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Monday, August 9, 2010

These Are The Damned

Released in America in 1965, as These are the Damned (TatD) is actually the second of the "Damned" triology. Columbia & Hammer Films produced The Damned in '61, one year after the classic Village of the Damned, but released it in the UK in '63. Children of the Damned was released in '64. The story of TatD is not so much a sequel, as a variation on the theme of "special children." Two independent plot threads become entwined in the second half. The British posters stressed the reckless youth angle. The American posters suggested (with the glowing eyes) a connection to the first movie. In TatD, however, the children's eyes do not glow.

Quick Plot Synopsis
An American tourist, Simon Wells is lured into a mugging by a pretty woman named Joan -- the sister of the gang leader. Simon is taken to cafe by plain-clothes military men, where he meets Bernard, the leader of a secret project. The next day, Joan, feeling bad about Simon, goes to him on his boat. An awkward May-September relationship develops. The gang leader, King, threatens Simon, so he and Joan leave on his boat. They come ashore and spend an implied romantic night at a coastal cottage used by Bernard's former flame, Freya, as an artist's getaway. Freya arrives, so Simon and Joan run into the night. They are pursued by King's gang. To escape, Simon and Joan climb the fence of the secret project's grounds. King chases them off a cliff and falls off himself. A group of children rescue Simon and Joan. Another, Henry, rescues the nearly drowned King. The children take them to their secret hideout. There is something different (and wrong with) these nine kids. They live underground, cut off from all outside contact. Bernard is their manager and teacher. King starts to get sick. Bernard decides to send in his men (in hazmat suits) to extract the three adults, but the three get the upper hand. It turns out that the children are radioactive. That's what makes outsiders sicken and die around them. All nine were the result of accidental radiation on their pregnant mothers. Bernard's government-sponsored project is to raise the kids as replacement people for a post-armegeddon earth. The three adults lead the children in an escape, but it fails. The children are rounded up. King, weak from radiation poisoning, drives Freya's car off a wharf. Bernard shoots Freya for now knowing too much of the secret project. Simon and Joan escape to Simon's boat, but are sick. Bernard says they'll die soon. When they do, their boat will be blown up. A helicopter follows Simon's boat. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Character development keeps the pace is a bit slow in the beginning, but the story gets fast and suspenseful in the second half. The insidious secret-government-plot was fairly new in '61. The characters are written with some depth, so TatD works, even as a social-commentary drama.

Cold War Angle
This shows up later in the movie is blatant. Bernard gives his rationale to Freya near the end. "To survive the destruction that is inevitabally coming, we need a new kind of man. An accident gave us 9 precious children. They can survive in the conditions which must inevitably exist, when the time comes. Every nation is searching for the key to survival and we have found it. When the 'thing' happens, (the equipment) will open the door, and my children will come out to inherit the earth."

Notes
Damned Franchise -- Apparently, British audiences (or marketers) liked the word "damned," so brandished it where they could. John Wyndham's original story, "The Midwich Cuckoos" which was the basis for the first "Damned" film (Village of the Damned ('60) ) was about alien xenogenisis. The hybrid children had special powers which included the ability to cause death, so were much feared. The second "Damned" movie (TatD) was about otherwise normal children who had earthly origins, even if accidental. The third "Damned" movie, Children of the Damned ('64) picked up on Wyndham's original notion, though obliquely.

Leisure's Dark Side -- Much of TatD is spent on social commentary about the dark side of post-WWII prosperity. Increased living standards gave rise to disaffected youth who had no pressing need to work (and thereby lacked purpose). The occasional crime was enough to support their minimal (nihlist) lifestyle. The Teddy Boys seem a bit tame to modern audiences, but in early 60s Britain, they represented the threat of idle (hostile) youth.

Odd Theme Song -- Pervasive throughout TatD is the peculiar theme song: Black Leather Rock. Viewers too far removed from 50s and pre-hippy beatnik-ism, the lyrics sound a bit childish and/or stupid. "Black leather, black leather, rock rock rock." Repeat ad nauseum substituting the final triplet with: smash, kill, etc. Odd as it sounds, the theme tune does capture some of the mood of the era's self-absorbed, anarchistic and nihlistic youth culture.

Pick Yer Poison -- The Teddy Boys, and especially the sociopathic King, represented a visible threat to decent society. They were selfish and brutal, but visible. Bernard and his secret government project, however, represented a far worse threat. Note the scene near the end, when Bernard rather cooly pulls out his pistol and shoots Freya (a former lover of his) dead for knowing too much. Petty bully or fascistic Big Brother, which was the bigger threat?

Early Plots & Black Helicopters -- An interesting cultural icon note, is how early the insidious secret government plot had helicopters as its harpies. In TatD, they were chubby Sikorsky H-55s. The role would later get more sinister looking attack helicopters like Blackhawks or Apache gunships. TatD had them first!

Bottom line? TatD is a bit obscure to the mainstream of sci-fi, but well worth seeking out. It doesn't really follow Wyndham's original premise, but still raises quite a few issues, makes several statements, and has enough action (in the latter half) to keep viewers' attention. The overall mood is a bit gloomy, but it is not dull.

2 comments:

John Drake said...

Howdy,


A good movie and worth watching.

Very unnerving and well carried out.


Is this the beginning of "Millennials"?


John

thingmaker said...

This one is based on a book I hope to read one day...
"The Children of Light" by H.L. Lawrence. Unfortunately, I can't afford $80+ for a book that might be good.