A gang of ruffians and a rash of mysterious deaths frighten villagers into a malignant malaise, fearing bubonic consequences and bombastic recriminations. Hammer’s foray into the territory of the walking dead is a tale of majestic magic defeated by stoic science.
Sir James Forbes is a world renowned doctor who receives a disturbing postcard from his star pupil, now serving in a small village. He and his daughter Sylvia pay a surprise visit to the young doctor and discover a town infested with a deadly plague. But this plague is caused not by bacteria but witchcraft, and it doesn’t destroy human tissue but reanimate it. Though the zombies aren’t revealed en-force until the denouement, the film contains a very disturbing plot twist: when Dr. Tompson’s wife dies, he must battle his emotions and perform an autopsy upon her! With the help of his esteemed colleague, science must trump human nature in search of the cause and effect.
The nemesis is revealed early in the film, a despicable man with the charm of a dictator, so when the final conflict arises we expect him to receive his comeuppance. But his foolproof plan proves to be foolhardy, killing innocents and raising them as zombies to work in his tin mine. The undead are barely coordinated enough to walk, let alone utilize tools at a significant pace. The zombies are motivated by the savage whip but it’s difficult to understand the effect with creatures who feel no pain, who only work from electrical impulses that shock their lifeless muscles. The Baron could have hired itinerant laborers at minimum wage without healthcare and been much more successful. Then PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES would have become a presciently political tale of pernicious immigration.
Final Grade: (C+)