Monday, December 26, 2011

In Memoriam: Danvers State Mental Hospital 1878-2006

One of the key elements of Gothic fiction is the Old Dark House. From Shirley Jackson’s Hill House to Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel, these places have fascinated and frightened us for years. Such places always seem to possess a life of their own, the Genius Loci – or protective spirit of a place - of the classic Romans, but in the hands of Gothic writers this spirit always takes on the guise of something malignant and malevolent. Authors and readers return to these stories of diseased houses over and over, but they don’t really exist. Or do they?

When I was a boy growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1960s, we had our own still functioning mental hospital known as Longview. It was a source of fascination and fear for grade schoolers, this gothic aberration briefly glimpsed behind ivy covered walls, accompanied by rumors that so-and-so’s mother was incarcerated there, and veiled threats that you yourself were just crazy enough to one day be committed.

In the late 19th Century these asylums for the insane sprouted like weeds from coast to coast. Perhaps the grandmother of them all, the Danvers State Mental Hospital some seventeen miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts, remains the quintessential American mad house, loony bin, booby hatch, insane asylum.

It was here that torturous therapies for the mentally ill were developed and perfected until these atrocities were being carried out en masse at state hospitals around the country: straitjackets, hydrotherapy baths, shock treatment, and what would become the standard operating procedure and magic cure-all for any number of psychiatric disorders, the prefrontal lobotomy. If this isn’t the stuff of Gothic nightmares, what is?

Built to accommodate approximately 500 patients, by the late 1930s and early 1940s the population increased to nearly 2,000, with rooms overcrowded and patients crammed into basements and attics. As more humane treatments were developed in the 1960s and with the onset of deinstitutionalization in the 1970s, the population at Danvers rapidly declined until it was eventually abandoned altogether and left to rot in the decay of memories of its own atrocities. It was demolished in 2006.

In 2001, Ms. Danvers starred as the centerpiece of the masterful psychological horror film Session 9, to this day one of most truly creepy Gothic horror films I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen it and are reading this blog, get thee to thy nearest video rental service and watch it tonight. In the dark.

No writer of fiction could possibly have crafted the abominations that took place within the walls of Danvers and other state mental hospitals like it, but their legacy lives on providing fertile inspiration to those of us who delve into the dark recesses of the human mind.

Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, 
and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Shirley Jackson

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An Appreciation of Barbara Michaels Part II – Prince of Darkness

Black Masses, pacts with the devil,” proclaims the hero in Prince of Darkness, Barbara Michaels’ second foray into the occult, “that’s the thing nowadays.

And how right he was. First published in 1969, Prince of Darkness came out as America’s love affair with the Occult reached its zenith, fueled in part by the runaway success of Ira Levin’s novel and Roman Polanski’s brilliant film adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby, as well as a burgeoning use of Tarot cards and renewed interest in Astrology, and ultimately, dabbling in magic, both white and black.

I admit I have a weakness for these kind of books, what I call quasi-satanic hooey, for as much as Michaels tries to lend authenticity to her tale of witchcraft in the idyllic countryside surrounding suburban Washington D.C. by name dropping Margaret Murray’s pioneering witch-cult theory, she still manages to confuse black magic with white. For someone with my tastes, it makes the cheese factor all the more delectable. Thanks to Michaels' consummate storytelling skills, Prince of Darkness never veers into the downright silliness of something like Fred Mustard Stewarts’s The Mephisto Waltz or Peter Lorraine’s nearly incomprehensible plot of Day of the Arrow.

I’d be curious to learn if Michaels one and only novel of contemporary witchcraft was her own idea or the suggestion of an agent who, like everyone else in the entertainment industry, saw dollar signs when the devil reared his horned head.

As in Ammie, Come Home, Michaels once again attempts to subvert the Gothic Romance genre, this time making the shady male lead into the vulnerable hero. Part of my perennial fascination with Prince of Darkness is its deliberately oblique plot. The opening prologue reads like a set-up for a low key spy novel, and then more than half the book follows our hero’s antics as he stages some elaborate apparitions and hauntings in an attempt to drive the already fragile minded heroine further insane. What our hero doesn’t count on is his efforts being trumped every step of the way by any number of nefarious characters ambling about quaint Middleburg, Maryland. He also doesn’t count on falling in love with the heroine herself (especially as he has already been panting like a dog in heat after the heroine’s little honey of a niece.) But male readers shouldn’t be put off by this mild romantic diversion. As in many of Barbara Michaels’ books the romance takes a back seat to the suspense, the ghosts, the chills and thrills, and in this case, the unmasking of a certain character during the book’s climax which finally makes sense of the novel’s overly long set up.

