Incense for the Damned

Incense for the Damned (aka Bloodsuckers, Freedom Seeker and Doctors Wear Scarlet) is a 1970 British horror film.[1] It was produced by Graham Harris. Director Robert Hartford-Davis, unhappy with the completed film, 'disowned' it, had his name removed and the fictitious Michael Burrowes credited as director.[2] The film stars Patrick Macnee, Johnny Sekka, Madeleine Hinde and Alexander Davion with Peter Cushing and Edward Woodward in supporting roles. Incense for the Damned is based on the 1960 Simon Raven novel Doctors Wear Scarlet. The film centres on Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower), a scholar of Greek mythology at the University of Oxford, who has fallen under the influence of Chriseis (Imogen Hassall), a mysterious Greek woman who is a modern-day vampire. Fountain, upon his return to the UK, is revealed to have been vampirised by Chriseis and dies shortly after killing his fiancée Penelope Goodrich (Hinde).

Incense for the Damned
Film poster
Directed byRobert Hartford-Davis
Produced byGraham Harris
Peter Newbrook
Screenplay byJulian More
Based onDoctors Wear Scarlet
by Simon Raven
StarringPatrick Macnee
Peter Cushing
Edward Woodward
Music byBobby Richards
CinematographyDesmond Dickinson
Lucinda Films
Distributed byTitan Film Distribution
Chevron Pictures (US)
Release date
Running time
87 min
CountryUnited Kingdom


Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower), a brilliant young don at Oxford's fictional Lancaster College,[3] has lost touch with friends after going to Greece to research a book on mythology. Concerned about him, Penelope Goodrich (Hinde), Richard's 'informal' fiancée; Tony Seymour of the Foreign Office (Davion); and Bob Kirby (Sekka), one of Richard's pupils, travel to Greece to find him. Tony goes to the office of Maj. Derek Longbow (Macnee), the British military attaché, to ask his help in finding Richard. Derek tells him that Richard has fallen in with a strange woman named Chriseis (Hassall) and her unsavoury friends.

A catatonic Richard attends, but doesn't participate in, a drug-fuelled orgy, during which a woman is ritually sacrificed. Bob tells Tony that Richard 'can't make it' with Penelope; Tony replies that Richard 'has never made it with anyone'. Derek then tells Tony of the rumour that Dr. Goodrich (Cushing) - the Provost of Lancaster College and also Penelope's father - is the cause of Richard's impotence. Tony says that Bob has told him that Richard came to Greece 'in search of some freedom. To seek his manhood'. Derek wonders aloud if Bob's 'African background' includes an overactive imagination.

Richard has been taken to a monastery on Hydra because of an unnamed 'ancient disease' which 'has to do with the blood'. But the abbot reveals that Chriseis didn't want Richard cured, just kept alive. The abbot believes that Chriseis will soon tire of Richard and let him die.

Penelope has a vision of Richard's death. According to Bob, it was only a hallucination caused by her overconsumption of the monks' potent moonshine in the hot sunshine. Bob, Tony and Derek leave her in the care of the monks and set out on mules to find the ancient fort that the abbot says Richard is in.

Arriving at the fort, they discover a still-catatonic Richard watching Chriseis direct the sacrifice of another woman. Derek, Tony and Bob burst in to rescue the woman. They succeed, but Chriseis and her friends escape with the mules. The next day, Derek sends a protesting Penelope back to the UK so that she won't see Richard in a poor condition.

Near the fort and both mule-mounted, Derek pursues Chriseis up a steep path. Chriseis dismounts and runs. Derek follows. Chriseis slips on some rocks, which tumble down upon Derek, knocking him over the edge of a cliff. Although he clings to a small tree root as Tony tries to save him, he loses his grip and falls to his death,

Bob is horrified to find Chriseis sucking Richard's blood from his neck. They tussle and she falls from a staircase onto a stone floor and is apparently killed. The always-rational Tony stops superstitious Bob from running a stake through her heart.

Richard, Tony and Bob return to the UK and Richard goes back to his post at Oxford. Tony visits Dr. Halstrom (Woodward), an 'expert in vampirism'. Halstrom tells him that vampirism is a sado-masochistic sexual perversion which affects 'frigid women and impotent men'. He hints that Richard may already be a vampire. However, Richard is behaving normally again.

Goodrich tells Richard that he'll have to deliver a scholarly speech at a College dinner. Richard agrees but is unhappy that Goodrich also plans to announce Penelope and Richard's 'formal' engagement.

