Alas, this one didn’t really work for me, which was doubly disappointing as it was helmed by Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher, who was responsible for some of the best films made at the studio, and it also featured Guy Rolfe in the lead, who was so brilliant in Yesterday’s Enemy, but who didn’t really seem to ‘click’ here for me. Rolfe is not entirely to blame- I’m sure the script does him few favours and leaves him with little to do with a terribly bland character; he is far too restrained for my liking (the less said of his terribly underwritten wife the better, a thankless role for Jan Holden).
Far more passionate and watchable are the members of the Thugee cult who are the titular stranglers, a thoroughly deranged bunch. The film is based on true events concerning a secret murderous religious cult in nineteenth century India that had attacked travelers and stole their goods over the course of perhaps as long as five centuries. Only when it had affected the trade of the British East India Company in the 1820s were investigations made and the cult discovered and eventually wiped out.
Perhaps it would have been less factually correct (not that this had ever stopped Hammer before, I suspect) but I would have found the film much more engrossing had Rolfe’s character become more personally involved- it could have been so easily done, either by having his wife killed when a Thugee cuiltist breaks into his home mid-film or had they gotten his wife travelling with the caravan that comes under threat from Thugee attack towards the end. Such a more personal involvement might have raised the stakes and tension, and given something for Rolfe to chew on.
As it is, there are some interesting observations of colonial rule that casts the Brits in some poor light (most of whom are fools and jackasses who have no idea what they are doing or what India truly is). I think the film may have been too ‘open’, too much of a medium-scale period adventure that lacked the atmospheric claustrophobia that it possibly needed to really work. It has quite a few ‘horrific’ moments that are inevitable for a Hammer film and a little titillation courtesy of the busty Marie Devereux, the sole female cultist who amusingly appears to become quite aroused whenever there is murder or torture afoot (shots banned by the British censors at the time but restored here). I suspect however that this is a film that perhaps ironically suffers from Hammer being too ambitious in making a serious historical drama- it would really have benefited from closing it in into some more personal claustrophobic horror tale. But maybe that’s just me.