The Stranglers of Bombay is a 1959 adventure/horror film directed by Terence Fisher for Hammer Films dealing with the British East India Company’s investigation of the cult of Thuggee stranglers in the 1830s. The movie stars Guy Rolfe (Dolls; Puppet Master films) and Jan Holden. Unlike most Hammer films, Stranglers of Bombay is somewhat historically accurate in describing the religious cult of Kali and the deaths of thousands — some believe millions — at the hands of the Thugs (also known as thaga, pronounced “tahg”). Using modern methods, the British succeeded in wiping out the cult, which may have originated as far back as the 6th Century.
Captain Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe), of the British East India Company, is investigating why over 2000 natives are missing but encounters a deaf ear from his superior, Colonel Henderson, who is more concerned with the local English merchants’ caravans which are disappearing without a trace.
To appease them, Henderson agrees to appoint a man to investigate and Lewis believes it will be him. However, he is sorely disappointed when Henderson gives the job to the newly arrived, oblivious Captain Connaught-Smith.
Lewis believes a gang is murdering both the men and animals of the caravans and then burying the bodies. He presents the haughty new man with his evidence, his theories, and later his personal experience of actually seeing the cult but the captain is antagonistic and derisive towards Lewis who eventually resigns his commission in frustration to investigate on his own.
Meanwhile, the merchants decide to band together and create a super-caravan whose size will discourage the bandits, they believe. Ram Das, Lewis’ houseboy, believes he has seen his brother, Gopali, who disappeared some years ago, and receives permission to search for him. Lewis learns that Ram Das has been captured by the Thugs when his severed hand is tossed through the window of his bungalow. Soon after, the Thugs compel Gopali Das, a new initiate of the cult, to kill his brother, the dismembered Ram. The hidebound Captain Connaught-Smith leads the caravan and foolishly allows the stranglers in the guise of innocent travellers to join them. That night, the Thugs strike with their usual success.
“As befits its origins at a studio most strongly associated with horror, The Stranglers of Bombay is an atypically dark and morbid adventure movie, and remains well worth seeking out despite a few clunky performances and an ending that proves unsatisfying in bad ways as well as good.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“What is highly unusual about this film is not only its exotic set up (Thugees were rarely ever given centre stage in a movie before), but also its bleak approach to the subject matter. When Lewis gets stone walled he may ultimately be able to expose the cult, but fails to prevent a single attack and instead is faced with a freshly dug mass grave and a prime villain still at large.” Holger Haase, Hammer and Beyond
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