Top 5 pre-NOTLD zombie films

The birth of horror cinema in the early twenties helped to establish the  market for visual stories of the strange, exotic and scary and with the release of William Seabrook’s ‘The Magic Island” book in 1932 the stage was set to welcome the voodoo zombie into mass consciousness.

As set our by the apparent non-fiction tales as told or rather witnessed by Seabrook, the zombies of old were unfortunate mindless slaves forced to toil away or do the bidding of their master and are as such far removed from the zombie films of today thanks to being displaced by George Romero’s game-changing Night of the Living Dead (1968) which redefined what a zombie was and could be. However Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow brought the voodoo zombie back into the minds of cinema goers with modest success.

Although that is not to say that all zombie films before NOTLD were voodoo inspired, in a bid to not rehash the same old thing for audiences Britain would seek influence from as far away as Egypt (The Ghoul) and as the cold war and atomic age also dawned, this sociological and political change heralded in the atomic era and radiation and alien subplots (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Teenage Zombies (1957)) in order to cope with the potential effects of not only nuclear war but also the loss of individuality and the promotion of mass conformity in American society at the time.

While many were released, we have selected five gems that all fans should try and check out if they haven’t already.

1. The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Dir: John Gilling

This is not only one of my favourite Hammer Horror releases  (for some reason they stopped at one zombie film) but also one of my favourite zombie films as well, and as a child I remember taping this off the TV and watching it back the next day and it, along with other Hammer classics cemented my love for horror.

The film takes place in a little village in Cornwall where workers are mysteriously dying and then disappearing. Local doctor Peter Thompson calls upon his mentor, Sir James Forbes for assistance, who travels down with his daughter Sylvia to help solve the crisis.

The film takes the traditional Caribbean voodoo folk-lore and transposes it into the Cornish countryside with great aplomb as it takes social inequality and exploitation via an arresting mystery. A solid and enjoyable effort and one which is thankfully still appreciated today.

Please note that Arrow have put out a fantastic version of this film on DVD/Blu-Ray which really is worth picking up.

Watch a version of the film below:

2. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)Dir: Ed Wood

Included not because of its quality but because of its lack of it. No introduction is needed for the man, Ed Wood, known as the worst director ever and in this mixed up, low-budget and absurd movie everything good (read bad) about cinema comes off to provide a hilarious and thoroughly entertaining movie in which aliens are sent to earth to resurrect the dead in an effort to stop mankind from destroying itself, featuring wrestling superstar of the time Tor Johnson, Vampira and the legendary Bela Lugosi this film has to be seen to be believed.

Watch a colourised version of the film below:

3. White Zombie (1932)Dir: Victor Halperin

The original zombie film, and the second entry to feature Bela Lugosi, who plays ‘Murder’ Legendre in this Haitian set-tale of a young executive and his bride to be, who encounter a plantation owner on board a cruise ship and a love triangle ensuing. Seeking to steal the young bride, the plantation owner enlists the services of the mystic Legendre but with terrible consequences.

Watch a version of the film below:

4. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Dir: Jacques Tourneur

With a powerful reputation still held today, I walked with a zombie, may now seem clichéd but helped set those standards upon its release as a young nurse travels to St Sebastian to care for Jessica Holland, the wife of Paul.

Once there the nurse soon becomes the love interest for both the husband and his half-brother, and determined to make things right, she makes it her mission to save the wife even if that means using voodoo.

5.Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) -5
Dir: Edward L.Cahn

A fun if sometimes badly paced movie which follows the return of Jan Peters to her great-grandmothers African estate, while nearby an expedition is about to set off to try to discover lost diamonds at the bottom of the ocean, but unwittingly find more than they had hoped of.

A front-runner for many contemporary tv and films plots, this movie is worth checking out if you get the time and don’t mind low production standards even by the 50’s standards.

Also a special nod to The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring the legendary Vincent Price and based on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which would go on and provide the basis and siege mentality of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Although not a zombie film, it deserves a honourary mention and is well worth your time.

If you think another movie is more deserving of being in our top 5 or you have any special memories please feel free to comment below.

<Edited on 17 January 2014>

After a Twitter discussion based upon this list, and a strong case made for Invisible Invaders (1959) led by @BlackHoleMovies, who you should all be following, it would only be wise to showcase the film below for your consideration. In the discussion it was proposed to bump Plan 9 for this film, now I disagree but what watch both and let me know what you think?

The film has been mooted as a strong influence on Romero’s Night of the Living Dead not only due to the siege mentality but also the look of the creatures but what better way to decide than to watch it below.


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