The film, made by Hammer Studios in 1966, has all the hallmarks of the late voodoo-zombie period. It?s a moody film, with a slow burn, obvious sets, and the crayon-red blood Hammer films are known for. The Plague of the Zombies takes place in late nineteenth century England, where we follow a distinguished doctor as he takes his daughter to visit his star pupil and the pupil?s wife, who are facing a strange wasting disease in a tiny English village. Of course, it turns out that the cause of the wasting disease is a malevolent be-sideburned squire with a penchant for voodoo. He has a cadre of menacing fox-hunters and is protected by the superstitious, menacing stares of his villagers.
Like many films of the late-voodoo era, the zombies are menacing and barely in control. They?re still created by magic cobbled together using a mix of European magic stereotypes and racist Caribbean imagery. (In this case, the zombie master has a pair of shirtless black men to play jungle drums for him, for no discernible reason.) But the zombies are a menace, as likely to kill an unsuspecting person as not. And they?re gruesome. Unlike the glassy-eyed somnambulents of White Zombie or I Walked with a Zombie, these have gruesome makeup and menacing eyes, much closer to the blue shamblers of Dawn of the Dead. Those particulars aside, the plot of this film is very similar to White Zombie, with a wealthy magic aristocrat performing creepy ceremonies over voodoo dolls, recruiting the dead to work his tin mine.
Overall, it?s a decent movie with good ties to previous zombie films, but the zombie action is pretty minimal and the humor of the film doesn?t hold up as well as other similar movies. I?d watch I Eat Your Skin instead.
Oh, and in case you?re wondering, the eponymous ?plague? doesn?t refer to the menace of the zombies, which is actually quite minimal until the end of the film. It refers to the sickness that strikes down healthy people and turns them into zombies. At least, that?s my take on it.