Cinema Sunday: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

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Title: The Plague of the Zombies

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Peter Bryan

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Andre Morell, Diane Clare, John Carson, Jacqueline Pearce, Brook Williams, Michael Ripper

Released: January 12th, 1966

MPAA: PG

 

After last week’s review of a zombie flick, I thought I’d go to that well once again, with one of my favorite Hammer films, The Plague of the Zombies! This little gem predates George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but features Haitian zombies, rather than flesh eaters. Either way, both films are great, but this one doesn’t get a fraction of the attention that NOTLD does, so I’m going to cast some light upon this one for all to see how truly awesome it is! The film was shot back to back with ‘The Reptile“, and you can tell for sure, but it didn’t take away from the movie in the least. So, now let’s get own with the show!

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As the film opens, we see some creepy dude dressed in a robe and mask. There’s also some crazy looking voodoo type guys pounding on drums, adding to the wild scene. The robed man begins to chant something in another language, and then the scene switches to a woman, Alice Tompson (Jacqueline Pearce), as she’s in bed with her husband, Peter (Brook Williams). She’s getting restless and the more the guy in the robe chants, the more unsettled she seems to get. Eventually, she bursts out with a blood-curling scream, and the credits then roll.

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The next scene shows a man, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), and he’s checking out his fishing equipment, while on holiday. His daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare), comes into the room, and brings her father a letter from a friend in Cornwall. A former pupil of his (Sir James teaches medicine, and Peter was his brightest student), Peter Tompson, is having some trouble with the villagers getting ill, and a few deaths were involved. They decide to travel to Cornwall to help him out. On the trip to Cornwall, Sir James and Sylvia see five men hunting a fox. Sylvia tells them that she’s seen the fox, but points them in the opposite direction. Once they reach town, a funeral is taking place. Before they can even have a thought, the five hunters ride through town, and knock the coffin over an embankment. Sir James gets out of the coach, and yells at them, but they just holler back at Sylvia for her trick.

Once they arrive at Peter and Alice’s home, they’re greeted by Alice, and she looks terrible. She doesn’t even recognize her old school mate, Sylvia, at first. She begins to act slightly irrational, but makes them welcome. Sir James asks about a wound on her arm, but she’s very apprehensive about it, and gets a bit angry when he asks to look at the wound. Sylvia and Alice go to the kitchen to make tea, and Sir James sneaks off into town to have a look. At that time, Peter is at the pub, and getting harassed by the brother of the dead man who was knocked out of the coffin. Sir James tells everyone in the pub how lucky they are to have Peter as their physician, and then the two men leave. Peter then tells Sir James about the twelve deaths in the last year that are unexplainable. They all sit down and have dinner, then go their separate ways.

Later, at the house, Sylvia sees Alice leave after dark, and calls out to her, but Alice doesn’t hear her. Sylvia follows her, but gets lost along the way. Suddenly, out of the forest rides the hunters from the earlier scene, and they surround her. After she realizes there’s no escape, they grab her and take her to a large home at the edge of town. They play a card game to decide her fate, but the cards tell them to let her go. As they taunt her more, a voice rings out to let her go. Squire Hamilton (John Carson) appears, and pimp slaps one of the men. He tells them to get out, and apologizes to Sylvia. Her friend, Alice, told her about the Squire, so she gives him some slack, and doesn’t report the incident to the police. While this is going on, Peter and Sir James have taken it upon themselves to exhume one of the victims, and do an autopsy. As the two men are digging up a body, they are surprised by the police (Michael Ripper – image below), but rip open a coffin anyway. They’re all surprised when they see that the body is missing, and Sir James asks the police to help him to figure out this mystery.

TPOTZ#5

As Sir James is walking home, while Peter covers the grave back over, he sees Sylvia stumbling down the street. He runs to her as she collapses, and then he takes her to the house. The next morning, Sir James gives Peter the bad news, (as Sylvia has told her father that she found Alice dead out on the moors the previous night), and Peter goes off the deep end. They go to the police and then make the trip out to the moors. They find Alice, and also find the drunken man from the pub that was berating Peter (who’s also the brother of the most recent victim). They awaken him and he tries to run off, but the police catch him. Peter and Sir James take Alice’s body back to the house to do an autopsy, and find that the blood around her face is not hers, and not even human. The police question the drunken man, and find out that something else was afoot, something more sinister than just murder.

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Sylvia then explains to her father that the body of her friend wasn’t in the same spot where she’d seen it the previous night. As Peter and Sir James go out to do some detective work, Sylvia gets a visit, from Squire Hamilton. He “accidentally” cuts her finger on a broken piece of glass, and when she leaves the room to attend to it, he gets out a vial to put her blood in, and then excuses himself from the home. He races back to his mansion, and pulls out a small coffin from a drawer, and we see that it contains a voodoo doll of sorts. He then reveals that he has the vial of blood, and also that he’s gathered his cronies again, and the drums begin to beat!

Alice is now being buried, and Sylvia is overcome by the voodoo that’s now being used on her. She leaves the funeral with Peter, and Sir James asks the vicar if he can use his library to research witchcraft. He does, and finds out that someone in the village is practicing witchcraft, and using it to raise the dead. The clues are adding up, but can Sir James and Peter save Sylvia and the rest of the town before everyone is turned into a zombie?!?

