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HAMMER'S ICONS OF SUSPENSE

 

HAMMER'S ICONS OF SUSPENSE: A FORGOTTEN ROOM IN THE HOUSE OF HORROR

by Dr. Abner Mality

Hammer Films. Those two words lead to certain immediate expectations. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Elegant ladies with ripped bodices and plenty of cleavage. The bright red splash of blood. Mummies, vampires and other avatars of death and horror.

And all of that is certainly true. But Hammer Studios dabbled in films other than those dripping with blood and smelling of garlic. The long-lived fear factory was known to put out comedy ("What the Butler Saw"), documentaries ("River Ships"), science fiction (many brilliant films like the Quatermass series and "X The Unknown), Robin Hood adventure ("The Men of Sherwood Forest"), war films ("Camp on Blood Island") and many mysteries. In fact, going back to their origins in 1935, murder mystery may have made up the bulk of Hammer's output.

In the late 50's and early 60's, Hammer was having tremendous success with its bloody Gothic horrors featuring staple characters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Even so, they were inspired by the success of Alfred Hitchcock's movies to continue to produce psychological thrillers that did not rely on the supernatural or science fiction. These movies managed to be some of Hammer's most clever output, but they have been generally forgotten because of the public's overwhelming fascination with the studio's horror movies.

That oversight may now be corrected with the release of the six film DVD collection "Hammer Films: Icons of Suspense Collection", courtesy of Sony. This neat package puts together six rarely seen thrillers from the classic Hammer period, including the ground-breaking "These Are The Damned" and the very controversial "Never Take Candy From A Stranger". Of these six films, only one features the presence of Hammer mainstay actors Peter Cushing and Andre Morell ("Cash On Demand").

As much I love the classic monsters, it is sometimes a breath of fresh air (or rather, a whiff of morbid air) to see human beasts in action with no fangs, wolfbane or curses present. I'm going to now take a look at each of these "Icons of Suspense" and see if they're all they're cracked up to be.

"CASH ON DEMAND" (1961)

This seldom-seen movie is a triumph of making more with less. The movie takes place almost entirely on one set, the cast is small and the running time is just a tad over one hour. Despite this, "Cash on Demand" delivers fascinating characters, suspense that will have you afraid to blink your eyes and a surprise ending that may put a big smile on your face.

Out of the six movies offered on this collection, only this one features an iconic actor who's come to be identified with Hammer: Peter Cushing. It's not a stretch at all for me to say Cushing is my favorite actor, such is the class and intensity he brings to every part he plays. He outdoes himself again in "Cash On Demand" as Mr Fordyce, the ultra-rigid manager of a small rural bank. Yet as much as I love Cushing, this is the very first movie I've seen him in where he takes a back seat to another actor. Who, you might ask? The answer is the criminally forgotten Andre Morell, also a Hammer mainstay, who in this film proves he's one of the smoothest character actors ever.

The movie takes place on Christmas Eve, in a bank branch in a small English town.

Long-time employee Mr. Pearson and the rest of the small staff arrive early to open up...and hopefully correct any mistake before their boss, the fussy Mr. Fordyce, arrives. As played by Cushing, Fordyce is so anal, he probably brings his lunch in a colostomy bag. He immediately chews Pearson out for a leaky pen and later chastieses him for a small mistake in the bank ledger that Pearson has already corrected. Tension between the two is thick and heavy when the bank receives a distinguished visitor, one Colonel Gore Hepburn(Morell).

Colonel Hepburn soon reveals he is an inspector for the company insuring the bank and it's his job to make sure all security procedures are followed. Much to the chagrin of Fordyce and the worry of Pearson, he finds a number of discrepancies, but he seems to take them in good humor. He asks that he be allowed to speak to Fordyce in private.

