THESE ARE THE DAMNED (1963, dir. Joseph Losey)

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The fear of nuclear apocalypse runs through the veins of this obscure, but seriously impressive, Hammer film, These Are the Damned. Less a Village of the Damned-style horror outing than a chilly and slow bit of science fiction with a Twilight Zone-ish edge, These Are the Damned juxtaposes the the impulses that drive us to pursue transcendence with the instincts that drive us to cruelty.

Director Joseph Losey, probably best known for his contribution to the film noir canon, The Prowler, collaborates with cinematographer Arthur Grant, whose beautiful work graced such genre gems as Hammer’s Paranoiac and AIP’s The Tomb of Ligeia, to create a stark, black-and-white vision of a desperate and lonely England, inhabited by prowling gangs and chilly bureaucrats. The opening titles alone (scored by Hammer veteran James Bernard) make for a powerful artistic statement, depicting a lonely beach haunted by eerily inhuman sculpture, the lone indication of human presence.

The cast is consistently strong, though two performances stand out as being especially vital. First, there is the sensual and steely Viveca Lindfors, whose character, an artist named Freya, functions, for most of the picture, as an observer and the voice of conscience. Then there is Oliver Reed, who delivers a deliciously menacing performance as a gang leader, ala Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange.

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