Black Leather, Black Leather, Kill, Kill, Kill

In 1960, MGM British Studios first introduced us to a pack of blond-haired, candescent-eyed children in Village of the Damned (starring Barbara Shelley, a Hammer regular).  Four years later, the frightening and murderous youth would return in Children of the Damned.  In the interim, Hammer Film Productions would produce and release its own film about unusual and potentially lethal children titled simply The Damned.  Despite the obvious similarities in both fundamental concept and title, Hammer’s film is a very different breed of horror film with kiddies that are simultaneously less threatening and more hazardous.

Theatrical Poster – The glowing eyes and overall style seem to intentionally call to mind the posters for Village of the Damned from two years prior.

The first thing to strike you when watching The Damned is the film’s quasi-official theme song “Black Leather Rock”.  With a squawking saxophone, heavy drum, and repetitive nonsense lyrics, it can be grating but just try to get it out of your head later.  This primitive, simplistic song can be heard in the background of a couple scenes and dominates the film’s opening.  As “Black Leather Rock” plays, we are introduced to our two leads.  Recently divorced and enjoying an early retirement, Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) is on a boating holiday in Weymouth, Dorset, England.  Wearing the sorriest excuse for a hat, he is sight-seeing when he meets Joan (Shirley Anne Field).

It’s hard to fault Simon for falling for Joan’s charms but you would think the knife sticking out of her waistband would give him pause.

This is no chance encounter as Joan is luring Simon to a brutal mugging at the hands of her brother’s gang (while they whistle “Black Leather Rock”).  Oliver Reed, as brother King, immediately commands your attention.  While his gang are all dressed in leather motorcycle gear, King sports a tweed jacket, collared shirt and tie and carries a brolly.  His only concession to the gang uniform is a pair of black leather gloves.  Yet it is the power of his personality more than his physical appearance that makes King the obvious leader of the pack.  In his first appearance on the screen, King, surrounded by his gang, leans casually against the pedestal of Weymouth’s King’s Statue.  The lethargic stance barely masks, however, a violence lurking below the surface.  Reed was well known for his intensity and he pours it into the character of King in the opening scenes.  The screenplay for The Damned, as written by Evan Jones, included several references to an incestuous relationship between King and his sister Joan.  These references were removed at the insistence of the studio but the fervor in King’s eyes as he looks at Joan strongly implies more than a mere brother/sister connection.

I have seen Reed’s character described as a Teddy Boy. I am no expert but Reed’s outfit does not match the zoot suit and brocade waistcoat style associated with the label.

After his beating by King’s gang, Simon is aided by Bernard (Alexander Knox), a man clearly in a position of some authority, two men working under Bernard, and Bernard’s mistress, the artist, Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors).  You would think that being lead into the hands and fists of vicious thugs would deter Simon.  On the contrary, when Joan somehow manages to track Simon down, he forgives her almost immediately and welcomes her aboard his boat.  Joan is not the only expert tracker in the family, however.  King and his followers arrive shortly after and are none too pleased that Joan is consorting with the enemy.  In the ensuing altercation, Simon steals away with Joan out to sea.

Did I mention that Simon is, of course, an American? I hope they are not trying to imply he piloted that boat all the way across the ocean.

It is around this point that you start to wonder if you have somehow made a mistake and are watching the wrong film.  While engaging, what has occurred thus far seems more like a cautionary tale about troubled teens then the promised horror movie involving freak children.  Fortunately Joan is about to lead everyone in an entirely new direction.  She suggests that she and Simon hide out at a seemingly vacant cliff-top cottage that she often steals away to in order to escape King.  The cottage just happens to be that of Bernard’s mistress, Freya.  More importantly, Bernard has located Freya near his work, an ominous and heavily-guarded government facility.  When King and his henchmen inevitably arrive, the chase is on yet again.  In their haste to escape from King and King’s own determination to catch them, Simon, Joan, and King all fall from the cliff into the icy waters below.  They are rescued by a small group of eleven year old children in robes living in a bunker under the government facility.

Joan is struck by how unnaturally cold the children’s hands are.

This is where I must leave off lest I reveal too much.  Suffice to say, that Simon and Joan have gone from the frying pan and into the fire.  They don’t immediately know it but their situation is dire.  Hammer’s The Damned is a damn entertaining film.  One does have to wonder whether it could have been two entertaining films.  A movie dedicated entirely to the children’s story and the horror elements would have been welcome.  At the same time, I enjoyed the plot of the first half of the film so was disappointed when that conflict was all but discarded.  In particular, my favourite part of the film is Reed’s performance as the hoodlum, King.  Unfortunately, once the focus of the story shifts, no one seems to have known what to do with King.  With all the raw energy of his personality, I can imagine King being the one to take charge and lead them against the dangers.  Instead he is merely along for the ride.  His character fades and he is relegated to taking direction from Simon and, ironically, being lead around by an eleven year old boy.

