The Damned (1963 film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Damned is a British science fiction film drama starring Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field and Oliver Reed. It was a Hammer Film production directed by Joseph Losey and based on H.L. Lawrence's story The Children of Light.

Made in 1961, it was not released in Britain until 1963 and the US until 1965 where it was renamed These Are the Damned.



Middle-aged divorcee Simon Wells is on a boating holiday in the town of Weymouth on the south coast of England. There he meets Joan, a 20-year-old girl, who lures him into a mugging staged by her biker brother King and his gang. Wells is beaten up and robbed.

Later Joan approaches Wells on his small boat. He is prepared to forgive and forget, she implies that he asked for it after trying to pick her up. At that moment they are threatened by King and his gang. Wells sets off on his boat and calls on Joan to join him which she does, defying her over-protective (and rather incestuous) brother.

After drifting out to sea, Joan decides to go back and confront King, who has previously locked her into a cupboard when she has come close to other men. King and his gang keep a watch-out for them.

At night Wells and Joan return to a quiet part of the mainland and make love in a cliff top house surrounded by curious sculptures. Caught up and surrounded by the gang, the couple escape into a nearby military base where guards and dogs are soon in pursuit of them all.

The house was rented by sculptress Freya Neilson whose lover, Bernard, is a scientist who runs the base. He will not discuss his work, warning her that he "might be condemning her to death".

Wells and Joan make their way down the cliff face. King goes after them. There they discover a small network of caves and bunkers occupied by a group of young boys and girls, aged about 11. Although well-dressed, cared-for and educated, it is clear that they do not know much about the outside world. The children's skin is also cold at the touch.

In fact the children are confined to the bunker which is the underground part of the military base. The premises, which double as a schoolroom and living quarters, are filled with surveillance cameras. Access to the children is limited though they are occasionally visited by men in radiation suits. Bernard gives them lessons via a TV monitor, but dismisses some of their more searching questions, saying that they will learn the answers "when the time comes".

The children do not even know much about where they are. One of them actually believes that they are in a spaceship and are to populate a distant planet.

The children have a small hideout in a connecting cave where they keep pictures and mementos of people they think are their parents. They believe that it is a safe and secret place but Bernard and his associates are well aware of it. Bernard, who is in his own way genuinely fond of the children, has allowed them this degree of privacy in spite of objections by the head of security Major Holland.

Time passes and Wells, Joan and King feel increasingly unwell, but Wells and Joan have promised to help the children escape and pressure King into helping them. The children keep them fed by ably smuggling food past the surveillance cameras into the hideout.

Since security has been unable to find the intruders, Bernard tells the children via the TV monitor that he knows their secret and asks that they give up the grown-ups that they are hiding there. He reminds them of a rabbit they once acquired as a pet but which later died and warns them that the same might happen to their would-be rescuers. The children rebel and destroy the cameras.

Men in radiation suits then enter the premises but are overpowered by Wells and King. Using a Geiger counter, Wells discovers that it is in fact the children themselves who are radioactive. Nevertheless he agrees to break them out. They escape the bunker and face the world, the Sun and flowers for the first time.

But before they can take it all in, they are rounded up and, kicking and screaming, are taken back to the bunker by other men in radiation suits. Freya Neilson, the sculptress, witnesses the events.

King drives off in a sports car accompanied by Henry, one of the children. Weakened by the radioactivity, King orders Henry out of the car saying that he is "poison". Henry is then grabbed by pursuers and is forcibly taken back to the bunker in a helicopter.

Chased by another helicopter, King crashes his car into a river. Joan and Wells are allowed to leave on his boat, but the sickness catches up with them and the boat goes round and round in the sea monitored by a military helicopter, which will destroy the boat once its occupants are dead.

Bernard's only real regret about the whole affair is that "his" children now know for sure that they are "freaks" and prisoners and will be more difficult to control. He explains to Neilson that they were radioactive from birth. The plan is to release them "when the time comes", i.e. the inevitable nuclear war. Their bodies will resist the nuclear fallout and the human race will continue. Now that Neilson knows his secret, Bernard kills her.

The film ends with swimmers and beach-goers enjoying the sea and sand, oblivious to the children who are desperately and vainly calling for help from their cliff side prison. These are the damned.


American director Joseph Losey had moved to Britain after being blacklisted by Hollywood. The film was produced by Hammer, which had enjoyed great success with such science fiction/horror films as The Quatermass Xperiment and The Curse of Frankenstein.

The film was made in 1961 but, due perhaps to political considerations, was not released in Britain until 1963. Even then it was subject to several cuts, from 96 to 87 minutes in Britain and 77 minutes in America where it was released as These Are the Damned in 1965. A complete print was released in arthouse cinemas in 2007.

Although perhaps not so well-known today, it has been referred to as "the highpoint of the first wave of the British postwar Science Fiction films".


  • In the early 1960s, when the film was made, many considered a nuclear war inevitable, especially since the Cuban Missile Crisis was at its height.
  • Freya Neilson's sculptures resemble the bodies of people and animals killed by a nuclear blast. They were made by Elisabeth Frink.
  • The children's names, Henry, Victoria, Elizabeth, George, Richard, Charles, William, Anne and Mary are based, perhaps intentionally, on those of English Kings and Queens.
  • The film made much of the theme of questionable activities by both extremes of society, from street gangs to the authorities, in ways similar to A Clockwork Orange made some ten years later.
  • The film's tagline was: "Children of Ice And Darkness... They Are the Lurking, Unseen Evil You Dare Not Face Alone!", but the children are really innocent victims of events beyond their control and the radioactivity they give off is unintentional.
  • The film won the Asteroide d'Oro prize of the Science Fiction Film Festival in Trieste, Italy (1964)


The children

  • Kit Williams .... Henry
  • Rachel Clay .... Victoria
  • Caroline Sheldon .... Elizabeth
  • David Palmer .... George
  • Nicholas Clay .... Richard
  • John Thompson .... Charles
  • Christopher Witty .... William
  • Rebecca Dignam .... Anne
  • Siobhan Taylor .... Mary

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Damned (1963 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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