In this Robert Bloch scripted television movie George Hamilton is a private eye in 1934 Chicago who discovers that the evil Doctor Varek (Ray Milland) plans to bring the dead back to life and take over the world with zombies. The film concentrates on the original concept of zombies--as servants.
The movie opens with Hamilton paying a death row visit to his brother, who has been wrongly convicted of killing his wife. Before being gruesomely executed in the chair he makes his brother promise that he'll find the true killer. The following night he sees his dead brother on a darkened street and follows him into an antique store. A scuffle with the owner, a sinister looking Mr. Perdido, ensues and the owner is accidently killed--almost too easily. When Hamilton visits Perdido in the funeral home the murdered man opens his eyes and begins speaking in Varek's voice--"The dead are my children. Perdido is dead. Now he's merely an instrument." Very stiffly the zombie reaches out and grabs Hamilton by the neck, then chases him out the door. Later, when Hamilton goes to the police and takes them back to the antique store, Perdido is there, looking very much alive. Not shambling around in classic dead guy fashion but moving and talking normally. The only difference is that he wears sunglasses--which he takes off after the police leave, revealing "dead eyes". The zombies here are difficult to identify which makes them all that much more frightening.
While all of this is happening, a mysterious woman named Vera befriends the detective and saves him on several occasions. It's no big surprise when she turns out to be a zombie, which she readily admits when Hamilton tries to kiss her. "I can't. I belong to Varek because I'm dead." She then undoes her necklace to reveal the scar encircling her neck--evidence of her acquaintance with the guillotine. Vera also explains that zombies can have their own will. Although she was sent by Varek to kill Hamilton while he slept, she disobeyed because she's aware of how evil her "Master" is. After the confession she clutches her face and her body begins to smoke, as the film cuts to a hand holding a voodoo doll and another hand holding a blow torch. Vera runs out of Hamilton's room, screaming, then bursts into flame.
When Hamilton finally confronts his brother and Varek in a cold storage building, he is able to break the spell the zombie is under by revealing that Varek is the one who framed him for his wife's murder. His brother then drags Varek into the freezer and hangs him on a meat hook. It's not the end, though. Hamilton comes back with the police to an empty building and, as they drive away and the security guard waves goodbye, the film freezes on the man's hand, which sports a snake emblem--the sign of the zombie. The unrelenting sense of dread and downbeat ending makes The Dead Don't Die one of the most effective zombie movies made for television.