Horror legend DAVID McGILLIVRAY reviews Incense for the Damned 1970 for Spooky Isles
TITLE: Incense for the Damned aka Bloodsuckers
YEAR RELEASE: 1970
DIRECTOR: Robert Hartford-David
CAST: Patrick Macnee, Peter Cushing, Edward Woodward
Incense for the Damned review
One of the few films to have been released unfinished, Incense for the Damned will always be high on the list of cinema oddities. Its tortuous production history will have to be summarised here.
Terence Fisher had his eye on Simon Raven’s modern vampire novel, Doctors Wear Scarlet, about an Oxford don who falls in with a young black magic circle while on holiday in Greece. But somehow the property fell into the hands of exploitation director Robert Hartford-Davis.
In amidst soft porn, Hartford-Davis had already done a couple of interesting horrors, The Black Torment (1964) and Corruption (1967), before going to Cyprus to helm Incense for the Damned in 1969. He had a strong cast, headed by Patrick Macnee and Peter Cushing, with up-and-coming Patrick Mower as the vacationing don and sexy Imogen Hassall as his main nemesis.
While they were on location the money ran out and production was suspended. Hartford-Davis moved on to his next horror, The Fiend (1971).
But the producers of Incense for the Damned, who wanted a return on their investment, decided to patch the film together with voice-overs and release it. When Hartford-Davis heard of their plan he paid for advertisements in the trade press disowning the film. He removed his name from the credits.
It was finally released in 1976 on a double bill with a Swedish witchcraft and sex shocker, Fear Has a Thousand Eyes (1970). I didn’t see Incense for the Damned until 1993 when it turned up on TV as Bloodsuckers, one of its video titles. The director was credited as “Michael Burrowes”.
One of the film’s few champions was Time Out critic David Pirie, who thought it was “the only remotely good thing” Hartford-Davis had done. It’s interesting that vampirism is presented as a sexual deviation. The Cyprus locations (shot by Desmond Dickinson, who won an award at Venice for Hamlet ) are pretty. But otherwise, it’s hard to share Pirie’s enthusiasm.
Nothing adds up and this is almost certainly because not everything was shot. There’s no exposition apart from a voice-over that gives us “the story so far”. We’re told nothing about the leading characters.
Some of the leads appear only briefly. Hassall does a little dance, sucks some blood and then falls to her death. Madeline Hind (dreadful; she must have been the director’s girlfriend) has a vision that makes no sense at all. (This sequence may have been shot by someone else to add a bit of spice).
There is an element here of what might have been, but not enough, one would have thought, to make this salvage job worthwhile.
DAVID McGILLIVRAY has worked in the entertainment industry in various capacities for 50 years. His horror films as a writer include House of Whipcord, Frightmare, Satan’s Slave and Terror. More recently he has written and produced a series of horror shorts, collected together as Worst Fears. He has written material for Julian Clary, Paul O’Grady, Angus Deayton and Paul Zerdin among many others, and pantomimes for Julian Clary, Nigel Havers, Stephanie Beacham and Gok Wan. His latest film, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, opened at Sheffield DocFest before playing at festivals worldwide.