Thursday, 9 August 2007

Incense for the Damned, AKA Bloodsuckers (1970)

Incense for the Damned, also known as Bloodsuckers, is an intriguing 1970 British horror movie. It’s a vampire movie, but it’s an attempt to do something different with the vampire genre, to approach the subject from the point of view of psychology rather than folklore. The movie was not a success, and it seems to be held in fairly low esteem, many reviewers describing it as incoherent. I have no idea why anyone would find it confused or incoherent. It’s actually fairly straightforward, although certainly somewhat unconventional for a 1970 British horror film. A young Oxford don seems to have everything going for him. He’s rising rapidly in the academic world, and he’s engaged to be married to the daughter of the dean of his college. All is not well with this young man, though. He has major sexual problems. He is impotent, and it’s strongly implied that this is most likely because he isn’t attracted to women at all, but he is in serious denial about the real nature of his sexuality. On an academic jaunt to Greece he meets a woman who tells him not to worry about his inability to perform sexually, because there are “other things” that one can do. The other things turn out to be vampirism, with a dash of S&M. OK, the movie is a little disjointed, and a little clunky at times, but it’s a bold attempt to get away from the gothic clichés of the vampire flick, and to deal with some serious subject matter in a grownup way. If it doesn’t entirely succeed, it at least deserves points for trying. And it’s a lot more convincing and a lot more interesting than Hammer’s attempt two years later to make a contemporary vampire movie, the ill-fated Dracula AD1972. The acting is extremely variable – the less aid about the performance of Madeleine Hinde as the young man’s fiancee the better, and Alexander Davion and Johnny Sekka as his two friends who set out to save him from the vampire cult are not much better. Patrick Mower is adequate as the young don, Patrick Macnee is OK as a Foreign Office official who is also involved in the attempted rescue, and Peter Cushing is very good as the dean. Edward Woodward steals the picture, though, as an eccentric and rather dotty but very amusing anthropologist who has devoted his career to the study of vampirism and sexuality.

The ending is visually impressive, although I’m not sure it really fits in wit the rest of the movie. Despite its faults this is an interesting and original little movie that I think is well worth seeing.

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