When his brother Charles suddenly passes away, Harry Spalding (a beefy, dimple-chinned Ray Barrett) sees it not so much as losing a sibling as gaining a cottage in the country, to judge by how rapidly he installs himself and his wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) in the Cornish village where he died. But the vibes are not good: Harry has only to step into the pub for it to empty to a chorus of mutterings, and the same mysterious ailment that claimed his brother continues to keep the local cemetery stocked with fresh graves.
Needless to say, the answer to the conundrum is to be found in the big, spooky manor house, inhabited by ramrod-backed Dr Franklyn (a doctor of theology, not a doctor of medicine, as he frostily points out when Harry tries to get him to inspect a blackened corpse.) Franklyn (Noel Willman) has a beady-eyed Malay servant (Marne Maitland) and a daughter, Anna (Jacqueline Pearce,) whom he is at pains to keep under wraps, especially as she seems to be suspiciously over-fond of kittens …
It all moves at a leisurely pace, but there's a colourful backstory and some surprisingly subtle characterization. Without giving too much away, the villains emerge as a sympathetic group, less diabolical than destructively co-dependent, shackled together by an unfortunate snake god curse. As in The Plague of the Zombies, there's a lively interest in relationships between the sexes. Franklyn and his daughter are all about repression and distrust. Harry and Valerie, by contrast, communicate well and match each other for gumption.
Even by Hammer standards, the cast is unstarry, but Pearce is touching, Rippon is bluff and hearty in a nice supporting role as a friendly pub landlord, Dad's Army fans will be mesmerized by an extremely fey cameo by John Laurie as a fairy-struck Celt, and, as Franklyn, Noel Willman gives the often-chewed Bray Studios scenery the chowing of its life. The appearance of this film on Blu-ray should see many a horror fan snaking off to the shops.