Prince of Darkness is not regarded as a favorite even among the most die-hard Barbara Michaels fans, but it manages to be, like so many other fictional forays into the occult during the final days of the 1960s prior to William Peter Blatty unleashing The Exorcist on an unsuspecting world, a fascinating time capsule of a specific time and attitude in America.

Harry Bennett's voyeuristic cover for the 1970 Fawcett Crest paperback edition.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Susan Hill's Gothic Masterpiece: The Woman in Black

Every now and then you see a movie or read a book that so disturbs you that its ideas and images are burned into your brain for hours, if not days, afterwards. For me, this is often accompanied by a feeling of helplessness, not certain what to do next to exorcise the disturbance from my psyche. The film version of Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now comes to mind.

Susan Hill’s 1983 novel The Woman in Black is just such a book. I finished reading it on a cold December afternoon while the light outside my window faded and a chill from the window fingered the back of my neck. And then I stood up, paced a bit, and put on every light in the house.

The Woman in Black is a straightforward ghost story whose power lies in its simplicity. A young solicitor travels to the most desolate corner of England imaginable, to Eel Marsh House to clear the estate of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow. Spending several nights alone in the house, Arthur Kipps is subjected to any number of manifestations, most notably the appearance of the titular woman dressed in black. Like all good ghost stories, the mystery hangs on some tragic occurrence in the not so distant past, and fans of the genre can mostly piece together this particular puzzle, but it is what happens after the denouement which will raise the shackles on even the most jaded reader of Gothic thrillers.

The Woman in Black is a short 164 pages in a newly reprinted American trade paperback edition, something that can be devoured in one or two sittings. This is one you won’t want to put down. After an awkward opening chapter, The Woman in Black kicks into high gear, offering little respite from the all encompassing dread that follows. Hill has a fine command of the language which keeps the heavy Gothic atmosphere from spilling over into parody, for atmosphere it has, in spades:

Then from somewhere, out of that howling darkness, a cry came to my ears, catapulting me back into the present and banishing all tranquility.

I listened hard. Nothing. The tumult of the wind, like a banshee, and the banging and rattling of the window in its old, ill-fitting frame. Then yes, again, a cry, that familiar cry of desperation and anguish, a cry for help from a child somewhere out on the marsh.

Do yourself a favor. Put down that bloated Anne Rice novel and read possibly the finest novel of Gothic horror since Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. And don’t forget to leave some extra lights on.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Pentagram Is Born

During the recession of 2008, I found myself unemployed for seven months, and after I ran out of books to read I figured it was a good time to try, yet again, to write a novel. I stumbled on a few library books of the “outline your novel in 30 days” variety. Outlining? Wouldn’t that take all the fun out of the creative process? As it turns out it was just the kick in the head I needed to finally get the job done.

For the sake of experiment I thought I would construct a Gothic Romance. I started with an actress committed to a private mental hospital on the misty Oregon coast where a mysterious doctor conducted experiments with a suspicious hallucinogenic drug which ostensibly facilitated ease of dream recall and worked out the basic gist of the plot with most of its secrets and revelations in place. After I had a short synopsis / outline I reviewed it with a friend with an eye toward identifying plot holes and leaps of logic. She said, “Why don’t you set it in Hollywood?”

From then on, everything fell into place. The story quickly became a hybrid of two favorite genres, the Gothic Romance and the 70s Drive In B Horror Movie: the mysterious house on the cliffs overlooking the beaches at Malibu, two romantic interests, a good guy and a bad guy for our heroine to choose from, devil worshippers lurking around every corner, more occult trappings than you can shake a stick at, and enough blood to fill a bathtub. Choosing to set the story in 1968 helped me to flesh out the novel with period details, the clothes, the cars, the music, the slang, and the Hollywood setting worked well too with allusions to old Hollywood grandeur, character names derived from Alfred Hitchcock movies, and fictionalized references to well known actors and actresses of the era.