Once that's done, Hepburn reveals the REAL reason he's in the bank. He has a pair of associates at Fordyce's home who have the bank manager's wife and son hooked up to electrodes ready to shoot thousands of volts of electricity through their brain unless Fordyce helps Hepburn rob the bank blind! A quick call to home reveals that Hepburn is speaking the truth. A terrified Fordyce is told: "If you fail to follow any of my instructions or reveal what's really going on, you won't even need a phone to hear your wife scream."

For the next hour, the suave but ruthless Hepburn engages in a mental battle of wits with the nervous Fordyce. Fordyce suddenly finds himself relying on Pearson, the man he threatened to fire only a while earlier. Also, who are the confederates that Hepburn is signalling to by the bank window? Could it be the Salvation Army Santa Claus ringing a bell outside? The window washer? Or even somebody in the bank? Or is Hepburn telling the truth about everything?

This is movie suspense at its best....stripped down, to the point and brilliantly acted.

Cushing goes from ice cold superiority to barely concealed panic to supressed fury. At one point, he tells Hepburn stonily: "Up till now, you've made all the threats. I'll make only one. If my wife and son are hurt, I'll kill you."

As terrific as Cushing is, Morell dominates every scene he's in as the smooth as silk Col. Hepburn. In many ways, he's more appealing and more human than Fordyce is, showing a droll sense of humor and a refusal to let anything shake him. When several snags interrupt his scheme, he falls back on secondary plans with hardly a blink, frustrating Fordyce. We don't really learn the complete truth about him until the very end...and then a whole new light is shown not only on him, but Fordyce as well. For Hepburn, the robbery is a mental exercise more than an attempt to get money. Morell is absolutely outstanding in this fantastic role.

The rest of the small cast is also excellent, particularly Richard Vernon as the harried Pearson. Each character is given a real personality and reason for being there...it's ensemble acting at its best.

As the final capper to a great little B-movie, "Cash On Demand" ultimately emerges as a CHRISTMAS movie! And a very uplifting one at that. But I'll say no more about the movie's many twists and turns,..they're a lot more fun when you experience them yourself.

I paid a measly $20.00 for the "Icons of Suspense" collection and with this movie, I already got more than I bargained for. This was proof positive that Hammer was among the very best low-budget studios.

"STOP ME BEFORE I KILL!" (1961)

Released the same year as "Cash On Demand", "Stop Me Before I Kill!" obviously looks like the bigger priority. The location filming in France is authentic and the cast is bigger. Yet the smaller movie prevails in almost every way. I would say that of all the six movies in the "Icons" collection, this is the most obvious dud. Not to say it's a terrible film, but it is unbelievably talky and the twist at the end is not exactly unpredictable.

The British name for the movie was "The Full Treatment", based on the novel of the same name by Ronald Scott Thorn. The director was Val Guest, who had a lot of success with suspense thrillers and who also worked on the great "Quatermass" series of sci-fi films. Guest's direction is steady here but just doesn't seem able to generate the suspense the plot requires.

Race car driver Alan Colby was involved in a terrible car accident while driving with his Italian fiancee Denise. As a result, he's suffered damage to his memory and motor skills, making the already volatile driver even more moody and irritable than usual. After marrying Denise, the two decide to honeymoon in the south of France, where they encounter the curious psychiatrist Dr. Prade. Alan's sullen nature leads to him actually belting Prade and insulting him at a dinner party, but Denise begs the doctor to intervene and see if he can get to the root of Colby's psychological problems.

Prade's probing reveals that Alan is consumed by a morbid fear that he will kill and strangle Denise in a fit of rage. In an explosive therapy session, Colby finally seems to come to terms with his accident and his feelings about it. Declared on the road to recovery, he returns to Denise. But one morning he wakes up and notices that she is not there. There is blood in the bathroom and the wire hanger Colby fantasized about using to kill Denise is missing. Has fantasy become reality?

This film takes an awful long time to get where it's going. The first half is pure Peyton Place soap opera, as Alan and Denise bicker about their marital problems endlessly. It doesn't help that Ronald Lewis, while giving an intense performance, is not very likable as Alan. Diane Cilento as Denise tries to be cute and lovable but that whiny, breathy voice really gets on your nerves.

