Demons of the Mind (1972)
“They came to torture an agonised mind”
Director: Peter Sykes
Cast: Robert Hardy, Shane Briant, Gillian Hills
Synopsis: A physician discovers that two children are being kept virtually imprisoned in their house by their father. He investigates, and discovers a web of sex, incest and satanic possession.
By the early 1970s public tastes were changing, and Hammer found that there was no longer a demand for their traditional adaptations of classic horror figures such as Frankenstein and Dracula. Faced with dwindling returns, the studio decided to either update their plots to the modern era, or infuse their stories with lurid splashes of blood and gratuitous female nudity. It worked for a while, but the generally lower quality of these movies meant that it wasn’t long before audience figures began to dwindle once again. Demons of the Mind is a good example of the inferior quality of Hammer’s output compared to its films of the 1950s and 60s.
Robert Hardy chews the scenery with gusto as Baron von Zorn, a lord of the manor who fears his two children Emil (Shane Briant) and Elizabeth (Gillian Hills) have not only inherited their mother’s insanity but have also developed an incestuous attraction for one another. In a desperate attempt to cure their illness, he hires the services of dodgy psychologist Dr. Falkenberg (Patrick Magee). Despite von Zorn’s attempts to keep his offspring locked up and separated, both of them escape on a regular basis, and these brief moments of freedom worryingly coincide with the brutal murders of several comely maidens from the nearby village.
For all its daring themes of incest, inherited madness and psychological opportunism, Demons of the Mind follows essentially the same plot as all those old Hammer Frankenstein movies. However, because we don’t get the shambling monster of old, stumbling towards screaming maidens with its stitched-on arms outstretched, we’re subjected to verbose theorising on the nature of the monster within, which, quite frankly, doesn’t really get the adrenaline pumping. It’s as if Hammer are trying to inject an intellectual sheen to its established format while maintaining such genre staples as the opening shot of the carriage barrelling through a forest at dusk, and the closing scenes of a mob of torch-bearing villagers marching on the villainous Baron’s abode. It doesn’t work, and while the frequent nudity is pleasantly diverting, it’s not enough to distract an audience from the film’s overall shortcomings.
There’s a certain amount of enjoyment from watching a bunch of fairly well-respected British thespians slumming it – in addition to Hardy and Magee, Yvonne Mitchell as a compassionate aunt who meets a bloody end is also in the mix, while Michael Hordern as a crazed priest with wild hair (not easy considering his hairline) is particularly amusing – the muddled plot and lumbering pace let things down. Credit should go, however, to director Peter Sykes and cinematographer Arthur Grant for a bold, eye-catching visual style.