The self-assured and menacing King is nowhere to be found.

Allow me to end with one final curiosity about The Damned.  Alert readers may have noted that the poster I included above says “these are The Damned”.  In Canada and the U.S., the film was released as These Are the Damned and I, therefore, assumed this is a North American poster, odd capitalization notwithstanding.  However, there are precious few posters and lobby cards to be found online that don’t include the phrase “these are” before the original title.  The film does not appear to have been marketed very extensively upon its release in the UK but I would still expect numerous British posters to have survived.  It seems likely, therefore, that some of the posters to be found online were used to promote the film in the UK and included “these are” as a lead-in to the title.  This further lends itself to the idea, and this is mere speculation on my part, that the North American title was inspired by the posters.

A rare example of a British quad poster without “these are” preceding the title.

The Damned (1962) Directed by Joseph Losey; Written by Evan Jones; Based on the novel The Children of Light by H. L. Lawrence; Starring Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Viveca Lindfors, Alexander Knox, & Oliver Reed; Available on Blu-Ray from Power House Films.

This is my contribution to The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon.  The other half of our two-man gang has also banged out an article for the blogathon here.  Please check out some of the other contributors by clicking on the image below.  Our thanks to Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeegieMidget Reviews for allowing two ruffians to mingle with polite society.

21 thoughts on “Black Leather, Black Leather, Kill, Kill, Kill

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  1. Wow!
    Great review, Michael! 👍
    I’ve never heard of the Damned oh, but I think I need to see it.

    PS, love the captions 😂

  2. Excellent review, Michael. This is one of my favorite Hammer films from that era, although I concede it does feel like two different movies. The ending is quite a punch to the gut.

    Thanks so much for joining our blogathon!

    P.S., Look what you did… Now I have that &*#@ song stuck in my head!

    1. Thanks, Barry, and thanks again for hosting the blogathon with Gill. The ending of the film is a tough one, but I’m glad there was no attempt at a less feasible but happier ending.

      P.S. Black Leather, Black Leather, Crash, Crash Crash! 😀

  3. Losey was a fascinating director, very experimental—Secret Ceremony and Boom are two that stick in my mind. This one looks good—and anything with Oliver Reed is on my must-see list. Great review!

    1. Thanks, Christopher! Any fan of both Losey and Reed is bound to enjoy this film. Apparently Losey directing the film came about because he came to England after being blacklisted by Hollywood. Hollywood’s loss was Hammer’s gain.

  4. IIRC, it wasn’t released in the UK for two years after it was made. That song really is a pain to get out of your head. There’s a few plot points that get mentioned and don’t go anywhere – you do wonder about the fates of some of the supporting characters, on top of that kicker of an ending.

    But it must have looked amazing on the big screen; it’s got some real energy at times, and some killer pieces of dialogue – it’s pretty impressive on Blu Ray. Would probably be better remembered if it wasn’t a Hammer film. Highly recommended.

    Just think what a big star Reed could have been. I’m forever reading interviews with people who had a hard time working with him, but even then they still maintained that he put in some amazing work (Rita Tushingham was the most recent).

    1. Hi! Yeah, production apparently started in 1961 but it wasn’t released in the UK until 1963.

      I was most intrigued about the fate of the gang member who seemed to be questioning his life choices. Alas, we will never know.

      Reed sounds like he was often unbearable in person but he could definitely act. Both traits a result of him being a larger-than-life personality.

  5. Great review! This is a fascinating, oddball sort of film, combining two great fears of the early ’60s, juvenile delinquency (although Reed could scarcely be called juvenile in this one) and nuclear war. Without going into too much detail, I was fascinated by the origin story of the children and the rationale for it. Director Joseph Losey went into exile in the UK after being summoned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early ’50s. When his films were good, they were very good.

    1. Hi, Brian. It’s fascinating to see how delinquency was a major concern back then especially when compared to modern social concerns. In the film, Bernard’s take that war is inevitable seems, thankfully, bizarre now but I guess living through the Cold War really drove those fears home.

  6. I can’t believe I haven’t seen this one yet! Apparently, Losey had a predilection for offbeat stories (Modesty Blaise, Secret Ceremony, etc.). Great review!

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