When Dr. Prade begins his counseling sessions with Alan, things start to get quite interesting. Claude Dauphin runs away with the film as the smooth Dr. Prade, who has an answer for every objection that Alan comes up with. The scenes where he pushes Alan to get to the root of his problems are riveting. Without Dauphin's excellent performance, I would have found this movie unwatchable.

The last third of the movie does increase the suspense quotient quite a bit, but as stated before, the "surprise" ending won't really shock too many people. "Stop Me Before I Kill!" is a movie that looks handsome, but with way too much talk and characters we don't care that much about, it is far from the crown jewel of Hammer's suspense films.

"THE SNORKEL" (1958)

There is a certain subgenre of thriller based on children seeing horrible crimes and then being disbelieved when reporting them. "The Snorkel" firmly belongs in this category, and what's more, it's one of the better examples. Of all the films in the "Icons of Suspense" package, this is the one I knew the least about, so I was very intrigued to see what its about. The title of "The Snorkel" sounds alternately ominous and ridiculous, so I was also interested to see how that played into things.

Surprise, the snorkel of the title figures prominently in the story, in several different capacities. The movie is not without flaws but it kept my interest for the entire running length and provided a wickedly clever ending, to boot. The story is one of the first that Jimmy Sangster contributed to Hammer. Sangster later went on to write many of the best Hammer horror thrillers, but here he sinks his teeth into an intriguing tale.

The beginning is excellent and sets up a scenario similar to a lot of the classic "Columbo" mysteries of the 70's. There is never any doubt about who the murderer is. We are shown exactly how the diabolically clever Paul Decker (Peter van Eyck) commits his wife's murder. The rest of the film follows the character of his precocious and rather strange stepdaughter Candy Brown (Mandy Miller) who must find the proof to back up her suspicion that Decker killed her mother.

Decker has used simple gas to murder his new wife. After drugging her drink, he turns on all the gas jets in the living room in his palatial Italian vacation villa, closes the windows and doors tightly and then puts on a breathing snorkel. Decker then secrets himself in a small compartment hidden under the floor where he will patiently wait the next few hours. The servants discover the wife's body and call the police. Decker waits until everybody is gone at night, leaves the house, swims back to the hotel room he has in a nearby French village and waits to get the frantic call that his wife is dead.

It's the perfect crime and the Italian police inspector has no doubts the death is a suicide. But young Candy Brown knows differently. She saw Paul Decker hold her real father's head under water during a "boating accident" and knows him to be a killer. But now, like then, she has no physical proof at all that a crime has been committed. It doesn't help matters that Decker is a superb actor who seems genuinely upset or that Candy is prone to emotional problems.

The rest of the film is a tense battle of wits between the smooth killer and the relentlessly determined young girl. Decker will stoop to any level to protect his secret, including murdering Candy. Candy's catetaker Jean Edwards tries to stay sympathetic towards her, but seems to be falling for the widowed Decker...just as he planned.

Peter van Eyck dominates "The Snorkel" with his chilling portrayal of a man with no morals whatsoever. Paul Decker is not a lunatic or a thug...he is supremely calculating and confident, thinking everything through with precision. When Candy angrily accuses him of murder, he keeps his cool and has just the right answer. At the end of the film, it looks like he's going to get off scott free. But in a wicked twist, fate has another idea in store for him.

Mandy Miller seems a little too old to play a real child character. I'd say she's a tall and leggy fourteen years old...Candy seems written more for a ten or eleven year old. She's not particularly likable, but her acting skills hold up very well and I love how she handles herself in the "twist" scene at the end.

The Italian seaside scenes are very authentic and actually play a big part in how the story unfolds, especially a scene where Paul tries to drown Candy himself but is forced to "rescue" her instead to avoid suspicion. It's a handsome looking little movie.

"The Snorkel" was a pleasant surprise and I recommend it!

