1966; directed by John Gilling; written by Peter Bryan; 90 mins
The acting is variable, the make-up is ropey, the nighttime photography doesn’t look like nighttime and many basic narrative questions remain unanswered… but for all the above… I loved this movie!
A rare foray into the zombie movie for Hammer which sees eminent doctor, Sir James Forbes, strong-armed by his daughter, Sylvia, into making a trip to a village in Cornwall where his best pupil from way back, Peter Thompson, is now also a doctor. Thompson is flummoxed by some inexplicable disease which is killing off the villagers and he asks for Sir James’ assistance in the matter. Meanwhile, Thompson’s wife, Alice, is weak and delirious due to a mysterious cut on her wrist (which has something to do with the local Squire, Hamilton, and a strange cult) and one night is summoned to an old, abandoned tin mine in the woods nearby. Sylvia sees this and follows her but what emerges from the mine is not what she expected…!
I’ve wanted to see this movie since I was a kid. My best mate, Ben Dudley, had four little pocket ‘guidebooks’ about Vampires, Werewolves, Mummys and Zombies all full of old movie stills and it was the images from Night of the Living Dead and this that creeped me the fuck out! The low-grade photo of the lead zombie with the woman’s body in his arms, rotten teeth, raggedy skin and bulging, white eyes was enough for me to put a face to whatever was under the bed for the next 6 months. What’s nice then, as an adult finally catching up with it, is that upon first viewing, that early sequence at the tin mine is properly creepy and surprising. In much the same way as Black Sunday did, it got over it’s production shortcomings and under my skin to a degree that… I had to turn the lights back on.
The film is a terrific mix of Victorian Gothic, West Indian voodoo mythology and Folk horror. So, you get the stagey, Corman-esque scenes in large mansions alongside braindead walkers stalking the countryside like I Walked with a Zombie and the echoes of the old paganism from The Wicker Man and such like. This witches’ brew of low-budget genre mash-up makes for a thoroughly entertaining hour and a half that doesn’t waste a minute of your time. Of course, it doesn’t waste a minute but then, in part, it could’ve stretched out a bit and given explanation for Squire Hamilton‘s plans for zombie domination. At the same time, there is some genuinely really good banter for the cast, courtesy of Peter Bryan. The early scenes between André Morell and Diane Clare’s father and daughter are sparky and even relatable. Not something you get that often in these films.
Director John Gilling seems to shepherd the thing through with care, considering the time and money strains placed upon him. There are, undoubtedly, howling continuity errors but you can’t help but see it as a labour of love for all involved.