Sunday, January 27, 2019

THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) 

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director: John Gilling 
Cast: André Morell, Diane Clare, John Carson, Alexander Davion, Jacqueline Pearce, Brook Williams


In a remote 19th-century Cornish village a mysterious plague is killing villagers at an alarming rate, local Dr. Peter Tompson (Brook Williams, The Wild Geese) is at a loss to identify and stop the illness, and has lost the confidence of the locals. When his wife Alice (Jacqueline Pearce, The Reptile) falls ill with the sickness he sends for the help of his mentor Sir James Forbes (André Morell, Dark of the Sun), who comes to his aid, along with his attractive young daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare, The Haunting). Soon after his arrival Sir Forbes is surprised to discover that no autopsies have been performed on the deceased, and convinces Tompsin that they must dig up the graves of the recently deceased to inspect the bodies for signs of what this mysterious illness is. However, to their surprise they find that the graves are empty!



While walking the area at night Sir Forbes daughter observes a what appears to be a white-eyed zombie kill a woman near an abandoned tin mine that belongs to local aristocrat Squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson, Taste The Blood Of Dracula), who it is rumored dabbles in the black arts, something he learned while living abroad in Haiti. This leads to the discovery of a diabolical soul-slaving plot to turn the mines into a money making endeavor via the power of black magic. 



The Plague of the Zombies (1966) is a wonderful gem of a Hammer horror, a vintage undead film of the pre-Romero variety, with zombies brought to life through black magic. This one offers up a lot of eerie atmosphere and Gothic Hammer trappings, plus we get some cool, ghoulish looking zombies with blue/grey, decaying skin and large white-eyes. This is along the lines of White Zombie (1932) with a tin-mine in place of the sugar mill, with some not too on the nose social commentary on how the elite exploit the lower-class for profit, but this one works just fine as a slow-burn zombie film with some atmospheric Hammer-ism, stylishly directed by John Gilling (The Reptile). 



André Morell steals the show as the seasoned man of medicine, in the shadow of Morell's presence the younger doctor as played by Brooke Williams is a bit bland for my tastes, but Sir Forbes daughter as played by Diane Clare is very good, finding herself in a tight spot when she comes under attack from a group of angry men on a fox hunt. For a moment it looked like this might be headed in the direction of a gang rape, but while it's dark it's not that dark! John Carson is a delightful aristocratic villain, a charmer for sure but also a proper villainous bastard. Also be on the lookout for Hammer/British cinema vet Michael Ripper (The Creeping Flesh) who shows up as a constable sympathetic to inquiries of Sir Forbes.
    

Audio/Video: The Plague of the Zombies (1966) arrives on single-disc region-A locked Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a 1.66:1 widescreen presentation. The image is clean and free of blemish for the most part, a bit of white speckling and debris here and there, but otherwise a solid looking image. Grain is well-managed throughout, we get some modest fine detail by way of vintage clothing textures, black levels are acceptable, with reds and blues getting some nice push. The film looks it's vintage and doesn't appear to have a lot of undue digital tinkering applied, which made me a very happy viewer. 



Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles, this is being advertised as a new audio restoration in the press materials. It handles the aggressive score from James Bernard (The Gorgon), it's a bit of a cacophonous score with with all the tribal voodoo percussion, but it sounds great in lossless audio. Dialogue is crisp and clean, no issues deciphering the various English accents, and the voodoo chant-a-longs sound just fine. 




We get some great extras on this release, beginning with two brand new audio commentaries, the first with  filmmaker Constantine Nasr and author/film historian Steve Haberman, the second with Troy Howarth. The latter of the pair is one of my favorite commentators on vintage euro-cilt films, Howarth gives an in-depth and spirited commentary, loaded with info, it quite wonderful. I always find his commentaries to be mini film schools, but in a fun way, not dry and droll like some tend to be. No disrespect to Nasr and Haberman, but I have not yet got around to listening to their track, but I am quite familiar with Haberman, and he's usually a top-notch commentator himself, and one day when I am doing laundry I will treat myself to a watch with their commentary on. 



Carried over from the 2012 UK Blu-ray release from Studio Canal we get the 25-min episode of British TV program 'World of Hammer – Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead' which is narrated by the late-great Oliver Reed. Also carried over from the UK release is the 35-min 'Raising the Dead: The Making of The Plague of the Zombies', with interviews from actors John Carson and Jacqueline Pearce, actor/writer Marcus Gattis, Hammer Film Historian Marcus Hearn,  art director Don Mingaye, authors Jonathan Rigby, David Huckvale, and John Mann who was the Technical Restoration manager at Pinewood Studios who restored the film, who goes in-depth about restoring the films and the challenges that posed. All the talking heads offer some juicy tidbits, I'm particularly fond of Jonathan Rigby who shows up on a lot of the Hammer releases from Indicator Films in the UK. We also get a 3-min restoration demo showing split screen before and after restoration video.


The disc is buttoned-up with 7-minutes of trailers for the film, including some double-bill trailers with Dracula: Prince of Darkness, plus an image gallery of newsprint ads, lobby cards, still, posters and behind-the-scenes shots and a coll exhibitor's manual. 



The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork, both looking vintage one-sheet artwork for the films, the disc also features the key art from the more greenish of the two variants. 



Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary with filmmaker Constantine Nasr and author/film historian Steve Haberman
- NEW Audio Commentary with author/film historian Troy Howarth
- NEW Restored Audio
- World of Hammer – Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead (25 min) 
- Raising the Dead: The Making of The Plague of the Zombies (35 min) 
- Restoration Comparison (4 min) 
- Theatrical Trailers (7 min) 
- Still Gallery (7 min) 



The Plague of the Zombies (1966) is a real gem in the Hammer catalog, an atmospheric voodoo-made zombie movie set in rural England that holds up very well. This new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory may not be branded as a Collector's Edition but the vintage film looks and sounds terrific with some cool extras, highly recommended!


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