Hammer had great success with horror over the course of its existence and when it decided to start mixing in elements of science-fiction, The Quatermass Xperiment being the more prominent one in its catalogue, These Are the Damned became a prime example of how to do it right. It is not a film that one often thinks of or even associates with the studio and it is definitely a product of its time, but even so, it remains just as powerful now as it did when it premiered.
Starring Macdonald Carey as a middle-aged American on holiday, he is soon beset by thugs led by a young Oliver Reed and who might immediately call to mind A Clockwork Orange, except that particular film did not see a theatrical release until 1971, eight years later. Soon, Simon is back on his feet and is once again nearly terrorized by the same gang as a young woman named Joan, the same one who lured him into the first ambush, has decided that she enjoys hanging around him. Things go a little differently though as the two make their escape and head out to spend a little time together, even though King (Oliver Reed) specifically forbade it. Eventually, things come to a boiling point between the three and when all seems lost, they make their way through some caves near the beach where they meet a group of strange children who, unbeknownst to them, are a living science experiment under the supervision of the British government.
The Cold War, before, during and after it had supposedly finished, fueled many fears by many nations. Whether it would be an invasion or nuclear war or what have you, it was a time of paranoia and people did not only look to the now, but also to the future. There have been many tales and conspiracy theories over the years about this period of time and to that effect, that made telling stories about it all the much easier because you could almost say anything and there was a chance that it could possibly be true. Very much like World War II inspired and continues to inspire fiction to this day, the Cold War is still rife with possibilities and ideas for many a writer. Could the British government be testing out radioactive children to build a better man for tomorrow when the world is destroyed? Probably not, but there is that slight part of you that says maybe they could. What is for sure is that writer Evan Jones and director Joseph Losey know how to play upon people’s fears and though the material is dated and shows its age, the overall story is still a strong one and remains just as compelling as it did when it premiered.
More than anyone else in the film, Oliver Reed steals the show with his truly vibrant performance as the gang leader who loves his sister just a little too much. That fact alone really adds quite a unique aspect to his character and his jealousy of her might explain why he is so violent in nature. Shirley Anne Field plays King’s sister and she does a decent job, but where King is absolutely magnetic, she is the opposite and whether that was due to the actress or the writing, it gives her role a feeling of indifference, as if anybody could have performed it and it would not have mattered who. Reed with his portrayal was irreplaceable, Field was not. Carey was good as the lead as was Viveca Lindfors in a bit part who was better, yet all eyes were on Reed whenever he was on screen.
The children of the film, while essentially normal, still gave off vibes of not necessarily fear, but a real uneasiness and you can see how this film might have inspired Children of the Damned the following year. Fear of the unknown has always been a big part of horror, one that is perhaps the easiest to mine when it comes to telling stories in the genre. The kids in this movie represent that; a possible future that may or may not come to pass. Ultimately, the film is a depressing one as there is no happy ending and no real satisfying outcome. It is also a striking film, visually and otherwise and not one that you are soon to forget after you have seen it, especially as it ends with the haunting cry of the children trapped in their prison and you will hear them in your head even after the picture has ended. These are the Damned is a unique beast among Hammer’s many films and debatably, one of their best.