"NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND WILL KILL THEIR LOVE, NOR THE WIND TAKE IT IN ENVY FROM THEM."
Ah, 1972: the height of all things gothic . . . .particularly gothic romance. Look at that post I did a few weeks ago of all those Gothic romance novel covers! Gothic romance was everywhere. I know. I lived through it. The impact of DARK SHADOWS on the zeitgeist mixing romantic soap opera with horror and monsters for the previous 5 years still resonated even after it's 1971 cancellation. Even the comic book world saw an explosion of gothic romance books like HAUNTED LOVE, DARK MANSIONS OF FORBIDDEN LOVE and the like. And here we have the 1972 film based on a novel written by a TV news reader! I mean, just LOOK at that poster. You would never even know it was a horror movie; looks like a wind-tossed sea-swept romance novel with maybe some gothic overtones. But this is, believe it or don't, a zombie movie more than a little bit inspired by "THE MONKEY'S PAW". . . .except without the paw.
Anna Robinson is stuck in a loveless marriage. She meets Byronic Hugh Dabernon by a lighthouse on the isle of Jersey. They don't meet cute; it's not that kind of movie or that kind of era. It's 1972. They meet "gothic romancey" with the wind and the dark clouds and the crashing surf. It is really love at first sight and soon they are involved in a passionate affair.
Hugh takes Anna back to the family house which offends his blue-nosed brother George, who demands that she be gone before he comes back that evening. Hugh and Anna decide to go off together for a romantic romp in Scotland; they rent a cottage from Mr. and Mrs. MacKay and spend an idyllic time . . . . until while mid-romp, Hugh drops dead of an unsuspected heart aneurism. More devastated than she's ever known, with all her hopes of happiness dashed, and in a state of shock, Anna is sedated and the local doctor fills out Hugh's death certificate. Waking in the middle of the night, Anna hears footsteps scuffling around the cabin. She opens the door to find Hugh standing there! Anna is ecstatically happy . . . .but there is something odd about Hugh. He doesn't speak and is cold to the touch. In fact, he communicates mentally with Anna without speaking and she hears his voice in her head. Hugh is dead but it seems the overwhelming love for each other has brought him back as a silent, shuffling zombie.
Anna believes that Hugh is alive and the doctor made a mistaken diagnosis; but when she returns with Hugh (who has a habit of staring endlessly at her to the point of unnerving her) to the Danernon homestead, George insists that Hugh is really dead and that Anna is some kind of evil witch in league with the Devil and plans to have Hugh exorcised by a priest. Anna is none too happy about this and doesn't go along as George drives Hugh to meet the priest. Hugh suddenly grabs the steering wheel and causes the car to go over a cliff killing George. Anna is waiting at the front door as Hugh slowly shuffles back to her. It is slightly suggested by the movie that Anna may have mentally made Hugh do this but, nicely, the mystery is never blatantly cleared up. Anna has an idyllic time fixing meals for Hugh which he never eats and fussing over him. Unfortunately, Hugh is physically deteriorating . . . . in fact, rotting slowly . . . .and what's worse, he wants Anna to join him in death.
This movie is one odd duck. It's the definition of a slow-burn and very much character-driven. The unease and eventual dread in Hugh's rotting form is subtley portrayed and there is no outright horror set-pieces that usually appear in zombie movies. I believe Gordon Honeycombe, the author of the original novel, had quite a bit of input into the making of the film; I've never read the novel but I assume it's pretty close to what we see in the film. Director Fred Burnley didn't direct another film but worked primarily in television and, in fact, died only three years after making this film. Susan Hampshire (BAFFLED!, THE TRYGON FACTOR), the present day Lady Kulukundis, is very good in the role of Anna; she runs the gamut of the character's emotions with sadness, passion, devastation and possible madness all effectively portrayed. Owing to the script (and presumably the novel), there are no heroes or villains here but everyone is drawn in shades of gray. Anna is sympathetic as a character but is also no saint and possibly commits murder through her "control" of Hugh. Michael Petrovich (TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS, TURKEY SHOOT) as Hugh is pretty wooden and it's difficult to understand what Anna sees in him; however, this works well after Hugh is dead since that's exactly what's called for in the role. Always wonderful Frank Finlay (SITTING TARGET, LIFEFORCE, the Louis Jourdan DRACULA, MURDER BY DECREE, A STUDY IN TERROR, THE DEADLY BEES) is wonderfully outraged as prim brother George. Also in the cast as Hugh's friend Collie is DOCTOR WHO's own Michael Craze (SATAN'S SLAVE, TERROR) who doesn't have a lot to do but is quite good doing it. This is, as I said, an odd, quiet little zombie movie which is worth a watch if that's where your mind is at.