The Plague of the Zombies (John Gilling, 1966)
The first zombie movie was released in 1968 – this must be true, as I heard this on the radio several times last year (and an article doesn’t quite say it ). So clearly I hallucinated this DVD of a 1966 film I encountered as I work my way through the Ultimate Hammer Boxset. (Although, let it be said, that this boxset is far from ultimate as boxsets go.)
There is a reasonably familiar horror/Hammer narrative. People from London travel to remote village full of suspicious locals and disturbing events. Rather than the bloodsucking vampires of the Dracula films, we have blooddraining zombie masters, and the incomers are a London-based doctor (André Morell) and his daughter (Diane Clare), responding to a letter from a local GP (Brook Williams) about a mysterious plague. Rather than a mittel-European village, surrounded by not even trying day-for-night filming, there’s a Cornish village. They are worried about incomers, just not necessarily about the right incomers.
The vampire narrative is easy to read in Marxist terms, indeed, Marx explicitly writes about capitalists sucking blood and surplus labour/profit being undead. “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks” he writes in Capital, elsewhere he discusses “British industry, which, vampire like, could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood, too.” Engels adds, “But here, too, necessity will force the working-men to abandon the remnants of a belief which, as they will more and more clearly perceive, serves only to make them weak and resigned to their fate, obedient and faithful to the vampire property-holding class.“
In Plague we have peasants being turned into zombified labourers through the manipulation of blood. Perhaps to maintain heteronormativity, it’s female rather than male blood being drained. The peasants as zombified slaves are counterparted by drummers from the Caribbean, with the kind of casual racism of Hammer’s She (Robert Day, 1965).
If the real villains of the piece are the squire (John Carson) and the huntsmen, the peasants seem disturbingly disposable – it’s the professional middle classes we’re meant to be concerned for. Indeed, just like Jonathan Harker in the original Dracula, although the doctor Sir James Forbes is closer in class to Dr Seward. We’re not even that bothered about the good local doctor’s wife, Alice Mary Tompson (Jacqueline Pearce), as we know she’s going to turn into Servalan.
It perhaps should be objected that if you want an efficient workforce in your tin mine, than a zombie workforce may not be the best choice. Such has struck me before – in the various cyberslave armies in new Doctor Who somewhat ad nauseam, although that itself possibly begins with the robomen in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (21 November 1964–26 December 1964).