Anyone who struggles to become a published author these days knows what a long, difficult road it is. Three years and several revisions later, Night of the Pentagram has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting world as an independently published eBook, currently available for the Kindle though Amazon and the Nook through Barnesand Noble. Followers of The Midnight Room will likely enjoy this fast paced thriller, and if not, you probably know someone who does. So tell your Mom who used to watch Dark Shadows, your Dad who still listens to Black Sabbath, your kids who are into Twilight and True Blood, that weird chick you know who wears lots of black and may or may not be Goth, and that weird guy you work with who everyone suspects might be a serial killer. Spread the word. And if you do read it, please leave a short review on Amazon or B&N!

And yes I made the awesome cover myself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Appreciation of Barbara Michaels Part I: Ammie, Come Home

After finishing my first novel (a lurid, over-the-top occult potboiler) I decided I wanted to try my hand at a more traditional Gothic romance, so I spent a few months rereading a number of old paperbacks from my collection. Of course, I had to start with Barbara Michaels. I had reread her first two books, Master of Black Tower and Sons of the Wolf, about a year before, so I picked up Ammie, Come Home, and was reminded once again what an underrated gem of a ghost story this little book is.

First published in 1968, a full two years before William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist made this type of old fashioned ghost story all but obsolete, Michaels’ tale of avenging ghosts and spiritual possession pushed the envelope for the Gothic romances of the era. The bona fide supernatural was not a popular theme among Gothic romance purists, and despite her continued popularity forty-odd years later (Michaels’ back catalog has never gone out of print), readers of old school Gothics still have difficulty embracing Michaels as the premier American Gothic novelist of her day. Ammie, Come Home was to be the first in Michaels’ unofficial occult trilogy.

Beginning with Ammie, Come Home and continuing throughout the rest of her career under the name Barbara Michaels (she is better known as Elizabeth Peters of the best-selling Amelia Peabody mystery series), Michaels makes a concentrated effort to subvert and expand the conventions of the Gothic romance genre which was enjoying it’s heyday in the late 60s and early 70s. Here, the protagonist is a middle aged, widowed aunt, and the romantic lead an irascible red-headed anthropology professor in his early fifties, but the romance takes a back seat to the ghostly manifestations.

 Original 1968 hardcover edition by Meredith Press, jacket illustration by Charles Geer

Our heroine, forty-something Ruth Bennett, takes a casual romantic interest in her niece Sara’s anthropology professor, Pat McDougal, and soon Ruth has scheduled a séance in her historic Georgetown home after meeting a famous society medium at a fancy soiree. First mistake. Before you know it, niece Sara is speaking in an otherworldly voice and violently attacking her aunt with no recollection of her actions in the morning. Said anthropology professor plays the devil’s advocate throughout, eager to cart Sara off to an asylum to have her checked out for multiple personality disorder. But Sara’s boyfriend, Bruce, and Aunt (and of course, we readers) know better. It seems Ruth’s home was the scene of a Civil War era domestic drama, and not only Sara, but Bruce, Pat, and Ruth are all players in the necessary reenactment of the crime and its vengeance.

No one will ever mistake Barbara Michaels’ books for being high brow Gothic literature of the Shirley Jackson variety, but Michaels has clearly done her research, managing to tell a rollicking tale of the supernatural judiciously sprinkled with arguments, both pro and con, to support the theory of ghosts and possession.

Whether you have or have not experienced Ammie, Come Home for yourself, late autumn is prime time to snuggle up on the couch with a classic late 60s ghost story while the November winds rattle the windows and icy tendrils snake their way across the floor. And if you listen carefully, you just might hear a voice calling to Ammie in the lonely darkness outside your window. ”Ammie…come home!”

Harry Bennett cover for the 1969 Fawcett Crest paperback edition

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dzaet - The Art of Pamela Hill

A crescent moon ascends a benighted sky. A woman’s hair becomes a tangle of leafless, lifeless tree limbs. A Victorian woman navigates the forest of souls, pestered by a flock of ravens with human faces. A wide-eyed beauty strikes a formal pose, the severed head of Edgar Allan Poe in her lap.

Enter, if you will, the World of Dzaet, the Art of Pamela Hill.

