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The Plague Of The Zombies (Blu-ray Review)

Scream Factory is continuing on its promise to dive into the Hammer catalog and release us some swell editions of these classics that seem to be lacking in representation in the US. Last month, they opened up the gates with a release of Dracula: Prince of Darkness that seemed to have a mixed reaction in terms of what version of the film people thought looked “better” but also revealing that some of these probably aren’t in the best condition with their elements. Here in January, The Plague of the Zombies is finally seeing a release here in the United States. This zombie film predates Romero’s genre game-changing Night of the Living Dead and is considered by many to be one of the most essential and seminal films in the Hammer Horror catalog. Boasting a restored audio track, a still gallery and World of Hammer episode, the rest of the release looks to be similar to the previous UK Studio Canal Blu-ray. You can get your hands on this one by pre-ordering a copy, which is being released on January 15th.

Film 

In a remote 19th-century Cornish village, an evil presence lurks within the darkness of the witching hour. A mysterious plague relentlessly consumes lives at an unstoppable rate. Unable to find the cause, Dr. Peter Tompson enlists the help of his mentor, Sir James Forbes. Desperate to find an antidote, they instead find inexplicable horror: empty coffins with the diseased corpses missing! Following a series of strange and frightening clues, they discover a deserted mine where they discover a world of black magic and a doomed legion of flesh-eating slaves … the walking dead!

The Plague of the Zombies has pretty much everything you’re looking for in a classic Hammer Film. The period setting, the monsters, the make-up, the blood, some campier moments. The movie really has some lovely costume and set design, which one comes to expect from these films, but is also another thing when you’re seeing it again and restored to this great degree for a Blu-ray with better clarity and coloring. Everything just stands out more and shows just how impressive and fun these were even now. In fact, much of these hold up well because they were always period pieces to begin with.

Three years after The Plague of the Zombies, George Romero would come in and revolutionize the zombie film. But, Plague was a bit of a rebel itself at the time. The film borrows from the more traditional sense of zombie being that of a slave, but does it in its own right and places it in a different setting. They’ve also up’d their game in the make-up and look of the zombie and in addition giving some next level variety on the hoboken as well. The film is patient and builds them up, not showing us one until very late into the second act. Following that though, they are pretty present and we even see a full transformation. How people fight the zombies is pretty traditional to today’s times as well.

If you’ve never seen The Plague of the Zombies, its a pretty simple sell that really delivers on its surface promise. Its Hammer Horror doing zombies. Its that simple and that effective. It features a gorgeous looking array of period material with some cool deaths and plenty of blood around. With how we see zombies today, this is a retroactively refreshing take while still delivering many of the goods that are tried and true in the horror subgenre. Hammer’s film is one of the biggest earmarks on their catalog and definitely one of their essentials to check out if you’re exploring their work.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Scream Factory’s US debut of The Plague of the Zombies features the same transfer done on the UK Studio Canal version for their 2012 release (This disc also contains the same restoration bonus feature). And that’s good news, as that transfer has a very organic looks and the print used has been cleaned up in natural looking ways with no post production tampering finding itself evident. There is a nice healthy layer of grain, helping to give great detail and depth to the image. Interesting enough, this reminded me in many areas of the look of Scream Factory’s US cut for Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but with the elements in much better shape than that transfer. There wasn’t much more to be done with this one if they weren’t allowed to do a 4K transfer, so Scream Factory has rightfully just ported it over and left it alone.

Depth:  This features a surprisingly impressive amount spacing and smooth movements with the cameras and characters. It doesn’t quite hit some 3 dimensional heights, but every environment comes out quite fluid and free.

Black Levels:  Blacks are plenty deep and never cause any problems or hide information that isn’t already intended to be hidden. Many of the cavern scenes look quite lovely here. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors take a more rustic and bold approach. Reds come through very nice in terms of blood and curtains on the winds, but also in accentuating cherry colored wood. Browns are quite bold and well saturated. Whether a color needs to pop like a blue on some upholstery or its a much more lightened one as a part of wallpaper, it all looks quite well.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and manage a consistency start to finish. There is an impressive amount of detail and texture on display on faces including sweat, dried blood, wrinkles, makeup and some pore even show through a little.

Noise/Artifacts: For the most part this is pretty clean, but there is some noise that shows up in a few late scenes that have close ups with heavy smoke.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  The Plague of the Zombies features a really nice, reportedly restored mono track that has some impressive low level efforts (Especially on the drum roll in the score). Overall it carries a hint of a hiss from its analog sources, but features some nice attention to the foley effects while having good vocals and an effective score balanced out in its mix.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and pretty crisp. As mentioned there’s a little hiss, but to me, that adds a little to purity and charm of it.

Extras 

The Plague of the Zombies comes with a reversible cover featuring the original poster artwork for the film.

Audio Commentary

  • With filmmaker Constantine Nasr and author/film historian Steve Haberman
  • With author/film historian Troy Howarth

World Of Hammer: “Mummies, Werewolves & The Living Dead” (SD, 24:55) – An episode of the old program (Narrated by Hammer vet Oliver Reed) focusing on these particular monsters in the Hammer film canon.

Raising The Dead: The Making Of The Plague Of The Zombies (HD, 35:27) – The same retrospective documentary on the film from the Studio Canal release that features many talking heads in terms of authors/historians/artists as well as actors John Carson and Jacqueline Pearce going over the history and legacy of the film (And studio at the time).

Restoration Comparison (HD, 3:37) – No sound. Shows clips from the film with a wipe going left to right showing “before” and “after” with the restoration.

Theatrical Trailers (HD, 7:25) 

Still Gallery (HD, 7:10) 

Summary 

The Plague of the Zombies is a fun period zombie film with good make-up effects to go with the usual Hammer period excellence. Its also well shot and delivers some appreciative spooks in their story design. Scream Factory brings it to the US with essentially a port over of the UK Studio Canal counterpart. There is a restored audio track here that I can’t really compare as I don’t own the UK disc. They’ve added a still gallery, 2 commentaries and World of Hammer episode to beef up the bonus material. If you don’t own the film, this is the way to go, but if you’re region free and already have the Studio Canal disc, you’re fine just holding on to that one if commentaries aren’t something that’s appealing to you.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “The Plague Of The Zombies (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Dave

    Maybe it’s just the way it’s worded, but the World of Hammer episode is also on the Studio Canal release.