"MANIAC!" (1963)

"MANIAC!!" is not exactly the most original of film titles. Who could forget the absolute insanity of Dwain Esper's ultra-warped 1934 classic of bad cinema? And on the other end of the scale, almost 50 years later, we had the 1981 gore epic with Joe Spinell...a milestone of bad taste. Sandwiched between those two titans of exploitation film-making, we have this effort by Hammer, obviously given its name to cash in on the recent populariaty of "Psycho!". Remember, this was the era when we had movies called "Homicidal", "Straitjacket" and "Mania".

Despite a title which conjures images of lunatic stabbings and blood gushing everywhere, Hammer's "Maniac" plays more like a "Notorious" or "Dial M for Murder" than "Psycho". There's nothing in the way of actual gore and the film plays like a dark romance for much of its length. Yes, in some ways, it's a let down, yet the film begins strongly, had a unique setting and throws a lot of cool twists at the viewer to finish with a kick. It's not on the level of "Cash On Demand" or "Never Take Candy From A Stranger", but it's ahead of "Stop Me Before I Kill!"

The film's beginning packs a definite wallop. We see a pretty young school girl walking along a country lane when an obviously disturbed looking man begins stalking her. He catches up to her and it's left to our imagination what he does to her. Before he can kill the girl, her father (whose face we never see) catches up to the degenerate and knocks him out. While his daughter is attended to, Dad takes the molester to his workshed and chains him to a bench. The rapist wakes in time to see a man with a welder's mask standing in front of him...and turning on a powerful welding torch. The camera pulls back as we hear an agonized scream and the title "MANIAC!" fills the screen.

That's a great start and it has a lot of bearing on later events, but it won't be until the very end that the film reaches that level of intensity again. The movie next picks up at a rustic country bar in France's Camargue country, where the decadent American artist Paul Farrell has just gotten dumped by his rich girlfriend. She leaves him stranded in the backwater basically without a cent, but Paul soon is befriended by pretty young Annette, a waitress at the bar, which is run by her mother. We recognize Annette as the young girl who was earlier the victim of the unfortunate rapist.

Paul and Annette hit it off well, but ultimately Paul finds himself more attracted to Annette's mother, Eve. Eve is a sultry looking MILF who reacts coolly to Paul at first but finally becomes his lover, leading to a very odd triangle affair involving her own daughter. The Beynat family is pretty disturbed...Eve reveals that her husband George has been put in an insane asylum for his assault on Annette's rapist.

Eve wants to run away from France with Paul, but first, she wants to break George out of the asylum so he can "go his own way". She feels that he's wrongly imprisoned there for just one "moment of madness" defending his daughter. Now I seriously have to question Paul's wits, because he agrees to the scheme. George has an accomplice inside the asylum...a male nurse...and after their break-out, Paul and Eve will pick George up by car and help spirit him away. Yup, just a typical night out with the new ladyfriend...

The scheme unfolds and the duo pick up George, who, as you might guess, seems to be a most disturbing chap. However, Eve and Paul send him on his way and return home to plan their own new life together. Except that when Paul opens the car trunk, the body of a dead man is inside! Now what to do? The police are all over Eve and Paul looking for connections to George and the "missing man", who is the male nurse. Not only that, but Annette is vehemently opposed to the relation between her mother and Paul and isn't shy about expressing it.

Before the film winds up concluding in some spooky French caves, there are a lot more twists and turns to the story. Who can trust who? Is everybody who they seem to be? And who is the real "Maniac"?

The film is flabby in the middle with all the romantic hi-jinks, but the beginning and end are very entertaining and I have to say, I didn't see all of the curves thrown in the last half-hour coming. The result is not a great thriller, but one you can definitely kill time with.

Part of the charm of "Maniac" is the unusual setting in the Camargue. I've always been fascinated by this strange area of France, unlike anywhere else in Europe with its flamingos, wild bulls and horses, marshy swamps and odd looking French cowboys. The movie catches the flavor of the Camargue pretty well and I can't think of any other movie that uses it so well.

