The Reptile (1966) and Plague of the Zombies (1966), starring Ray Barrett, André Morell and Jacqueline Pearce, are the latest Hammer films to get the Blu-ray treatment. Filmed back to back by director John Gilling, they became known as the studio’s Cornish duo, proving to be two of the more obscure entries in their canon.
The Reptile sees Harry Spalding (Barrett) and his wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) arrive in the remote Cornish village of Clagmoor Heath to live in the house of Harry’s late brother who died under mysterious circumstances. Greeted with suspicion by the locals the Spaldings, with the help of local landlord Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper), investigate a series of strange deaths in the village including that of Harry’s brother. Investigations which lead to the secluded mansion of Dr. Franklyn (Noel William) and his daughter Anna (Pearce), who may hold the key to solving the mystery.
Plague of the Zombies sees another part of Cornwall terrorised by equally bizarre occurrences. When the remote village where he is the new doctor is beset by a mysterious plague which is killings the local inhabitants, Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) and his wife Mary Alice (Pearce) ask Peter’s old mentor Sir James Forbes (André Morell) and his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare), to come and help find out what is going on.
On arrival Sir James and Sylivia meet hostility not only from the villagers, but also from the local squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson). Hamilton lives in a manor house on the outskirts of the village where, along with a group of debauched aristocratic friends, he is dabbling in something not quite right – something which is reanimating the inhabitants of the village graveyard for the squire’s evil ends.
Though best known for their interpretations of classic monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s creature, Hammer also created some wonderful one-off freak shows, The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies being two of the most memorable. Like the sets the acting in these films may be shaky and the plots flimsy. However as fans of Hammer know, what has helped these classic horrors stand the test of time is that the proceedings were entered into with a seriousness which created an air of believability, and makes viewing them again, no matter how often, a welcome antidote to the lack of subtlety in today’s in-your-face horror.