12th September, 2009. Tonight, if you aren't watching Collingwood v Adelaide, check out this fillum which is on ABC2 at 8:30.
We open on a early sixties English seaside resort town promenade. Rockers lounge in menacing attitudes. The soundtrack - a crude yet potent piece of proto-psychobilly (“Black Leather, Black Leather, Kill, Kill, Kill”). Whip pan in on the gang leader, a very young and slim Oliver Reed, sardonically toffed up in a tasty hacking jacket and black gloves, hanging his umbrella off the horn of a massive statue of a unicorn. Surely these must be the damned. But no…
(1963. B&W. Script: Evan Jones, Direction: Joseph Losey, Cinematography: Arthur Grant. Score: James Bernard.)
The one or two of you left that are still are aware of Grogflog can break out the champers now – I’ve finally got around to this Oliver Reed fillum I’ve coyly mentioned over the years. But enjoy that drink while you can. 'These Are The Damned' is one of the darkest, most brooding, nihilistic movies you’re ever likely to see during your short miserable life.
On the bright side, a 23-year-old Ollie is excellent in it, radiating screen charisma from every orifice, Joseph Losey demonstrates he can make a great film without a Harold Pinter script and it is the most truly horrifying product ever to come out of Hammer at its peak.
For the first act, you think you’re watching some weird psycho-sexual melodrama involving bikie gang incest and an hapless American tourist, intercut with a passionless affair between a sculptress and a top secret boffin.
But then the story starts to knit these characters together to drag us into a real horror buried underneath the ruggedly picturesque Dorset coast.
And what makes this horror really um…horrifying is that the people responsible have the best intentions and that those who stumble into it are doomed by those they reluctantly try to save. No monsters, no blood, just the awfully decent stiff upper lip chaps of the Brit science-military-security establishment calmly and logically walking down a sterile CCTV-surveilled corridor to eternal damnation - for the very best of reasons. Trying to be as humane as possible about how they go about preparing for the unthinkable. If this is what takes to save the human race, are we really worth saving?
Or to look at it another way, no way Hollywood (or even the 28 Zombies Later crew) could ever remake it now without smoothing over the central appalling sting. Well maybe Cronenberg or Romero but they’ve already got their own riffs about hell going on.
Even though the movie’s over forty years old and the tech has dated massively, it’s still a nightmarish noir techno-chiller, not least because you just don’t see the big idea coming for the first half. OK, well now maybe you will. But what you won’t see coming are the weird human relationships that poisonously blossom under such unnatural circumstances.
It’s great looking film too, all moody craggy black and white. And with brilliant sound design as well that moves from crazed pyschobilly to the detached and controlled breathing of the State. There are echoes of Nigel Kneale, John Wyndham, John Blackburn and JG Ballard but the central sound is a genuinely chilling cry from tiny mouths.
And the ending holds out no hope for anyone. Just the prowling blank-faced helicopters (WS-55 Whirlwinds, natch) watching the damned die, only following the orders of the equally damned.
GrogFlog’s verdict: “Help me! Help me!” 8 of 10 dead kids.
Coming soon: When the fuck is my local DVD parlor gonna get the “Phantasm” series in on disk? Don Coscarelli was on some kinda crazed surrealistic roll there for a while. Not worth ordering online but certainly worth a Grogflog.