As for the acting, Paul is played by American Kerwin Matthews, famous for portraying Sinbad in "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad". He's certainly a different kind of protagonist here, and not a particularly smart one. Nadia Gray is OK as Eve and Liliane Brousse is lovely as Annette. Donald Houston turns in a pretty intense performance as the supposed title character...he seems very comfortable using a blowtorch, at any rate.

"NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER" (1960)

This notorious film had been out of circulation for more than forty years before being revived in this collection. Still packing a powerful punch even today, it deals straightforwardly with the most disturbing of real life horrors...pedophilia. It's a hard subject to make a good movie about even now and in 1960, the movie caused such an uproar that it sank from sight for decades.

That was really an unfair fate for what is a stunning suspense thriller that is not exploitative in the least. Nothing is shown here or even graphically implied, but we all know what the movie is about and the shocking ending is every parent's worse nightmare come true. Even more unsettling is the fact that the child molester seems to be a harmless old man who is a pillar of the community. Originally titled "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger" in its British run, the movie pulls no punches and never takes the easy way out.

Pete Carter has just been hired as the new principal of a school in Jamestown, a small town in Eastern Canada, and has moved his family with him. His nine year old daughter Jean comes home one afternoon limping and when asked how she hurt her foot, she says she did it dancing for an old man. Inquiring further, Pete and his wife Sally are stunned when Jean says the old man gave her and neighbor girl Lucille plenty of free candy when they danced for him naked. Even though Jean wasn't touched by the old man, Pete knows something awful has happened. He finds out that the old man is Clarence Olderberry, Sr...the man who basically founded Jamestown and who is looked upon as a community hero. There's even a statue of Olderberry at the school where Pete is principal.

Pursuing the matter, it isn't long before Pete and Sally run into a wall of silence and denial concerning Old Man Olderberry, who seems to be senile. His son Clarence Jr. basically runs the town and when Pete confronts him about his father, he gets very defensive and threatens to take the Carters to court and also cost Pete his job.

The Carters are determined to go through with things. They soon find out that Clarence Sr. has had other "problems" with local children and was even placed in an asylum for a time, but was released due to pressure. The records of the event are now "missing". Jean's friend Lucille is hushed by her father, who fears he will lose his job at the lumber mill the

Olderberries run.

Nevertheless, the Carters take the case all the way to court, making them unpopular in Jamestown. The court scenes are heart-breaking as a ruthless defense lawyer breaks Jean down and bullies her on the stand. This is a very hard scene to watch, because these are exactly the type of tactics lawyers use even today to confuse children testifying in court. The result is what you might expect: Clarence Sr. is cleared of all wrong-doing. The Carters have had enough and prepare to leave Jamestown. But Jean and Lucille are fated to have one more encounter with Mr. Olderberry Sr...

It didn't take long for this movie to disappear from a lot of movie screens. People in the early 1960's, a time when movies were beginning to open up on a lot of controversial subjects, simply weren't ready for a film that dealt so frankly and head-on with an incredibly sensitive subject. Some critics did praise it for the non-sensationalistic way the movie tackled child sexual abuse, although it certainly didn't help that somebody came up with a tagline that bellowed "Rough! Challenging! Shocking! See: a little girl molested!"

In the end analysis, "Never Take Candy From A Stranger" is not about pedophilia itself. It is about the abuse of power and the reluctance to take a stand even when the cause is right. Clarence Sr's "funny" ways have been an open secret in Jamestown for years, but tolerated because "no one was really hurt" and after all, he and his family have provided a living for almost everybody there. The Carters are stonewalled in every attempt to protect other children...and ultimately defeated.

Think it can't happen? Let's make Clarence Olderberry Sr. into a Catholic priest and Jean into an altar boy. It did happen...thousands and thousands of times. The movie challenges the prevailing power structure...and this may be where it stepped on toes and why it quickly sank out of sight.

