Thuggee cults, and relies on the writings of the British official WH Sleeman who had worked towards their eradication during the 1830's.
But make no mistake, Hammer did not set out to make a documentary feature, their interest lay purely in generating lurid thrills from the material. Even the title is somewhat strange since the film is not set in Bombay at all, but somewhere on the eastern side of India. Like Fritz Lang's 2-parter Indian Epic released in the same year, Stranglers... is not particularly sensitive in its depiction of Indian culture. The production design is not a model of authenticity either, the vision for India seeming to incorporate elements of the Arabian Nights. Ah well, at least this one doesn't show the Indians gobbling creepy-crawlies stuffed inside snakes or chilled monkey brains.
The lead character is a Captain Lewis (played by Guy Rolfe) who has been studying the crimes perpetrated by the thugs and hopes to head an investigation to capture them. Instead the task is handed over to the son of a new blighter his Colonel went to school with. Obviously both the Colonel and the freshly-arrived Captain Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson) pooh-pooh all of Lewis' reports as excess imagination. The thugs on the other hand have infiltrated the local society surrounding the military settlement, and with their swift and brutal methods of punishing mistakes (cutting off of limbs and gouging of eyes is par for the course here) efficiently run their trade while keeping a low profile; only Lewis has even the vaguest idea about them. Will he be able to root them out before they commit more serious crimes or will he be destroyed by the cult forms the bulk of the ensuing narrative.
Stranglers... is directed by stalwart Hammer helmer Terence Fisher, but doesn't deliver the impact of his top-tier films for the studio (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Devil Rides Out). Even with all the savagery an sensationalism on display, the film is lacking in the propulsive energy Fisher is known for. Perhaps Guy Rolfe in the lead is too bland and fails to make us feel for him the way a Peter Cushing could. Perhaps the use of B&W stock instead of color makes the sensational elements less so. Stranglers... is still serviceable (and moments like when Lewis' wife opens a package to see a severed hand or when the robbers carry out a stealth operation to kill off all the members of a caravan are thrilling in isolation), but not as barnstorming as it could have been.