One of the joys of internet social networking sites is the discovery at the click of a mouse, of something, or someone, new and wondrous. This is how I discovered Pamela Hill in the autumn of 2009 and purchased for my own, a print of the painting, Annabelle Lee.

Besides her uncanny ability to conjure deeply personal visions from the depths of her soul that resonate with people who have never met her, one of the most startling facts about Pamela is that she is completely self taught, having picked up the brush as recently as 2007, and has already made a name for herself throughout her home state of Virginia and as far away as the European continent.

Pamela, can you tell me a little bit about how you got your start. What made you decided to take up painting at mid-life, and how did you go about developing your techniques?

Well, Barrymore, in all honesty, I am not sure how I got my start. I was bored one day, and simply decided to try my hand at a painting. I had always been interested, had "dabbled" in art in my teens, but never pursued it. It was hilarious. However it was also addicting. By the third painting, I found that all of my childhood angst was being poured out on canvas. The paint was mixed with tears, and although it was emotionally taxing, something deep inside me knew that it was a path that I had to walk down. So, I walked. It was exciting, yet difficult. It opened wounds, and it healed. Those early canvases were rudimentary, yet filled with stories of my life. I never worried about technique during that time. I just wanted to empty myself of all the bottled up pain, and so I continued.

From past conversations with you, I understand how difficult it is for you to part with your original paintings, even though in less than five years you have developed a hobby into a full-time professional career. How did you come to publicly display your first painting, and how did you feel when you made that first sale?

Yes, it is extremely difficult for me to part with my paintings. For obvious reasons, I keep a canvas journal. Each and every one of my paintings are autobiographical, so when one of them finds a new home, a part of me leaves with it. Sometimes as humans it is difficult for us to give up the past, to let go of anger. At times I wanted the paintings around to remind me of how justified I was to have those negative emotions. When I do let a painting go, it is the ultimate in healing for me. I have finally reached the place where I am willing to let go of that past and forgive.

I don’t consider what I do a career, it is more of a service. Each painting touches the person that it is supposed to. The client resonates with it personally, and perhaps it begins their own road to healing. I found this when a close friend of mine "talked" me into posting a piece on MySpace, and the piece was received with messages from people who had been through the same emotional upheaval. That encouraged me to take the advice of a friend at a local art shop who had wanted me to try a show. At the first show, I found myself holding a young woman who cried her eyes out. I gave her the painting, as I realized that she needed it to begin her own path. I finally had found a reason for the suffering I had endured.

Are there any particular artists who influenced your particular style and/or any artists that you admire and strive to emulate?

I have no art history knowledge at all. I am not well acquainted with other artists, so there was no one in the beginning that influenced me. I will say though, that one woman eventually did touch me. I was in Barnes and Noble looking through their clearance table when I saw a book about Frida Kahlo. I opened the book, looked at a few of her paintings, and thought “WOW this woman paints like I do!” I had no knowledge of who she was, or that she was no longer alive. I bought the book, then the movie, and learned a lot about her. Although our styles are not necessarily the same, she was also a symbolist, and she painted her life on canvas. I have since completely resonated with her as a human being.

As I life long lover of all things Gothic, from art to film to literature, I often find myself asking: Why Gothic? Where did this inclination toward the dark exploration of the soul come from? What do you think has influenced your life and art to lean toward the types of dark and atmospheric images that appear in your work?

Yes, Barrymore, I love all things Gothic. However, I don’t purposely paint in any style. I simply use my symbols to tell a story, and my stories are dark and painful. Again, they are autobiographical. As a writer, imagine getting up every morning and writing about your personal feelings, upsets, joys, etc. That is all that I do.

Are there any particular books or films that influenced your Gothic leanings as you were growing up?

You know, I don’t really know why I love the Gothic world. My first thought would be that I love the Victorian clothing. I simply adore everything from corsets and ruffles to the beautiful architecture and furnishings. Perhaps I was alive in that era? I would guess so.

I know that many of your paintings are deeply personal. This one, Out of the Darkness and Into the Light, has been described as a self-portrait. Would you be willing to share with my readers what some of the imagery means to you?

