Camp Excesses and Schlock Horror: British ‘Zombie’ Films of the 1970s
Seminar given by Jane Dipple as part of the Faculty of Arts Seminar Series.
Britain in the 1970s was a challenging period, often characterised by images of struggles between teenagers and authority. For the youth of Britain, the decade started on a high riding on the crest of the wave generated by the hedonistic 60s, with the hope of overthrowing the old pre-war attitudes and developing their new-found freedoms. Within a couple of years, however, optimism had turned to cynicism as the Establishment sought to employ increasingly draconian and oppressive methods to manage what was seen as a generation of unruly adolescents set upon disrupting the dominant social order. Furthermore, those who had extolled the virtues of the dissenting youths and subcultural groups were lamenting its inevitable absorption into the mainstream; a more insidious way of suppressing youthful exuberance and the anticipation for change perhaps.
Scholars argue that cinema is representative of the era it inhabits and certainly the zombie/undead films of the 1970s are no exception. A number of films of the era represent the fears felt by the elite of losing dominance as they were challenged by an increasingly dissenting ‘wild’ youth. The 1972 film Psychomania (dir. Don Sharp) is a pertinent example; it includes a zombie biker gang known as The Living Dead who terrorise the living, challenging the police and authorities at every turn and disrupting the lives of ordinary ‘decent’ citizens. However, the young also feared an oppressive authority and in 1973 Horror Hospital (dir. Anthony Balch) and Death Line (dir. Gary Sherman) were released both utilising the symbolic living dead to represent a flagrant disregard and contempt for young adults. The latter film includes the added dimension of class. Here, the sense of the absolute disposability of the working class by the aristocracy is dealt with and the resulting consequence of their scorn is shocking.
This paper seeks to explore the three films noted above, considering how they represent the time frame from which they emerge, both in terms of the films’ aesthetics and the cultural implications. Furthermore, within this paper, Jane will be considering why such films only appeared in the first half of the decade as by 1975 the zombie film, indeed British horror generally, had mostly disappeared. This paper is somewhat exploratory in nature and will be developed further to form a chapter in her thesis Zombies in Britain: From Cinema to Counterculture.