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The Plague Of The Zombies: Double Play (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000149275
Added by: Stuart McLean
Added on: 27/6/2012 12:39
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    Review for The Plague Of The Zombies: Double Play

    8 / 10

    Hammer's 'The Plague of Zombies' remains one of its more convincing outings despite being the result of a curious cost-cutting episode that involved producing it back to back with 'The Reptile'. This involved the same locations, pretty much the same cast, and the same crew in a bid to get a bigger bang for the buck through economies of scale. This was the second of two such attempts, the other being 'Dracula Prince of Darkness' which was paired with 'Rasputin the Mad Monk'. In a stroke of some genius the films were shuffled as twofers which paired alternate films to ensure the audiences didn't twig the similarities. Whatever the case, at least three of the four (Reptile, Dracula and Zombies) worked out brilliantly and remain in many fans top ten Hammers to this day, despite a pretty luke-warm reception at the time as it sat second on the bill to 'Dracula - Prince of Darkness'. Which is why it's so delightful to have them made available on Blu-ray for the first time.

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    Zombies have become an increasingly important part of the horror genre (just look at 'The Walking Dead') though any newer incarnations tend to be more akin to Romero's 'mindless freaks on the move' than aligned with Haitian voodoo which was the norm until that time - and that's the case here too. (It pre-dates Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' by a couple of years). In common with contemporary 'Dracula Prince of Darkness' there are some genuinely scary thrills to be had here too.

    Director John Gilling achieves a lot with a little here, using some great lighting, cutting and oblique camera angles to create a genuinely chilling tale. And the make up's great too - no laughs to be had at Hammer's expense here I'm afraid. It's a shame that it got 'lost' on release as part of a double-bill and ended up as Hammer's one and only Zombie movie. Boo!

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    The movie opens with James Bernard's voodoo drums melt-down and a traditional voodoo ritual. So no surprises there then! The young and innocent Sylvia (Diane Clare) convinces her Father to visit an ex-student of his in Cornwall after he receives notice of 'strange goings-on'. As Sylvia knows the young doctor's wife Alice (Jacqueline Pearce, who starred in The Reptile, and played Servalan in Blake's 7), she is keen that they should go there as soon as possible. Sir James (her Father - played brilliantly by Andre Morrell, best known for the BBC's Quatermass) concedes and before long they are in the Cornish village. Just prior to their arrival they see a band of hunters chasing a fox and given the opportunity to mislead the hunters, Sylvia tells them the fox has gone in an opposite direction.

    When they get to the village they see a funeral in progress. As the coffin is being held aloft it is knocked out of the hands of the carriers by the huntsmen who come bounding through the village. Angry at being unable to fulfil their blood-lust they let Sylvia and her Father know their displeasure at being side-lined.
    When they get to the young Doctor's house, they are greeted by a fragile looking Alice who says her husband has been under enormous strain trying to deal with a series of mysterious deaths caused by an unknown plague-like illness. His failure to identify and cure the disease is leading to unrest and his popularity in the village is fast waning.

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    When Sylvia goes to the house of the local Squire, she is surrounded by the young huntsmen and the implication of their actions, as they begin to man-handle are clear (a tough one to get past the censors at this time but Hammer somehow managed it) and it is only when the sinister Squire Hamilton comes to her rescue that she escapes, shrewdly rejecting his false apology.
    Needless to say, there is more to the Squire than meets the eye (who are the mysterious huntsmen? Why does he seem so similar? Why does he keep breaking glasses and cutting people's fingers?) and before long we see an (unwelcome) return of some of those who have dies of the illness, in Zombie form. In fact, when poor Alice dies and then reappears as a Zombie, it takes a fairly explicit decapitation to put pay to her advances - another one successfully past the censors of the day!

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    I hope I won't spoil things too much when I say that it all turns out to be a plot to generate cheap labour for the Cornish Goldmine's (This was before youth opportunity schemes).

    The whole thing is just marvellously enjoyable hokum and there are many memorable scenes, most of which are stolen outright by Andre Morrell as Sir John.

    I viewed the Blu-Ray only although the pack comes with a DVD disc too and it now has a surprising '12' rating - but I guess we have the Harry Potter franchise to thank for that!

    It looks great too, transferred from the original negatives in OAR of 1.66:1 with some work put into removing flecks and spots and helping the blacks along at times too with increased contrast.

    Audio is all fine (and in synch, unlike the first pressings of 'Dracula - Prince of Darkness') and presented in 2.0 mono and dialogue pretty stable throughout.
    The extras are plentiful and fun despite the lack of a commentary - something of a surprise as there must have been countless fans and experts falling over themselves to offer one up and they are as cheap as chips to produce.

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    What you do get though is a 'World of Hammer' episode - a mid-80's 4:3 affair focussing on 'Mummies, Werewolves and the Living Dead'. Oliver Reid narrates an endless stream of frustratingly cropped clips which look grainy in the extreme.

    The featurette 'Raising the Dead' includes a range of interviews including a fascinatingly 'luvvie' one with Jacqueline Pearce (Alice in the film), as well as a very revealing interview with John Carson who recalls the pleasure of playing the sinister squire, and the inevitable comparisons to James Mason who, if you shut your eyes, he could easily be mistaken for. Mark Gattis ('A League of Gentlemen') also appears and is clearly a well-informed Hammer fanatic. We also hear from the team-leader responsible for the restoration and you learn enough here to avoid the more detailed feature also included. Quite interesting …but not THAT interesting!

    You'll also find a trailer and some HOH sub-titles.

    All in all, a surprisingly good movie, a wonderful transfer and some very worthwhile and engaging extras.

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