A nifty restoration of this lesser-known, Hammer horror zombie picture from 1966.
If sideburns maketh the man, then it’s quite clear that creepy Cornish country squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson) is up to something iffy, sporting as he does a pair of cheek-invading sideys that resemble hulking lightning bolts. In the basement of his lavish stack, Clive has a cosy little Voodoo set-up, where a trio of Haitian drummers hold a beat for his ritualistic incantations where small clay figurines are slathered in blood and unsuspecting locals are transformed into the walking dead.
Enter André Morell’s heroically mustachioed professor of medicine, James Forbes, who’s summoned to this suppurating English backwood to help his young charge Peter (Brook Williams) figure out what’s behind this strange spate of unexplained deaths. All that stands in their way are numerous suspicious, gap-toothed, lager-swilling yokels and a strange gang of neatly turned-out but suspiciously aggressive fox hunters who come across like the rural equivalent to Anthony Burgess’s Droogs
John Gilling’s ghoulish, 1966 Hammer effort receives its re-release as part of StudioCanal’s Made In Britain season, and it’s a curious if not-altogether barnstorming fragment of our national horror heritage. While it’s exceptional for prefiguring zombie lodestone Night of the Living Dead by some two years, it’s a much more quaint movie, expending its energies on the mechanics of plot and motivation rather than making the film particularly suspenseful or the concept particularly terrifying.
Unlike Hammer’s famous Dracula, charismatically played by Christopher Lee, there’s little reason here for the identity of the evildoer to be revealed so early on, meaning the act of viewing the film is simply a case of waiting for things to fall into place.
That said, there are numerous effective sequences, such as when Peter’s wife wanders off in a trance to meet her fate by the entrance to an abandoned tin mine, or Forbes first stand-off with Hamilton’s ever-expanding army of zombie minions. The monster make-up is cheap, but does the trick, and there’s even one zombie in the climactic set-to with a full-on white head mask which looks exactly like Halloween’s Michael Myers.
Without spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a fascinating twist close to the end when you discover why Hamilton has undertaken this project of mass resurrection. This upgrades the film from being a simple gothic tale of the unexplained to a puckish lament on the impending death of British industry.
One of the lesser-known Hammer Horror films returns to our screens and to Blu-ray
A colourful romp with a smattering of subtext.
A robust zombie chiller, but not the glorious resurrection of a neglected classic.