Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bloodsucking Freaks

INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED (1970)

In a non-speaking role, Imogen Hassall is bewitching as the leader of a perversion-driven vampire cult.

DIRECTLY after THE BLACK TORMENT in 1964, director Robert Hartford-Davis and cinematographer Peter Newbrook quit Compton and formed Titan. After making the musical GONKS GO BEAT, Michael Bentine's THE SANDWICH MAN and Norman Wisdom vehicle PRESS FOR TIME, the studio turned out their lasting legacy in 1968 with the seedy CORRUPTION. A brutal picture which sees Peter Cushing as a surgeon killing in order to restore his young fiancée's facial tissue, Cushing departed to make another low point in his filmography with Tigon's THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR. Titan, however, went on to nearly complete their greatest folly, a take on Simon Raven's novel Doctors Wear Scarlet - INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED.

If you ever wanted to see Patrick Macnee and Imogen Hassall ride donkeys in a British vampire picture, then INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED is the film for you. Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower) - an Oxford don and the Foreign Secretary's son - falls into the clutches of Chriseis (Hassall) while researching ancient Minoan rites in Greece. Chriseis heads a non-supernatural bloodsucking cult of socialites who murder innocents as a form of sexual perversion. In an attempt to avoid a scandal, a search party flies to the island of Mikonos in a desperate search for Richard, which contains Major Derek Longbow (Macnee), British Foreign Office assistant Tony Seymore (Alexander Davion), friend Bob Kirby (Johnny Sekka), and Fountain's somnambulant fiancée Penelope (Madeleine Hinde). After apparently halting the cult's influence over Richard, the don returns to his sheltered life, but we discover that the marks left by Chriseis still resonate.

Also known as BLOODSUCKERS and FREEDOM SEEKER, INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED is based on Simon Raven's 1960 novel Doctors Wear Scarlet. Raven - a Luciferian provocateur who was also a journalist and television writer - rejected faith and possessed a deep contempt for the English unwillingness to offend.

According to David Pirie's The Vampire Cinema, INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED was a long-gestating project of Terence Fisher, who was never able to interest Hammer in its subversive content. With the rights acquired by Titan and Hartford-Davis at the helm, it was the beginning of a painful production and editing process. While shooting in Cyprus funds were exhausted, leaving the picture unfinished. With a compressed narrative and lame narration introduced to cover the cracks, the director disowned the picture and prints only exist under a directorial psydonym (Michael Burrowes) or with no director credit at all. The ending was also shot against Hartford-Davis' wishes, where Kirby and Seymore go to Fountain's coffin to administer a stake through his heart. This climax vilifies the rest of the film, which had explained vampirism as a psychological distortion, rather than reverting to cliché. Also jarring is an extraordinary six-minute sequence of a hallucinogenic orgy, which was either cut or excised completely for overseas prints.

Mower’s character is revealed as impotent - and possibly bisexual - making vampirism his only means of satisfaction. Richard's liberating climactic outburst at a Oxford dinner not only frees him from the stifling academic system championed by provost Dr Walter Goodrich (Peter Cushing) - Penelope's father - but also plays as a rousing counter-culture statement of the times ("the thieves who come to take our souls ... smooth deceivers in scarlet gowns.") As Tim Lucas points out in his Video Watchdog review, INCENSE would play well with Fisher's THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, where Mower plays another privileged upper class individual who falls under the power of persuasion. As well as Cushing - who is used far too fleetingly - Edward Woodward appears as an anthropologist who tries to explain vampirism where the drinking of blood serves as surrogate orgasm.