The Exeter Picturehouse is currently screening a selection of classic British films, every Tuesday, as part of its Made in Britain season. It started with Passport to Pimlico, on Tuesday, June 5 and concludes with the Quartermass and The Pit on Tuesday, July 3.
I popped along to Exeter Picturehouse to catch the second film in their season, one of Hammer’s lesser thought of films, The Plague of The Zombies (Gilling, 1966). The cinema wasn’t exactly packed, but those in attendance were certainly enjoying themselves.
A small village in Cornwall is plagued by a mysterious epidemic, which is slowly killing its inhabitants. The village doctor, Doctor Thompson, is confounded by the mysterious illness, which he has been unable to explain. With nowhere else to turn, the struggling doctor asks for the help from his university professor, Sir James Forbes. Rather conveniently, Doctor Thompson married one of Sir James’ daughter’s friends, and both the professor and his daughter, Sylvia, make the trek from London, to visit and attempt to discover, the root of this mysterious illness.
No sooner have they arrived that terrible things begin to occur -not least the acting and dialogue -with the dead seemingly rising from the grave. Sir James speculates that some sort of voodoo ritual is being performed, but by who? Surely not, Squire Clive Hamilton, the richest man in the village, whose tin mine was closed shortly before these mysterious deaths began? Surely not…
Father time hasn’t been kind to Gilling’s film, but it does still have a certain kitsch value. The film (in general) is rather odd, with dodgy accents, some terrible acting and dialogue, and some fairly shaky sets.
The film is particularly noteworthy for its lack of iconic Cornish locales, being shot, almost entirely upon a set at Bray Studios, a studio which would go on to house far grander films, such as Ridley Scott’s Alien (Scott, 1979) -although not for principle photography. In fact, testament to Hammer’s thriftiness, the Cornish village set was reused in another or Gilling’s films, which he was shooting at exactly the same time, The Reptile.
While The Plague of The Zombies isn’t exactly a great zombie film or even a great film, it’s amusing enough. Well, the audience and I were certainly chuckling, although perhaps not in the way intended. But still, any film which features a throwaway line like this… “I should have drowned you at birth” …can’t be all that bad.
The next film in the Made in Britain season at Exeter’s Picturehouse, is Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, on Tuesday, June 19, then Hobson’s Choice, by David Lean, on Tuesday, June 26 and finally, Quartermass and The Pit, on Tuesday, July 3. Hopefully I’ll see you there.