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Plague Of The Zombies Blu Ray review,
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This review is from: Plague of the Zombies (Blu-ray + DVD)  (Blu-ray)
It is always around this sort of time of year when the nights are getting cold and dark that I yearn to dig out my old Hammer Horror collection and bask in the atmospheric wonderfulness of the UKs best known horror studio. So with this in mind I decided it would be the perfect opportunaty to sample the new Blu ray releases from Hammer that are being distributed by Studio Canal and for no other reason than that I found a very resonably priced copy here on Amazon my first and definatly not last Hammer Blu ray is John Gilling's 1966 Plague Of The Zombies.
For most modern audiences the word zombie in a movie title conjurs up images of the films of Romero, Fulci or even TV shows like the Walking Dead complete with gratuitous gore, grue and general mean spiritedness. Plague Of The Zombies which also happens to be Hammers only foray into the zombie genre is a far more sedate, charming and elegant film compared to the blood and thunder approach of more recent walking dead movies and is more more akin to the zombie movies of old such as the Bela Lugosi starrer White Zombie or the wonderfuly titled but suprisingly tame I Eat Your Skin complete with a voodoo master and a hord of drone like and mostly unthreatening zombie slaves. I suppose this was a time before Night Of The Living Dead with its cannabalistic ghouls and social commentary that took over the genre and cemented audiences expectations of what a zombie film should be all about but this far more classical take by Hammer is thouroughly commendable and totally in keeping with the studios 60s output.
Though obviously a Hammer film this misses a number of traits assciated with the studio. There is no Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, no bared fangs and not pumped up heaving cleavage in sight. What it does possess though is that wonderful Hammer atmosphere and gothic feel that permeates every frame and despite the relatively low budget these films endured, lavish sets, costumes and rousing orchestral score.
The cast for Plague is also suprisingly strong helped a good and entertaing script. Veteran actor Andre Morell who plied his trade on epic productions such as Bridge On The River Kwai and Ben Hur is perfectly cast as the pushy headstrong professer and John Carson is suitably sinister as the secretive and arrogant squire. Brook Williams is effective enough as the doctor but always seems to play second fiddle to Morell's persistant professor character when ever they share a scene.
As most Hammer fanatics will already know, Plague Of The Zombies was shot back to back with John Gilling's other Cornish set piece The Reptile with which its shared locations and cast and crew members. It was then double billed with the far more flamboyant Dracula Prince Of Darkness which itself was shot back to back with Rasputin The Mad Monk which then went on to be a double bill with The Reptile. Confused? Well this was a clever marketing ploy by Hammer and then distributor 20th Century Fox meaning audiences could have a horror double bill and not think they were getting the same movie. This ment Hammer could release more films while keeping the costs of the movie making process down. Compared to its companion piece The Reptile, Plague is a far more accomplished production with a better script, storyline, costumes and make-up and it is blatently obvious more went into this. It is fair to say that Plague is up there with some of the best that came out of Bray Studio. There are images in this feature that have stayed with me since I saw this on TV as a child. The first zombie sighting by the abandoned mine shaft and the now infamous graveyard nightmare sequence are amongst some of the best Hammer has to offer and I'm sure must have sent a shiver down the spines of 60s movie goers. I defy any fan of classic horror not to enjoy Plague Of The Zombies and this comes comes highly recommended.
As I mentioned earlier in this review this is the first Hammer/Studio Canal Blu ray I have bought and if this transfer is anything to go by it will not be my last. In a word Plague Of The Zombies MPEG-4 AVC 1080p 1.66:1 transfer is exquisite. Ok so this doesent look as if it were shot yesterday and nor should it but if a bar were to be set on to how a mid 60s genre film were to look in HD then this would be extremely high. The first thing you notice is how incredibally detailed and well defined the image is from the opening credits which show no real signs of optical problems which persist in older films given the 1080p treatment through to close ups of faces complete with the wrinkles and lines of Morell and Michael Ripper and the pale delicate skin of Alice. Period clothing is also given a boost with intricate detailing on the lace of a nightgown to the tweed of a gentlemans jacket. Exterior scenes also look extremely strong with exceptional clarity showcasing the wonderful English countryside settings with accurate rendering of foliage and rustic scenery through to stone walls and gravely roads. Black levels are pretty good. These can look a little grey in day time scenes but look nice and inky in the voodoo ceremony scenes and the mine set finale with only a mild amount of crush and the fire in the study shows no signs of pixalisation. Of course Hammer were well known for shooting day for night on almost all of their productions and Plague is no exception but even these sections look as good as they can possibly could be given the circumstances and definatly add to the charm of these films and like the rest of the transfer look very crisp with plenty of depth. Colour reprodution is pleasing and very natural without any real boosting seeming to have taken place and apart from some nice film grain there are no age related problems to report. Superb.
Audio has been given the lossless treatment in the form of an LPCM mono track and although Studio Canal have been blasted recently for the sound on a couple of their other Hammer titles I am pleased to say that this release is absolutly perfect in every way. Right from the opening when the voodoo drums came pounding through my front speakers I new this was going to be a strong track. The music exhibited plenty of depth from the aformentioned drums through to the classic Hammer theme. I knew when this music cue would come bursting through over the opening credits and almost winced in the antisipation only to be pleasantly suprised at how rich James Bernard's strings sounded. Everything else in the film sounds just as strong. Of course there isnt going to be any real movement or overt dynamics and yes it is only plain flat mono but I wouldnt want a stereo or 5.1 remix of this and with exceptionally clear dialogue and crisp sounding foley work plus not to mention a complete lack of distortions or background hiss fans couldnt really ask for more.
Extras are obviously light years ahead of any previous release from the Uk with an informative documentary, restoration comparison, theatrical trailer and vintage world of hammer episode narrated by Oliver Reed. A highly recommended package.