At the dinner, Richard rises to speak, but instead of discussing his scholarship, he lambastes the Establishment. He declares 'Love me, says the academic, and do exactly as I tell you'. He calls academe 'the protection racket of the Establishment' and denounces the dons as 'thieves who have come to take your souls', pointing to Goodrich as the worst of the lot. As pandemonium erupts, Goodrich pounds the table, yelling 'Keep quiet and sit down! I command you!'

Richard and Penelope rush to their flat, where he appears amorous for the first time in their relationship. But instead of making love, he sucks Penelope's blood, killing her, and flees across the rooftops with Bob in pursuit. During a struggle, Richard slips on the wet slate roof tiles, falls and is impaled on a decorative iron fence.

Goodrich, who is also coroner for the College, holds a private inquest and, with tears in his eyes, concludes that Penelope and Richard took their own lives while of unsound mind.



Shooting took place in Greece and Cyprus during the spring of 1969.[4]. However, money ran out during production causing filming to halt; it resumed after additional financing was sourced. When production restarted, new scenes were written and new actors hired, the result of which, according to British film scholar John Hamilton, was that 'the old and new storylines were cobbled together into something loosely approaching a coherent storyline, with gaps in the narrative bridged by an unconvincing voice-over'[2] by Davion.[5] Hartford-Davis subsequently 'disowned' the movie.[2]

The film was given an X certificate by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) on 2 November 1971 after unspecified cuts were made. The X cert, necessary for the film to be shown in the UK, prohibited the exhibition in theatres of Incense for the Damned to persons under age 18.[6][2] Titled Bloodsuckers in the US, the film was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The R rating means 'no one under 17 admitted [to theatres] without an accompanying parent or guardian.[7][8]


Hamilton writes that Incense for the Damned had only a limited theatrical release, after which 'it was consigned to brief appearances over the next few years, propping up obscure double-bills'.[2] For example, a UK poster shows Incense for the Damned paired with the Swedish horror film Fear has 1,000 Eyes,[9] while Bloodsuckers and the US/Philippines horror film Blood Thirst appear on a US poster.[8] The US pair of films was released domestically on 14 May 1970.[10]


British film critic Phil Hardy calls Incense for the Damned a 'fairly faithful adaptation of Simon Raven's modern vampire novel, Doctors Wear Scarlet'. But he finds that the film fails to adequately convey the novel's notion that 'vampirism is not a supernatural phenomenon, but a sexual disturbance related to impotence'. Hardy also says that the 'subversive potential' of the story is wasted on time-consuming 'depictions of "hippy" decadence with clichéd psychedelic effects, badly staged chase sequences and facile oppositions between alleged Greek paganism and the genteelly repressive Oxford cricket pitch'.[11]

Hamilton points out the historical context of the film, noting that it was made 'at a time when anxiety about the so-called counterculture movement was coming to its peak and the drugs, psychedelic music and anti-Vietnam War protests were taking a more sinister turn'; e.g. the Charles Manson-led murders in Los Angeles in August 1969. He calls the film an 'inept and barely watchable mess' but adds that 'it is no longer possible' to say how much of the blame for its failure 'on almost every level' falls on Hartford-Davis and 'how much was the result of post-production interference'.[2]

Critic Gary A. Smith labels Incense for the Damned a 'fragmented mess' and blames the producers for 'Post-production tampering' which included 'extensive editing (...) the inclusion of a totally gratuitous psychedelic orgy scene (it runs a grueling seven minutes) and a pointless tacked-on ending'. He writes that the 'tampering' caused Hartford-Davis to 'demand that his name be removed from the film entirely'. In the movie's favour, though, Smith says that 'Desmond Decker's colour location photography is often stunning'.[5]


  1. "Doctors Wear Scarlet". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  2. John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 198-202
  3. "A-Z of colleges". University of Oxford Admissions. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  4. "Incense for the Damned aka Bloodsuckers - UK, 1970". Horrorpedia. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  5. Smith, Gary A. (2017). Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company Inc. pp. 29–31. ISBN 9780786497799.
  6. "Incense for the Damned". BBFC. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  7. "The Meaning of Movie Ratings". Movie Tavern. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  8. "Bloodsuckers/Blood Thirst Combo Movie Poster". Limited Runs. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  9. "Incense for the Damned Poster". Poster Men. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  10. Senn, Bryan (2019). Twice the Thrills! Twice the Chills! Horror and Science Fiction Double Features 1955-1974. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company Inc. p. 354. ISBN 9781476668949.
  11. Hardy, ed., Phil (1986). The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies. NY: Harper & Row Publishers. p. 222. ISBN 0060550503.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

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