Plague of the Zombies, The (Blu-ray) (1966)

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Released 6-Mar-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Featurette-Making Of-Raising the Dead (33:57)
Featurette-Restoration Comparison (3:38)
Trailer-Restored Original Trailer (1:56)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 89:53
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Gilling
Studio
Distributor
Seven Arts
Shock Entertainment
Starring André Morell
Diane Clare
Brook Williams
Jacqueline Pearce
John Carson
Alexander Davion
Michael Ripper
Marcus Hammond
Dennis Chinnery
Louis Mahoney
Roy Royston
Ben Aris
Tim Condren
Case ?
RPI ? Music James Bernard


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In London circa 1860 Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), Professor of Medicine at London University, and his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare) receive a letter from Dr Peter Thompson (Brook Williams), a former student of Sir James who had moved to a small village in Cornwall with his wife Alice (Jacqueline Pearce). Dr Thompson writes that disturbing deaths have been occurring in the village which he cannot understand or explain, and asks for help. As Alice is a school friend of Sylvia’s, father and daughter travel to Cornwall and arrive in the midst of another funeral that has the villagers very much on edge. They also discover that Alice is anaemic, lethargic and defensive, while Peter is depressed with his inability to discover the cause of the deaths in the village.

     As a rational, scientific man, Sir James is determined to solve the mystery; exhuming the grave of the villager who had just died with Peter they find that the coffin is empty. Then Alice is found dead on the moors and a villager lurking nearby is arrested but he is almost incoherent, claiming he had seen his dead brother walking on the moors. Sir James is convinced that witchcraft is involved, which is confirmed when Alice arises from her grave. What is the connection between local squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson), recently returned from the Caribbean, a deserted tin mine and a plague of the walking dead? And can Sir James discover what is happening before his daughter becomes the next victim.

     Released in 1966, The Plague of the Zombies is a good Hammer production directed by John Gilling, who had a reputation for being difficult but who did a handful of films for Hammer including The Pirates of Blood River (1962), The Reptile (1966) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967). It stars neither of the two men synonymous with Hammer productions, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; instead The Plague of the Zombies is headlined by another excellent actor, not unknown to Hammer fans: Andre Morell.

     Veteran actor Morell appeared in big budget epics including The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Ben-Hur (1959) as well as a number of Hammer films, including The Camp on Blood Island (1958) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), but he is probably best remembered for his excellent Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). In The Plague of the Zombies his Sir James is pitch perfect; he is controlled, rational, witty, with some wonderful humorous interplay with Diane Clare as his daughter, and with just the right amount of control and gravitas to be totally believable. A smarmy John Carson and doomed Jacqueline Pearce are also excellent, as are the bit parts including Michael Ripper as the village police sergeant. Diane Clare is acceptable as the maiden in peril and wears some stunning dresses; Brook Williams however is wooden and unconvincing.

     Zombies are so popular on film at the moment that for some years now one could not turn around without finding another zombie film being released, from big budget Hollywood extravaganzas to very low budget independent films, in a wide range of genres including horror, comedy, science fiction or thrillers. Victor Halperin’s White Zombie, released in 1932, to which The Plague of the Zombies is rather indebted, is considered the first zombie film and there were others down the years but in 1966 zombies were still unusual before George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead reanimated the genre in 1968. In one sense it could be said that The Plague of the Zombies is rather old fashioned; the build-up is gradual, the first zombie is not revealed until after 40 minutes and the make-up is neither gruesome nor gory. There is also no doubt from the beginning just who the villain is. However, Gilling has delivered some impressive horror sequences, such as the scene in the dark in the tin mine workings where Alice is taken or the scene where she arises from her grave to menace her husband and Sir James. These are beautifully constructed, filmed and lit sequences, as effective today as when they were filmed.

     Despite being old fashioned, or maybe because of it, The Plague of the Zombies has aged rather well, better than a number of other Hammer Horror productions that feel dated. The Plague of the Zombies still works because there is plenty to enjoy; it is well made, well-acted, atmospheric, humorous and scary, with another great score by James Bernard and a satisfying, fiery climax.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Plague of the Zombies is presented in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     The restoration comparison extra shows that the colours and detail of the unrestored print were not too bad but that the print suffered from a range of big and small scratches and marks. These have been repaired and the print is pretty much artefact free, with only a few minor marks and some noise reduction. The colours are bright and vibrant, especially the yellows and reds. A few scenes appear soft, but close-ups are good. Blacks are solid and shadow detail very good. Grain is nicely controlled.

     English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available in a clear white font, although this is not noted on the menu.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is an English LPCM 2.0 mono at 1536 Kbps; the film was shown theatrically with mono sound.

     Dialogue is always easy to understand. While this is a mono audio, effects such carriage wheels, horses’ hooves, footsteps and the fire are crisp and pleasing. Hammer stalwart James Bernard delivers another effective score.

     There is obviously no surround or subwoofer use.

     I did not notice any hiss and only some slight distortion to the drums at the beginning.

     Lip synchronisation looked fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Raising the Dead: The Making of The Plague of the Zombies (33:57)

     Made in 2012 this is an entertaining look at the film using film footage, still photographs and recent interviews with Hammer Film historian Marcus Hearn (who also directed this extra), writer and actor Mark Gatiss, authors Jonathan Rigby (English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema), David Huckvale (Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde) and Wayne Kinsey (Hammer Films: The Bray Studio Years), original cast members John Carson and Jacqueline Pearce, Don Mingaye (art director) and Jon Mann (Pinewood Studios). Matters discussed include director John Gilling and his reputation for being difficult, zombies, influences on the film, the cast, including Andre Morell, James Bernard’s score, shooting at Bray Studios and the restoration of the film. The two cast members add anecdotes about the shoot and their impressions of the film. An informative and interesting extra.

Restoration Comparison (3:38)

     Silent, split screens show various before and after restoration examples.

Restored Original Trailer (1:56)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There does not seem to be a Region A US release at the moment. Our version is the same as the Region B UK release, although that includes an additional extra; a World of Hammer featurette entitled Mummies, Werewolves, and the Living Dead.

Summary

Made before zombies became the force on film that are they today, so Hammer’s zombies look rather different and, in fact, are not really the focus of the film. Instead The Plague of the Zombies is a well-made, old fashioned mystery anchored by a wonderful performance by Andre Morell, some excellent horror set pieces and another good score by James Bernard.

     The Plague of the Zombies is still available as a stand-alone Blu-ray / DVD release from Shock Entertainment but is also included in Shock’s 17 disc Hammer Horror Blu-ray Collection which I picked up from JB Hi-Fi for rather less than $100. The specifications and extras on both releases are the same. That collection also adds two DVDs of World of Hammer featurettes produced in 1990, including the Mummies, Werewolves, and the Living Dead featurette that is included as an extra on the UK Blu-ray.

     The film looks good on Blu-ray, the audio is the original mono. The extras are good.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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