Thursday, October 1, 2009

Plague of the Zombies

Growing up in Australia meant having access to a lot of great British publications like The House of Hammer. Although I loved Famous Monsters for its clubby vibe, I can't say I enjoyed Uncle Forry's penchant for puns. A pun once or twice is fine, but all the time?

For mine, what Cinefantastique was to the serious American genre fan, The House of Hammer was to the British genre fan. Both magazines treated the films I loved with respect. I know Forry respected the genre personally, but the juvenile nature of the mag inspired me to look for alternatives.

In an earlier blog, I posted pages from the The House of Hammer's comic adaptation of Vampire Circus:

I thought it was high time I posted snippets from their Plague of the Zombies edition.

Artists Trevor Goring and Brian Bolland contributed frequently to the magazine, and clearly understood Hammer lore.

More dramatic and tighter than the John Gilling film, they were able to focus on the essence of the movie while discarding the slower passages.

It's important to remember that movies didn't exist on videotape until the late 70's. Comic adaptations such as these were one of the few ways a fan could "own" and relive their favorite movie. Some films were releases in truncated form on Super-8, but ownership of projectors was marginal.

I first saw stills from Plague of the Zombies in one of Alan Frank's horror movie books. The title and the stills intrigued me. The film was made in '66, so I wasn't in any state to make my way to a cinema at the age of four. I'm not sure how broad its release in Australia was.

In the early 70's, I discovered John Burke's novelization of Plague and a number of other Hammer films. I read it with great enthusiasm and loved it. My desire to see the actual film skyrocketed.

Happily, encountered the real thing on videocassette was not a letdown. Some critics have dismissed the film as a Night of the Living Dead rip-off. As doctor Zachery Smith would say: "Bah!!!"

For starters, the film was made two years before George Romero's watershed. Secondly, the story plumbs traditional zombie history with a voodoo subplot. Romero's film took off from a vastly different launching pad.

My imdb review ran like this:

With such an evocative title as "Plague of the Zombies", could Hammer possibly have gone wrong? Of course they could have, but they didn't... because this is one of their finest efforts ever, up there with "Horror Of Dracula", "Twins of Evil", "Vampire Circus" and "The Curse of Frankenstein". The film's undead denizens have closer ties to the zombies of voodoo-ridden Haitian folklore than the Romero-inspired eaters of human flesh. In Haiti, the dead are resurrected to labor for the living. This is the premise here, and it's a fascinating one.

Director John Gilling ("The Reptile") takes the subject matter by the horns and delivers a creepy, fascinating, low key tale of terror that eschews traditional Hollywood zombie lore and brings unexpected pathos to the plight of the exploited dead. The scenes of the dead rising are stunningly realized and the dusty locale is a major plus. A classic. Also worth noting is John Burke's excellent novelization of the film (from Pan).

I really love this film, and I treasure my complete collection of House of Hammer magazines (which underwent some curious name changes in their pulp lifetime).


  1. vivian smith smyth-smithOctober 3, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    "Plague of the zombies" is good but my favorites are "Frankenstein created woman" and "the mummys shroud".

  2. Viv -- these are excellent films also. Hammer had a damn good strike rate.