Monday, 15 January 2018
Incense for the Damned
I was not put off from buying this film by the online reviews, which are, if not almost universally bad, not exactly what you would call good. It seems that a lot of people want to like this film but find it sadly lacking when it comes down to it. In fact it is sadly orphaned, because even its own producer disowned it. It was made in two goes, and after a break caused by the money running out, new scenes had to be shot with new characters, and I will grant you that once you know that fact this film does seem rather cobbled together.
Yes this film has its strengths. One of the things I'm always banging on about here is the necessity of remembering the time in which TV shows (and therefore films) were made, and trying to see them through the eyes of that time, as a way to understand them better. I think that approach would really pay off in the case of this film. We are talking about the era of package holidays in the Med, sexploitation films, and Hammer House of Horror films.
The Greek setting of much of the film is one of its absolutely strongest points. I have never been to Greece but wonder whether the Greece shown here is a real one or a mythological one. Certainly it contains the caricatures of Greece held in the English imagination - little old ladies dressed in black, priests everywhere, you get the drift. The Greek setting is the excuse for John Steed, sorry Patrick Macnee to appear in his best light. You will pardon my slip but Macneee does seem rather Steedly in this film, expatiating on mythology, which we just knoe he learned at school from the original texts. My absolutely favourite scene in this film is Macnee being assisted onto a donkey by priests in black. Incidentally I also love the scenes of the Land Rover driving through the mountains, and it has brought back happy memories of riding in the back of the pick up with the servants when my aunt had had enough of me and would kick me out of the cab. The murrum raised by the vehicle's wheels would literally get everywhere - it is the most dirty place to travel in a vehicle in dusty terrain.
As a sexploitation film it is of course of its era. Sex was very much in the air at this time and the films of the time were often relentlessly sexy. There is an irony here, of course, that Mower, despite not being able to perform, has wound up as a vampire as a result of his sexiness. I bet many a couple came out of the cinema giggling about making each other vampires when they got home. Another seventies aspect of this film is that it feels very much like the Hammer House of Horror films of the time, which often had an element of sex to them, as I remember. I remember watching them in my teens and waiting for something sexy to happen but it never did. Similarly the cultic elements underlying the plot are usually suggested, rather than explicit.
Another favourite thing, although it is a blooper, is the couple of scenes where rocks fall on first Mower and then Macnee. If you look carefully you can see the 'rocks' bounce, which rather takes the horror out of the scene!
So what is wrong with this film? It's a bit difficult to say except that it isn't really one thing or another. As a sexploitation it's short on sex, as a horror it's short on horror, as a glamorous-1970s-living film it's short on glamour. It doesn't even really have a moral message because let's face it no viewer is going to be put off sex outside wedlock or joining a sinister cult, by the warning of being turned into a vampire. The front of my DVD box says 'See the terror! Feel the pleasure! Taste the pain!', and if you're only looking for one of these you're going to be somewhat disappointed.
In fact I would suggest that this film has missed its key audience, which ought to be people like me, who want to see some of the big names of the time shoved in a horror film together. If you like Our Sort of Television you will at least give this film a go. There is even a scene towards the end, set in Oxford, where Mower stirs up a riot in his college dining room. To we who know The Avengers, the scene can only be reminiscent of his performance in that show. In fact he sounds, naturally, very much like the same character.
So my conclusion is that if you're not a horror fan, but instead a lover of the TV of the sixties and seventies, this show may be right up your street.
Posted by John