Yes, it is a self portrait. The title gives away some of the meaning. I was lost and now am found. This particular painting was meant to show my growth in the spiritual aspect of life, thus the blue corset, which symbolizes spirituality, and the owl’s head which symbolizes the wisdom that I have gained. She is walking out of, or away from, the darkness felt from feeling alone, and into the knowledge that we are all one. All things are one, and there is never any need to feel alienated or alone. Just look around you at any given moment and know that you are surrounded by "family". She holds the light, it is no longer unattainable. She has found her place in the world, in the universe. She is content.

One last question, one I’m sure you have been asked more times than you can count, what is the meaning of Dzaet?

I love this question. The answer always reminds me of the journey that I have taken and the wondrous outcome of it. Dzaet is Armenian for the numbers 808. I was born at 8:08 in the morning, and when I picked up the paintbrush, I feel that I was re-born. Reborn into a new purpose, a new life, a new path. It seemed appropriate that I would paint under that name. After all, how much more boring could "Pam Hill" get? And for those who know me personally, I deplore boring!

One thing is certain your artwork is never boring! Thanks so much for allowing me the opportunity to share your work with my readers. Pamela’s work can be found online at Dzaet, MySpace, and on Facebook at Dzaert Art. All images included here are copyright by Dzaet, reproduced with permission.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Charles Geer, American Illustrator


Charles Geer (1922 – 2008) was an American illustrator and author. Best known for his illustrations in numerous children's books, including The Mad Scientists' Club published between 1960-1968, Geer was also a prolific hard cover jacket illustrator for Dodd Mead, William Morrow, and other publishers of Mysteries and Gothics throughout the 1960s.

I have always been fond of Geer's use of watercolor techniques to convey mystery and emotion in his jacket paintings, from the cool shadows on a hot summer day as in Return to Aylforth, to the splendid sunset of Black Is the Colour of My True-Love's Heart and the light reflecting on the storm tossed waves in Lyonesse Abbey.

All scans are from my personal collection. No copyright claimed or intended.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Things Are Looking Mighty Grimm

Little Red Riding Hood leaves her college dorm room dressed in pink running shoes and a tight red sweater, iPod cranked up to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, and sets out for an early morning jog through the forest primeval. Minutes later, amid snarls and thrashing underbrush, Little Red is torn limb from limb.

Goldilocks and her boyfriend break into a secluded house, looking like something out of a primitive Tiki bar, helping themselves to the contents of the wine bar, the fridge, and a little R and R in the homeowner’s bed. Little do they know they have stumbled into the lair of three “bears.”

If this sounds like the dark flip side of Disney, you’ve got it right. It’s NBC’s breakout new cop thriller, Grimm. Our hero, homicide detective Nick Burkhardt, recently learns that he is a “Grimm”, a descendant of the original Brothers, blessed or cursed with the ability to “see” our favorite storybook monsters for what they really are. Drawing on a long tradition of supernatural television from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery to The X Files, Grimm infuses new blood into that old standby, the TV cop show.

One of the best things about Grimm is its visual style, thanks to the producers decision to film the show in and around Portland, Oregon, where the woods possess a natural fairy-tale like quality not unlike Germany’s Black Forest. But this is network television, so the violence is nowhere near as graphic as, say HBO’s True Blood, and the 45 minute plots are not overly complex, nor is there any envelope pushing here.

Grimm airs in the perfect time slot, early Friday evenings after the gym and happy hour, and before more serious late night partying begins. For those of us whose tastes lean toward the Gothic and Supernatural, it’s a great way to kick off the weekend.

Grimm airs Friday nights at nine on the NBC network. The first two episodes are currently available for online viewing at Hulu dot com.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

For kids growing up in the US in the 1960s, Saturday night television was a thing of wonder when we were allowed to stay up late with a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of root beer, shivering with anticipation as the minutes kicked down to the start of our local fright show. In my city it was called Scream In and was hosted by a groovy hippie vampire named The Cool Ghoul. Week after week he brought us the best in (mostly Gothic) horror films from the 40s, 50s, and early 60s. We saw our first Hammer films on these programs, low budget shockers such as Francis Coppola’s Dementia-13, dubbed Italian imports, and of course, the Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of mystery and imagination. Few things were scarier to me at that age than the bloodied hand of Barbara Steele rising from her tomb to stalk Vincent Price through the womb-like corridors of Medina Castle in 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum.

