One of the youngest Oxford dons, Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower), has gone missing while out in Greece researching a book on Greek mythology, and two of his friends are accompanying his girlfriend Penelope (Madeleine Hinde) on a flight to that country in the hopes that they will be able to track him down and bring him home. The two friends are Bob (Johnny Sekka) and Tony (Alexander Davion), though all three of them are getting on each others' nerves through not agreeing how to go about the search, but things are worse than they could ever know: Richard is involved with a dangerous cult.
Robert Hartford-Davis churned out plenty of exploitation movies in his time, but Incense for the Damned appeared to cause him more grief than most, to the point where he took his name off the credits and refused to have anything more to do with it. Why this was singled out on his filmography is unclear, possibly something to do with the tacked-on ending, but he was not happy with the end result whatever and the film ended up languishing, rarely seen, until it turned up on late night television appearances and, eventually, on DVD.
Not that the audience were particularly appreciative, but if you go beneath the somewhat shoddy surface then the film had some interesting ideas in its approach to the horror genre, specifically the vampire movie. Based on Simon Raven's novel Doctors Wear Scarlet, for much of the time it's a simple manhunt with very little in the way of supernatural surprises, but as we have seen in the lengthy orgy sequence there are some sinister movements at work here. That sequence is very odd, with Richard woozily being seduced by lady bloodsucker Chriseis (Imogen Hassall) amidst some psychedelic camera effects.
All ending in one of the orgy participants being murdered and having her body dumped by the roadside. So whoever Richard has been caught up with, they're dodgy characters. The effects of vampirism are treated in two manners, while most films would simply opt for one, yet here it's both seen as a kind of sexually transmitted disease, therefore a bad thing, and a breaking of stifling social bonds, which one assumes is meant to be a good thing. For the first two thirds the condition has turned Richard crazy, as if he had syphilis, and the cast get to roam around attractive Greek scenery in a cat and mouse chase.
While our three heroes are there, they meet up with diplomat Derek Longbow (played by Patrick Macnee fresh from The Avengers), and he assists them, with everyone getting along swimmingly once the pressure starts to show. Peter Cushing is in there too, as Penelope's stuffy father, also an academic, and Edward Woodward has one memorable scene where he explains to Tony that vampirism is a sexual perversion and there's nothing otherworldy about it, a point of view which might explain Richard's behaviour. It's actually quite ambiguous whether the cult has a supernatural effect over him, as what he eventually does in the tragic ending could be seen as a liberation of the mind taken to extremes, but this is a little lost in the film's other problems - we never really believe in the relationships at the heart of the story, for a start. Music by Robert Richards.