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Anyone that doesn’t know of Andre Morell, is in for a big surprise, because he proves without a shadow of a doubt, that he can be the lead in a movie! He did do a great job as Watson, in Hammer’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”, but that was a very strong performance by Peter Cushing, that kind of overshadowed Morell. The supporting cast is also pretty good, especially Jacqueline Pearce (Alice), and John Carson (Squire Hamilton). Both were very convincing, and Carson was an excellent devilish fiend!

The “zombies” didn’t have a ton of screen time, and that is a bit of a downer, but when they were on-screen, they were pretty creepy. Not a lot of makeup on them, but just the way that they were portrayed and used in those scenes, made them rise above mediocrity. The graveyard scene was especially good, as was the last act in the bowels of the tin mine. Michael Ripper added his usual flavor to the film as the constable. He always finds a way to steal the scenes he’s in, and he certainly was a welcomed addition to this cast.

Grab this flick if you can, because any horror enthusiast would be happy to have this one. If it hasn’t been re-released lately, wait for that if you can’t find it at a decent price. Sometimes these online sites can really rip you off, but I know Hammer is putting out Blu-ray copies of films on a pretty consistent basis now and for the foreseeable future.

Watch the trailer here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Reptile (1966)

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Title: The Reptile

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Michael Ripper

Released: April 6th, 1966

MPAA: Unrated

Hammer Studios is certainly most well-known for their interpretations of the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf franchises, but it would behoove you to also look deeper into their library for classics like this one! This film is one that I didn’t discover until a few years ago, but it quickly has become one of my favorites. Oh, it’s not the best of Hammer films, but it does have a couple of performances that really help it to rise above mediocrity. Lets get down to the plot!

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The movie begins with a man, Charles Spalding,  wandering around the countryside. He then retreats to his home only to find a note on the table. He then sets out to the residence across the moors. He knocks but no one answers, so he wanders inside. He walks down a hallway, and as he turns around, a man, Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) shouts to him, warning him to get away. All of a sudden, something leaps out of the shadows and attacks him savagely. He falls down the stairs, and begins to have a seizure of some kind. As the man who warned him looks on in horror, another man steps out of the shadows, and disposes of the body on the moors.

The next scene shows us Harry and Valerie Spalding (Ray Barrett & Jennifer Daniel), as they are talking to a lawyer about his dead brothers (the man who was attacked in the fist scene) holdings. He informs them that his brother died without much wealth, but he did have a house in a rural town. They then take a train ride, and then walk to the village. At the local pub, Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper) is tending bar, but when Harry walks in, the patrons leave immediately. Tom Tells Harry where the house is located, and then they head out to the residence. As they open the front door, they see that the house has been ransacked. Harry returns to the pub later that day, and questions the patrons about the house. Again, they all leave, and Harry talks to Tom about what’s going on in this small village. As Harry makes his way home, he’s attacked by Mad Peter (John Laurie). Harry quickly realizes that Mad Peter is more of a foolish man, than a dangerous one. After some confusion, Harry invites Peter over for dinner, and to get some answers from him about his brother’s death.

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As they finish dinner, Harry asks Peter but his brother. Peter explains that he really isn’t “mad”, just that he doesn’t live by the same rules that govern most men. As they talk more, Peter explains that this village is evil, and that terrible things happen here. He tells him that someone killed his brother, and not some mysterious hear failure, as he was led to believe. Peter then hears some music nearby, freaks out,t hen leaves in a hurry. During the night, Harry is awakened by some noises downstairs. When he investigates, he finds Peter at his doorstep, on death’s door. He mentions the name Franklyn, and Harry rushes across the moors to get the good doctor. Dr. Franklyn doesn’t seem to care about Peter, but Harry urges him to come and see him. Dr. Franklyn then tells Harry he’s a doctor of theology, not medicine, but agrees to come anyway. By the time they get there, Pater is already dead though (image above), and Dr. Franklyn tells them that he’ll handle the arrangements.

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Valerie is visited the next day by Anna Franklyn, who seems a bit spooky, but nice all the same. Their little conversation is interrupted though, and Dr. Franklyn is furious at Anna for leaving the house. She did manage to invite the Spalding’s to dinner though, and later, we see that dinner date. Anna is not present, and Dr. Franklyn explains that she’s being punished for her earlier transgression. She joins them after dinner, and plays some music for them. The tune is almost hypnotic, and Anna seems to be getting into it, that is until her father erupts in anger, and smashes her instrument. Harry and Valerie leave in a rush, and head home.

Tom and Harry then formulate a plan to not only discover who or what is behind these killings, but also how to stop The Reptile!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Alright, I’ll be the first to admit that the lead roles in this film aren’t the strongest in Hammer’s catalog. They’re not bad mind you, just not up to the Cushing and Lee standard. There are still two bright spots. First, Jacqueline Pearce is fantastic, and not only does she make a convincing “troubled daughter” but she’s also a beautiful woman! She really lights up a room when she appears on-screen. The other great role is played by Hammer stalwart, Michael Ripper. He really gets to shine in this one, and has a huge role compared to his usual minor parts. He has a strong presence from start to finish. John Laurie (Mad Peter) was indeed a very good addition to this movie as well. His eccentric personality was absolutely superb!

The music score was pretty good, starting off with the opening scene/credits. A thunderous clashing of cymbals, and loud roaring wind section, lead us into this creepy classic. The sets, as with the overwhelming majority of Hammer films, were absolutely amazing. The house, the bubbling pit of oozing death in the basement, and the foggy moors, all set an incredible mood for this film. Definitely check this one out, it’s more than worth your time!