Although the cast is mostly unknown, they do a terrific job. Special kudos should go to young Janina Faye as Jean...she plays the character just right and her scenes in court are really gut-churning. Speaking of the court scene, the nasty defense lawyer is played by Niall McGinnis, one of my favorite character actors. The prosecutor who sides with the Carters is the excellent Michael Gwynn, so memorable as the infected astronaut in "The Creeping Unknown" and the pathetic creature in Hammer's "Revenge of Frankenstein".

The real casting twist here is choosing elderly Felix Aylmer as Olderberry Sr. Aylmer was a beloved English actor who usually played priests and authority figures such as Merlin. He had a rich, memorable voice which he doesn't use at all here. In fact, we never hear a word from the obviously senile pedophile. The glare he shoots Jean during the court scene is chilling and when he chases Jean and Lucille through the woods in the climax, he is really scary. Casting Aylmer so strongly against type works beautifully.

This is a powerful, powerful movie that really deserves to be seen. And now it will be.

"THESE ARE THE DAMNED" (1963)

Of the six movies included on "Icons of Suspense", this is the one I had read about the most. It is perhaps the most daringly different and ambitious of all Hammer's movies and has become a much sought after cult item. On its original release, it caused a sensation amongst critics but barely a ripple amongst the movie-going public.

In retrospect, that's easy to understand, because the film is almost impossible to classify and seems to occupy a niche entirely its own. Since the word "damned" is in the title and the movie involves children, it was lumped in with the previous sci-fi classics "Village of the Damned" and "Children of the Damned". While those were powerful films in their own rite, there is no real connection to "These Are The Damned". The story, tone and approach is completely different.

Having now seen "These Are The Damned", I can safely say this is not a movie you want to see if you are toying with suicidal thoughts. It is one of the bleakest and most hopeless films I have ever seen, a total condemnation of the human animal. Compassion is rewarded with death, ruthlessness triumphs and the utter collapse of our species by its own hand seems inevitable. In other words, it is just as applicable now as in the early 60's, but for different reasons.

It really seems to be three movies rolled into one. A tense tale of juvenile delinquents transforms into an odd May-December romance between damaged people and then takes a complete left turn into Cold War paranoia and science fiction involving radioactive children and government conspiracies. And even that really doesn't do it justice.

I guarantee you'll never forget the goofy but insanely catchy theme song that bounces around the entire first half of the movie. "Black leather, black leather, crash, crash, crash/ Black leather, black leather, smash, smash, smash/ Black leather, black leather, kill, kill,kill/I got me a feeling...Black leather rocks!" This is the tune whistled, sung and hummed by King and his band of "Teddy Boy" thugs. It's dumb, but just try to forget it!

Middle-aged Simon Wells (MacDonald Carey) is aimlessly boating around England in the wake of a divorce. He winds up in the picturesque seaside town of Weymouth and spots a pretty young girl. Thinking he might get lucky, he follows her...and winds up in a trap. He is beaten and robbed by a group of juvenile delinquents known as "Teddy Boys" who are led by the dapper but disturbed King(Oliver Reed in a very early role). The young girl, Joan, is King's sister.

Wells recovers from his beating in a cafe where the Scottish scientist Dr. Bernard is discussing deep matters with his mistress, the Swedish sculptress Freya. Freya is trying to find out exactly what Bernard is up to, to which he replies "Learning my secrets could cost you your life."

As Wells is preparing to go boating, Joan finds him again. Wells is in a forgiving mood and even invites Joan to go boating with him. King and his boys appear and the ultra-possessive King threatens Joan if she touches Wells. Wells says she needs to get rid of such a menacing thug and tells Joan to hop aboard, which she does, defying King for maybe the first time in her life. Wells and Joan head out to see, but King and the Teddy Boys vow to pursue them.

As Joan and Simon sail, they find an odd attraction to each other, even though Joan forcefully resists Simon's advances. They land at a remote beach and head to a lonely, abandoned cottage. Unbeknownst to the pair, the cottage actually belongs to Freya and is on the edge of a "forbidden zone". King and the Teddy Boys make their way to the cottage, which Simon and Joan have already abandoned. King encounters Freya and attacks her, destroying her sculptures in a fit of pique.

