I get to see reissues of old movies at the cinema from time to time, but something I haven’t had chance to do for a long time is to see an old movie for the first time at the cinema. Thanks to the Independent Cinema Office I have had the chance to do just that. They describe their Made in Britain season as been “sandwiched between the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics and will give audiences across the country the opportunity to enjoy five restored classic British films on the big screen”. I have already seen four of the movies: Passport to Pimlico (1949), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Hobson’s Choice (1954) and Quatermass and the Pitt (1967) but I had never seen Plague of the Zombies (1966) until last night.
Sir James Forbes (André Morell) receives a letter from former student Dr. Peter Tompson (Brook Williams), now a doctor in Cornwall whose patients are dieing unexpectedly. Together with his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare), Sir James travels to the aid of his former pupil. They arrive to find another young man has died with no discernable cause and Tompson’s wife Alice Mary (a young Jacqueline Pearce, better know for her later role as Servalan in Blakes 7) acting strangely.
Although the movie lacks any of the Hammer big names it is as full of atmosphere and style as you would expect. It also contains many iconic images that have since become synonymous with the genre. Fitting perfectly between early zombie classics like White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and the reinvention of the genre by George A. Romero and Sam Raimi. Interestingly it only predates Night of the Living Dead by two years. Predating both infected zombies and “When there’s no more room in hell….” these are traditional Haitian Voodoo zombies. There isn’t a huge amount of zombie action, but there are a couple of standout scenes at the centre of the movie. The movies treatment of its zombies really cements its place within the genre. It actually contains just as much political subtext as Romero movies, but with typically British restraint it is all a little to subtle for some.
The movie does occasionally suffer from shaky dialogue (and sets) and the final act is a little week in comparison to the rest of the movie but I am prepared to live with this for the rich atmosphere and charm. Possibly more a steppingstone than a milestone in the zombie genre but certainly one worth seeing. Interestingly it was originally shown as a double billing with the first Hammer movie I have Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
I won’t be going to next weeks screening of The Man Who Fell to Earth clashes with the England v Ukraine football. I’m not sure about Hobson’s Choice the week after but will certainly be going to see one of my favourite Hammer movies Quatermass & The Pit on 3rd July.