The title tells it all really- indeed,even today, giving a film a title like that feels progressive, audacious, almost subversive. It treads across a line somehow, some kind of moral/social taboo that really the film itself does too. Indeed, I was so very surprised by this film, expecting some kind of exploitation b-movie about child endangerment/molestation (as deplorable an approach as the subject itself) but instead this film turned out to be intelligent and restrained and, sadly, as relevant today as it was over fifty years ago. Indeed, perhaps even more so. When one considers some of the news headlines from the last few decades, all those scandals etc, then this film feels more provocative, more ahead-of-its-time and just plain brave, than it likely did back in 1960. I suppose audiences back in 1960 could fool themselves into thinking child molestation and murder were rare incidents in their modern society and the uncomfortable message of the film somewhat redundant in a modern, sane and responsible world. Unfortunately recent history would suggest otherwise.
Of course you cannot possibly seperate this film from the period in which it was made and it does regrettably feel a little dated in some respects, but in a way I guess that adds a sort of David Lynchian-otherness to the whole thing. Thinking about it, that feels rather fitting, considering that his Twin Peaks series shared some of this films themes regards the dark underbelly of modern society and child abuse etc. But how odd to consider that Hammer did this film so many decades earlier! I wonder if Mark Frost/David Lynch were familiar with this film back when they started Twin Peaks.
At its heart, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger is a film about small-town politics and abuse of power as much as it is about child sex abuse, and also has a courtroom section as rivetting as any courtroom drama you will remember. Its quite a sophisticated film carefully dealing with the uncomfortable issues it raises, somewhat distancing itself from the more sensationalist Gothic horrors that Hammer is more famous for. Watching this so soon after being amazed by the excellent Cash on Demand (this Indicator Hammer boset is proving quite a revelation), makes me wonder that perhaps the box office successes of those Gothic horrors did Hammer something of a disservice, and lost British film of a voice and channel for important, thought-provoking quality films.
The chilling and quite gruesome denouement of this film is possibly one of the best of any Hammer horror, in fact, and this film has lingered in my head somewhat uncomfortably over the last few days since I saw it. Its quite an important British film, I think, and one terribly overlooked and criminally forgotten. Had Hitchcock, for instance, directed this, then yes in execution it would likely have been a better film, but also I think it might well have been as famous and notorious today as his own Psycho. Instead it seems to have been consigned to an obscure footnote in the history of Hammer, rather lost in the shadow of its glossier and more sensational horrors, but hopefully the wonderful treatment that the film has been given by Indicator here will raise the film’s standing somewhat and give its place in British film history some reconsideration.