Tony Woolstencroft: Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Made on a shoestring budget in 1966, and sharing the same sets and some of the cast from The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies is one of Hammer Studios' finest films. Shamefully overlooked, this is one of the best examples of '60s horror, and a creditable entry in the zombie genre.
Sir James Forbes, distinguished professor of medicine, receives a letter from a former student who is now the local practitioner in a small Cornish village. Dr Thompson is baffled by a series of unexplainable deaths in the village, and would like his mentor’s opinion on what may be the cause. As Dr Thompson’s wife, Alice, is an old friend of Sir James’ daughter, she talks him into taking a minor holiday in Cornwall. On their arrival they discover things are stranger than they could have imagined, and their investigations uncover a nightmare scenario.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is its cast. The wonderful Andre Morell is outstanding in the role of Sir James, and John Carson does a nice line in sinister menace as the local squire. The rest of the cast do equally well, although apparently Diane Clare, who plays Sir James’ daughter Sylvia, had her voice dubbed. Smartly scripted by Peter Bryan, who previously adapted Hammer’s version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (which gave Morell one of his best known roles as Dr Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes), the film presents an intriguing story.
Directed, with a skill he was never to show again, by John Gilling, and oozing with creepy atmosphere, the set design is also top notch, especially the village graveyard. Once the zombies appear, they do not disappoint. Both threatening and tragic, they are extremely eerie. Although the film is fairly light on gore, what is there is very well done and effective.
This is one of my favourite zombie films, and one I continually revisit, because of the atmosphere and the magnificent performance from Andre Morell.
Chris Beaumont: Zombie aka Zombi 2 (1979)
In 1978, George Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released. It was the sequel to his granddaddy of the modern zombie film, Night of the Living Dead. It was an instant hit, and when it was released in Italy, producers there were eager to capitalize on its success. At about the same time, Lucio Fulci was gearing up for a film that could easily be tied to the Romero-verse. Since Dawn of the Dead was released as Zombi in Italy, they decided to call this new film Zombi 2 to capitalize on that name (in the process adding the opening and closing New York set scenes). It would then give rise to a series of Zombi(e) movies, each just using the title as a marketing ploy. Still, it is this first film (Zombi 2 in Italy, Zombie in the US) that has become a classic and cemented Fulci's place at the forefront of Italian horror.