I’ve become suspicious of zombie movies, because the word “zombie” seems to cover such a wide fictional territory. Are they undead or just hypnotized? Flesh-eating or hate salt? Fast or slow? Body parts rotting or intact? There are many kinds of zombies.
Doubts aside, I DVR’d Plague of the Zombies (1966) from TCM in October. I ended up being glad I did. For one thing, it is a Hammer Film. I’m kind of a latecomer to the Hammer party, but I am a fan.
Spoiler Alert! I’m going to give away what seems to me important stuff, not just which kind of zombies these are. You might like to see the movie before reading this, if like me you like to be surprised.
The movie opens on some kind of voodoo ceremony. I don’t think the writers of horror movies research these things very well. I think they just put some half-naked Africans beating on drums and throw in whatever creepy stuff occurs to them at the time. In this case, it is a guy in a mask with a little doll (presumably a voodoo doll) and a vial of blood.
The voodoo doll is obviously female. Flash to a lovely woman sleeping restlessly. When mask guy starts chanting something weird, so does she. We see that her wrist is bandaged (and remember it later, of course). Suddenly she sits bolt upright and screams. End of prologue.
Next we meet a distinguished white-haired doctor and his beautiful blond daughter. They are going to Cornwall or the moors or someplace to help another doctor, who married an old schoolfriend of the daughter, investigate some mysterious deaths.
As the carriage rolls across the countryside, they see a fox, who is shortly followed by five guys in red coats on horses. What, no dogs? I don’t know much about fox hunting, but I thought there were always dogs. Anyways, the young bloods (I know that’s what they are, because that is how they are listed in the end credits) ask if anybody has seen a fox. Beautiful Daughter sweetly misdirects them.
Then it is on to the village, where a funeral is in progress. As Father and Daughter discreetly wait for the cortege to pass, the Young Bloods come thundering back and knock the coffin over a bridge. This makes for a nice creepy shot of the dead body.
The Young Bloods are mad at Daughter for misdirecting them. The brother of the dead guy is mad at both of them. I guess he blames them for the Young Bloods’ intrusion, which I personally thought a little unreasonable. Oh well, he is grief stricken.
It seems that twelve people have died. The families in this backward area will not allow autopsies, giving Distinguished Dad Doctor and Young Doctor a chance for some grave digging (“Could be worse; could be raining”) (oh wait, wrong movie).
We don’t have to wait too awful long to see the zombies, and they are scary. I was particularly fascinated by the motivations of the head bad guy, the leader of the voodoo/witchcraft kind of cult. He uses evil means to kill people and make them zombies, then utilizes them for a sound economic reason. He is also interested in beautiful young women for blood sacrifice purposes (less unusual in these pictures).
I kind of wish they had made more of the economic side of things, because that struck me as something different for a voodoo/witchcraft kind of bad guy. Any number of movie bad guys want to hypnotize beautiful young women for blood sacrifice purposes. However, zombie-izing young men to staff a haunted tin mine is a bit of entrepreneurialism that commands my respect.
Then again, I am a recently converted horror movie aficionado. Economics could play a time-honored role in zombie movies and I just haven’t seen enough of them. Obviously I have more movie watching to do.
In any case, I found Plague of the Zombies a delight. The dramatic conclusion is very satisfying, and Andre Morell as Distinguished Doctor Dad is an excellent hero. In post-movie commentary, Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that Morell is Watson to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles. That would be a good movie to see again. Love that Peter Cushing.