James and Peter look into Alice's grave, she begins to turn green. Her eyes open and sure enough, she rises. Her smile as she advances on the two men is really creepy and unsettling. But anyway, Sir James grabs a shovel and beats Ash to the punch by about 20 years, scoring a clean decapitation. This is all too much for Peter, who faints. He dreams of the cemetery, his wife's headless corpse lying before him. Strange colored smoke spreads across the cemetery, and the zombies begin to rise, moving in on Peter. He backs into one who begins strangling him and ... Ash, pissed off that Sir James used the shovel decapitation before him, shows up, blasts emormous holes into everything, grabs Sylvia, says "Hail to the King baby", and kisses her. Not really. Peter was dreaming. But upon further inspection, all the graves in the cemetery are empty. Martinus has escaped after an episode similar to the one Sylvia had with Hamilton. Guess how he ends up.

The zombies advance on Peter. I couldn't come up with an inane caption.

Sir James goes to confront Hamilton, who shows up with the dissappearing dog again. Sir James directly confronts Hamilton about zombies, and is ordered out, only to sneak back in after Hamilton and his men leave the room. Before leaving Denver grabs a candle which immediately snuffs out. Sir James sneaks back in through a window and follows Hamilton to his study. Hamilton dons the mask and robe and goes down into the mines, which are being worked by the zombies with Hamiltons men as foremen. We see Martinus as zombie. Hamilton begins chanting for Sylvia to come to him, she tricks Peter and does. Sir James fights Denver in the study, setting the joint on fire in the process. With half the room ablaze, he tries to snuff the fire with a curtain until realizing that he's being an asshole. Sylvia reaches the mine and is brought to Hamilton by Martinus. She is about to be sacrificed when Peter shows up and the zombies start smoking. The fire upstairs has spread to the voodoo dolls, and as they burn the zombies catch on fire. Sir James manages to escape and make it to the mine. As the zombies turn on Hamilton and his cronies, our heroes escape. The mine explodes and collapses, and Sir James, Peter, and Sylvia walk away.

IN CLOSING: Well, I actually like this one. It's got that patented Hammer atmosphere, and great incidental music. The tribal drums creep into the music ever so slightly when evil (or eeviiilll) is afoot. The zombie makeup is excellent, decaying and rotting and hanging off, except in the burning scene when they look like wierd Michael Myers masks. There is also great use of Hammer's overhead shots, particularly during the fight scene between James and Denver. My main problem is this, though. So you're looking for cheap labor for your tin mine, right? Why zombies? So they don't complain, you can treat them like shit, they work for free, but these guys are sluggish. When have you ever seen a zombie hustling? Or lifting something heavy? In the work scenes these guys are struggling, weakly hitting things with hammers and pickaxes. I guess if you had to go the supernatural monster route, werewolves are just too hard to control, vampires can only do limited hours, and those damned harpies just won't shut up. So aside from that bit of ludicrousness, this movie's alright. If you're into Hammer, definitely rent it.