British film critic David Robinson accurately pointed out, "As in (Corman’s) House of Usher, the quality of the film is its full-blooded feeling for Gothic horror - storms and lightning, moldering castles and cobwebbed torture chambers, bleeding brides trying to tear the lids from their untimely tombs." Indeed, Pit and the Pendulum is so soaked in Gothic atmosphere that I have probably watched this film on VHS and DVD more than any other. On any rainy Saturday afternoon, sleepless midnight, and of course, the Halloween season, I find myself being drawn back to Castle Medina and the ravings of Vincent Price again and again.

To today’s younger audiences who have grown up with more graphic shockers, Pit and the Pendulum might seem too cheesy to take seriously. I have to admit that if Vincent Price was any more of a ham his performance might be mistaken for Christmas dinner. But when you drill down through the blood and thunder soundtrack by Les Baxter, the lashing rains and crashing waves, Daniel Haller’s art direction which fills the frame with an almost unparalleled Gothic atmosphere (watch for more about this guy in future posts), what we have left is a truly disturbing portrait of a mind on the brink of psychological collapse.

For those not familiar with the plot of Richard Matheson’s adaptation (spoiler alert), Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) is the son of Sebastian Medina, one of the Spanish Inquisitions most notorious torturers. At an early age, Nicholas witnessed the death by torture of his Mother and Uncle at the hands of his Father, accusing both of marital infidelities. Here we have what is unofficially known as Wicked Father Syndrome, a motif found in several of Corman’s horror films as well as a staple of 20th century romantic Gothic fiction. This psychological fissure casts Medina as a true Byronic hero, making him a character to be both feared and pitied. The irony of this childhood trauma is that his own wife, Elizabeth (played by the ever ravishing horror film icon, Barbara Steele) has engaged in adultery with Nicholas’ best friend, Dr. Leon. The core of the plot revolves around an elaborate gaslight wherein Dr. Leon and Elizabeth fake her death, going so far as to bury another woman’s body in Elizabeth’s crypt. Nicholas, and the audience, have been led to believe that Elizabeth is dead, which brings us to the memorable scene of Elizabeth rising from her tomb, very much alive.

If Pit and the Pendulum were to be adapted today, the film would undoubtedly focus on grisly torture effects, much as it did in a 1991 version. With its music, art direction, atmospherics and emotional histrionics, Corman’s 1961 film remains one of Gothic cinema’s major milestones.  


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Gothic Zombie

Zombies are taking over the world. AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of the highest rated series on cable television. In major cities around the globe, Zombie Walks and Pub Crawls are held annually in late October to the delight of participants and onlookers alike. Resident Evil, the video games, movies, novels, and comics franchise unleashed in 1996 shows no sign of being stopped. George Romero’s classic 1968 low budget drive-in shocker, Night of the Living Dead, is considered one of the seminal works in the zombie genre.

But another classic from the sixties, 1966’s British Gothic, Plague of the Zombies, often goes overlooked and uncredited for its contributions to the genre. Plague of the Zombies is a minor yet potent entry in the Hammer Horror Films oeuvre, the film company best known for bringing us the outstanding Dracula series starring Christopher Lee and the companion Frankenstein films featuring Peter Cushing. For my money, Plague of the Zombies is one of the studio’s best productions during their mid-sixties horror boom.

Where today’s zombies are a result of science gone horribly awry, Plague’s zombies are straight up old school, the result of a tyrannical landowner using Haitian voodoo magik to bring the dead back to life as a source of cheap labor for his tin mine.

Typical of the studio’s horror output, Plague of the Zombies boasts a period setting in the late 19th Century, with exteriors shot in Berkshire, standing in for the Cornish moors. Combined with historically accurate costumes (no low-cut Hammer bodices in this entry), a superb back lot village set, and brimming with scenes of voodoo drumming, blood rituals, rotting corpses rising from the grave in misty graveyards, and doe eyed English lassies being chased by a pack of local rakes across the moonlit moor, Plague of the Zombies is sumptuous Gothic eye candy. Filmed in dazzling color by DeLuxe by Hammer’s Arthur Grant, the cinematography is appropriately dark and moody, using light and framing to maximum effect.

There may not be much brain munching here, but Plague of the Zombies deserves to be viewed by fans of zombies and Gothic films alike. Thankfully, the DVD is still in print, readily available for purchase from Anchor Bay Home Video via Amazon, or for rental through Netflix’s home delivery service.