While beachcombing at a seaside coastal town in England, middle-aged American drop-out Simon (Macdonald Carey) gets involved with young Joan (Shirley Anne Field) and tries to help her escape the overbearing clutches of her "Teddy Boy" (a kind of biker hoodlum similar to the later "Mods" and "Rockers" that popped up in the UK) brother King (a young, then-unknown Oliver Reed!) and his gang. Meanwhile, mysterious goverment official Bernard (Alexander Knox), while playfully verbally fencing with his mistress Freya (Viveca Linfors) is actually running a top secret military installation on the outskirts of town. On behalf of the goverment, Bernard is overseeing the education and confinement of several young irradiated children whom he's fanatically grooming to carry on the human race in the event of nuclear war, and woe to anyone -even Freya!- who gets in the way! When Simon, Joan and King stumble onto the children, events start culminating in a cresendo of tension (Will Simon and Joan get the kids away? Will the outside world learn about what's really going on at Bernard's miltary base? And why do Simon, Joan and King start getting sick after first encountering the kids?) that climaxes in one of the bleakest endings ever filmed.
These Are The Damned -the title doesn't just apply to the children- makes good use of it's various subplots. Simon and Joan's love affair is doomed even before they encounter the kids. Freya is the film's symbol of free spirited integrity whose refusal to keep quiet seals her fate. And while Alexander Knox's fine potrayal of Bernard highlights that character's unshakable belief (which is sort of well-intentioned) that the world is doomed and only his children can save the human race, Bernard is blind to the damage he's doing by maintaining secrecy about the project. (A chilling moment in the film occurs when we find out that some of the children are actually dying of the radiation that they were innoculated with, yet Bernard's immediate reaction is to carry on, regardless.)
The acting and direction are first rate throughtout, with a number of unforgettable images (like the scenes of soldiers in radiation suits checking on the kids in their underground bunker while they sleep) that'll stick in the memory for a long time. These Are The Damned is an exciting and engrossing, if ultimately nihlistic, film (reserve it here) that's a masterpiece of paranoia.
(Check out director Joe Dante's take on the film here.)