The gang chases the fleeing duo over a barbed wire fence and into the "forbidden zone". Soldiers with dogs capture most of the Boys, but King gets away. He follows Simon and Joan down a rugged cliff face and into a hidden cave.

Simon and Joan have stumbled onto something strange in the depths of the cave. It is inhabited by children! Well-dressed and healthy-looking British children! The children seem oddly intelligent yet ignorant at the same time. They act like they have never seen adults in the flesh before. They take the pair into their living compound, while King follows furtively behind them.

The image of Dr. Bernard appears on a giant screen in front of the children's "classroom". He is the only contact they have with reality. They are being educated and prepared for something drastic. The children decide to keep their new visitors secret from Dr. Bernard, whom they obey but do not trust. When Joan comforts one of the young girls, she is shocked to find her skin is ice-cold. King now appears, but the strange situation they are now in causes him to forge an uneasy truce with Simon and Joan. King himself is horrified to discover one of the boy children has no pulse.

This is some kind of horrible government project dealing with nuclear war and radiation. Dr. Bernard will kill anyone who contaminates "his" children. Joan is determined that not only should she, Simon and King escape, but that they should take the children with them. The consequences of this act of kindness are beyond what any of them could have imagined.

Directed with austere style by the acclaimed Joseph Losey, "These Are The Damned" is grim even in the age of rampant nuclear fear. Dr. Bernard is 100% certain that a nuclear war is imminent and that his "children" are the only chance to survive it. But in order for them to be prepared for the holocaust, they must be drained of all hope and made ignorant of their own species. In other words, the survivors of humanity must cease to be human.

In essence, the entire human race is "The Damned" of the title. Fearful people so terrified of their own potential that their only choice is to shut themselves off morally and emotionally. King and his sister Joan are The Damned...he thinks he owns her and he tries to control her the same way he controls everything: through violence and fear. But in the end, we find out King is just another child. In his way, he's no more mature or ready to function than the poor children in the project. We're afraid of this thug at first. By the end of the movie, we're afraid FOR him. As bad as he is, he still has more humanity than Dr. Bernard and his government stooges. Oliver Reed already shows the intensity for which he would be become famous.

The children of the project are The Damned as well. Even if they survive, they really have no future...no chance to enjoy life and experience the real world. They are just a means to an end and their piteous cries for help as the movie ends are heart-rending.

Simon Wells is also damned. He is certainly no virtuous angel...he pursues the much younger Joan with nothing but lust on his mind at first. He again tries to force himself on her when they are on the boat. Only when death threatens does he really begin to love. He also knows something is terribly wrong with the children. "What in God's name are you DOING to these children?!" he shouts at Dr. Bernard. But by the time Wells discovers his true humanity, it's already too late. MacDonald Carey, mostly known as a soap opera actor, is well cast in the role.

Dr. Bernard knows he's damned all along. That way, he can easily dispose of his own conscience and do the awful things his cold reasoning tells him he must do. He already might as well be dead. The one thing that might possibly provide some warmth is Freya, but, as he told her, those who learn his secrets risk death.

In the end, one thing is abundantly clear: the human race is a pretty rotten species and it won't be long before it implodes. That's the real message...and that's why the movie could just as easily be called "We Are The Damned".

Not exactly a "suspense thriller", "These Are The Damned" refuses to be categorized and because of that, emerges as Hammer's most daring film.

 

So, is the "Icons of Suspense" collection a worthy investment for the discerning film fan? Considering you get six movies basically for the price of one recent Hollywood blockbuster on DVD, the value is hard to ignore. Out of the six movies, four are outstanding, one is good and even the dud is not totally without merit.

More importantly, the collection gives us a closer look at a studio many unfairly associate only with Gothic horror. It shows that this Hammer had more than one way to drive in a nail...