War of the Zombies (1964)

Detail from the poster art
Detail from the poster art

Distributed theatrically in Italy as ROMA CONTRO ROMA in 1964, the film was cut for foreign release, with its original 110 minute running time reduced to 97 minutes for the UK release, titled ROME AGAINST ROME. It was cut even further for its AIP release in the USA, where it was called WAR OF THE ZOMBIES.

Newspaper ad
Newspaper ad
Italian poster

Director Giuseppe Vari’s WAR OF THE ZOMBIES, starring John Drew Barrymore, Susy Andersen and Ettore Manni, came out towards the end of the boom in peplum films. In 1964 A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was in release, kick-starting a wave of Italian spaghetti westerns that rapidly replaced the sword-and-sandal flicks.

'Unconquerable warriors of the damned!'
‘Unconquerable warriors of the damned!’

With a second act that drags, WAR OF THE ZOMBIES was never going to be good enough to stave off the encroaching onslaught of Italian westerns, but it is a watchable lesser peplum, focusing on a villainous Salmacian high priest called Aderbad (played by Drew Barrymore’s dad John), who uses the power of his country’s goddess to bring dead Roman soldiers back to life. Aderbad’s plan is to use them as an undead/ghost army to fight back against Rome itself.

Voodoo doll!
Voodoo doll!

The film boasts a really quite impressive main set featuring a large stone head of the cyclopean goddess, hypnotised women walking across hot coals, a voodoo doll, mangle-faced minions and stock footage from previous, bigger budgeted movies.

The cool main set with the huge head of the Salmacian goddess
The cool main set with the huge head of the Salmacian goddess

Despite AIP’s attention-grabbing title, the undead Roman soldiers that Aderbad raises in this movie are actually ghosts rather than zombies. This ‘ghost army’ is brought to the screen via the simple use of footage of mounted soldiers taken from previous movies, but with a ‘supernatural shadow’ added on top.
However, I actually think this live-Romans-vs-undead-Romans climax is pretty memorable, thanks to Roberto Nicolosi’s score, which utilises eerie choral voices very effectively.

Aderbad calls upon his one-eyed goddess to aid him in his plot against the occupying Romans
Aderbad calls upon his one-eyed goddess to aid him in his plot against the occupying Romans

Some more posters for the movie…

Spanish poster
Spanish poster
French poster
French poster
US insert poster
US insert poster

Here are some lobby cards…

Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card featuring dastardly high priest Aderbad
Lobby card featuring dastardly high priest Aderbad
Lobby card
Lobby card

Finally, here’s artist Reynold Brown’s original, unlettered artwork for the WAR OF THE ZOMBIES poster…

Marvellous artwork for the poster!
Marvellous artwork for the poster!

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