These Are the Damned (1962)

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*. This film is a real curiosity. I don’t think it’s very good, and in some ways it’s very bad, but it is interesting.
*. The parts don’t really add up, and the overriding sense is of everything being a bit out of place, like the Canadian actor Alexander Knox’s heavy Scottish burr. I wonder why, for example, we’re in beautiful Weymouth. It seems like such an inappropriate location for a top secret government facility.
*. Then there are the Teddy Boys (a British term for types like the gang of rockers led by Oliver Reed). What role do they play in all this, functional or thematic?
*. You have to struggle to make a connection between the biker gang and the radioactive kids, though people have tried. Do they both represent youth at risk? A lost generation?
*. I’ve also heard it argued that the gang are like the scientists in some way. Glenn Erickson: “as in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange the hooligan motorcycle gang is simply a mirror image of the institutionalized brutality of society at large. The Teddy Boys’ outlaw disenchantment is a direct reaction to the warped values of the adult generation.” Really? That seems like a big stretch to me.
*. I wish the Teddy Boys had been left out. The “Black Leather” song they march to makes them seem like the Jets from West Side Story. And then there’s poor Oliver Reed. This was one of his earlier appearances on film and he already seems so out of sorts.
*. I’m not sure what’s going on between King (Reed) and his sister Joan. The studios thought the script was hinting too much at incest, but I don’t really see any of that. Joan’s accusation that King is still a virgin came as a shock, but I guess the strained psychological point is that he’s impotent and so doesn’t want anyone to “have” his sister. If that makes any sense, or really has anything to do with the rest of the movie.
*. Then again, I’m not sure what’s going on between Joan and Simon either. They seem to fall in love rather quickly, especially for a May-December romance.
*. Then, just to keep this ball rolling, we might ask what’s going on between Bernard and Freya. Is she a kept woman? Are they lovers, at least until she becomes expendable?
*. Was radioactivity not that well understood in 1962? Why would the children have no body heat? Shouldn’t they be showing some sign of sickness? At least they aren’t given super powers.
*. I know it’s silly to nitpick about such things, but how practical is the idea of selecting nine children to be the breeding stock for a new race, and then raise them in an underground bunker and teach them things like poetry? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have set up an above-ground compound somewhere and taught them how to be farmers?
*. The script is filled with the kind of talkiness that became the Hammer house style after they finished strip mining Universal’s monster franchises. Everyone is so earnest and dramatic. By the time we get to the end and Bernard is saying things like “My children are the buried seeds of life” it just seems commonplace, of a piece with all that has gone before.
*. I don’t like this movie. The gang stuff doesn’t work, the romantic relationship(s) are all creepy, and it’s wildly overwritten. Some people see it as a landmark work, unjustly forgotten today, but I don’t think it holds a candle to earlier Hammer SF efforts like the Quatermass movies.
*. The ending, however, does manage to redeem it somewhat. It’s incredibly bleak, with the military helicopters hovering over the demise of all our heroes and the pleading voices of the children begging for help playing against shots of Weymouth’s smiling esplanade. It’s striking to think that in 1962 this is what some imagined the last best hope of humanity might look like (and note that Bernard is not presented to us as a bad man).
*. Then again, have we any reason to be more optimistic today? The waters are rising at Weymouth and people are still having a good time.

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