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Director: John Gilling
Cast: André Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson, Alexander Davion
Length: 90 min
Rating: FSK: 16
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Release Date: April 30th, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1,66:1
Audio: English, German: DTS HD-MA 2.0 Mono
- Two audio commentaries wiith Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad: in German and in English
- Raising the Dead“: Making of Plague of the Zombies (35-minute featurette)
- Exclusive André Morell Featurette (produced by Marcus Hearn – 19 minutes)
- Interview mit James Bernard (1994 – 20 minutes)
- International title sequence
- Super-8mm film version
- Comic-Adaption traversal
- German pressbook traversal
- Image gallery
- 32-page booklet by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad (exclusive to the Mediabook edition)
Two years before George Romero would give us his stark, black & white vision of zombies taking over the planet in Night of the Living Dead, Hammer released Plague of the Zombies (1966)—a decidedly smaller-scale, full-color Gothic period drama, rooted in the occult–a more traditional zombie setting. The film was released on BD in the UK, in 2012 by StudioCanal, and now Anolis Entertainment is doing the same in Germany, using the same superlative transfer, but with a few extra features that go beyond the British release.
Perhaps more than any other Hammer film, Plague of the Zombies is quintessentially a British tale, with class consciousness as an overriding theme. Hammer films were popular with the working class during the 60’s; not surprising, since many of Hammer’s nastier villains were from the aristocratic fold. From Count Dracula and Baron Meinster, to the Marques Siniestro, and Count Karnstein—the bluebloods were typically vampires, or exploiters of some other kind, and they usually preyed on the lower classes.
In Plague of the Zombies, class struggle is at the forefront of the drama. The story centers around a Cornish village where people are dying mysterious deaths and then are seen wandering through the woods by their relatives. When Sir James Forbes—a medical doctor—(André Morell) is summoned by his colleague to help solve the mystery, it doesn’t take long for him and his young daughter (Diane Clare) to cross paths with a local Squire (played with sinister glee by John Carson) and his band of fox-hunting young bloods.
As Forbes’ investigation proceeds, we soon learn that Squire Hamilton has been using Voodoo to turn some of the villagers into undead zombies and force them to toil in his tin mine for profit. The anti-feudal, even anti-capitalist message is in no doubt here, and, in that respect, the film has something in common with Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932), in which Bela Lugosi forces zombie slaves to toil on his plantation. Politics aside, however, Plague of the Zombies is a neat little Gothic thriller, steeped in Voodoo rituals, and includes one of the quintessential zombie resurrection scenes that must have influenced many future Italian zombie films—the scene in which hordes of the undead rise from the earth in a moon-lit graveyard.Director John Gilling, who previously helmed The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), lends the film the right kind of fantastic atmosphere, even if he does let a few moments of terribly melodramatic acting slip in, probably due to the typically frenetic pace of shooting a Hammer film. Character actor, André Morell, as Sir James Forbes, gives the film its center of gravity, lending credibility to the often far-fetched plot. Both Diane Clare and Jacqueline Pearce do a splendid job of imbuing the film with sex appeal, but there is a surprising lack of cleavage on display.
As usual, for a Hammer production, one of the most striking features of Plague is the often vehement soundtrack, and James Bernard rises to his usual level of mastery to wallop the viewer over the head at just the right moments. The typically glorious production values and Arthur Grant’s colorful cinematography round out a very entertaining genre experience.
For this release, Anolis Entertainment uses the same HD master that StudioCanal used for their 2012 UK release, and this is very good news, because the restoration is among the very best from StudioCanal’s series. Film grain looks very natural and even; color looks rich, but not “amped up;” and the image overall displays a wonderful level of depth and detail. A very organic overall presentation that should delight Hammer fans.
There are two main audio tracks, German and original English, and they are both LPCM 2.0 mono. Generally, they both cope equally well with the sometimes strenuous demands of the music, and the dialog is always clean and crisp. Age-related anomalies, such as pops and crackling are not an issue. The BD defaults to the German track, but it’s easy to switch to the English one, and also to turn off the optional German subtitles.
Anolis Entertainment can usually be relied upon to go the extra mile, to make their releases special, and they do not disappoint. For this release, Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad give us not one, but two audio commentaries—one in German and one in English! While I can’t comment on the German version, the English one provides an insightful discussion about, not only the production of Plague and the history of Hammer, but also of many other aspects of cinema, literature, politics, and even economics. In fact, the conversation is so eclectic, that I wish the commentators focused just a bit more on the film being screened. Still, an erudite commentary such as this is far preferable to some others I’ve heard, with original actors and directors who have little to say.
Marcus Hearn’s new 35-minute documentary, Raising the Dead: The Making of Plague of the Zombies, that appeared on the StudioCanal release is also provided on this Anolis release. With rare archival material and insightful interviews from actors John Carson and Jacqueline Pearce; Art director on Plague, Don Mingaye; and Hammer historians Marcus Hearn, Jonathan Rigby, Mark Gatiss, and David Huckvale, this is an extremely comprehensive ‘making of’ piece on Plague of the Zombies. Fans should be delighted.
Also produced and directed by Marcus Hearn, and exclusive to this release, is a 19-minute documentary on the life and career of British actor, André Morell. This also includes rare archival material and numerous fascinating interviews with Jason Morell (son of André), Denis Meikle, David Miller, and Jonathan Rigby.
Next, is a 1994 Festival of Fantastic Films, 20-minute stage interview with composer James Bernard, in which he reveals his working methods for composing some of Hammer’s most famous soundtracks, as well as personal anecdotes and history.
Next, we are given the international main title sequence (also in HD); a number of English and German trailers; the original 25-minute Super 8mm version of the film; a detailed cell by cell traversal though the original Plague of the Zombies comic, published in the House of Hammer magazine, complete with music and sound effects; a similarly detailed traversal though the original German press book, and an image gallery.
For Hammer fans, Plague of the Zombies is a known quantity and hardly needs advocacy from me. Zombie fans who were weaned on Fulci’s and Romero’s apocalyptic gorefests, may find this a little slow going and not nearly extreme enough. But if you fancy your zombies steeped in a more traditional Gothic atmosphere and occult rituals, instead of nuclear radiation or viral contamination, and you want to settle in for an evening of spooky fun, you will find there is much to enjoy here. In any case, the new German release from Anolis Entertainment is clearly the most comprehensive one around.