DEMONS OF THE MIND
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Oh, that wacky Baron Zorn (Hardy)! He's locked up his incredibly good-looking kids thinking they are possessed by the same demons that plagued his dead wife. A quack doctor and a young would-be hero come calling, just as a string of sex murders get the local Bavarian villagers all riled up (as I've heard Bavarian villagers are apt to do). Can the kids be rescued from their father's dementia? Will they be able to avoid their long family history of incest, bloodshed and madness?? Just goes to show you... impersonating the dead is never a good idea, especially when the family of said dead person is batshit crazy!
Is it good movie?
Now this is quite a departure from the usual Hammer fare of bloodsuckers and gothic monsters. This film, from director Peter Sykes (To The Devil A Daughter) and conceived by Frank Godwin, focuses more on the monsters inside our heads, exploring themes of madness, inherited illnesses and incest. Touchy subject matter for what is essentially a gothic drama, but the result is a gorgeously shot, sometimes confusing but infinitely watchable and entertaining period piece. I'm quite used to the scholck factor in Hammer films: the hammy dramatics, the overwrought acting, the cheesy (yet tasteful) costumes; and while this film has all of that in spades, it also has a mounting sense of macabre dread, and gives some interesting takes on the perceptions of mental illness in the 19th century. As well, it shows us some of the more fascinating rituals of those wacky Bavarian villagers! It's all about the pagan rituals, folks.
But seriously, I was digging the vibe of this dreary, melodramatic gloomfest. The acting was top notch, the direction, shot composition and atmosphere were dark and, well...gloomy, which is right up my alley, and the minimalist score well accented the creeping tension on the screen. Most notable among the cast were Robert Hardy as the insane Baron, Hammer alumnus Shane Briant as the brooding and over-emotional son Emil (Dude, she's your sister!?!), and the gorgeous enigma that is Gillian Hills as the tortured daughter Elizabeth. She hasn't been around since the 70's, and it's a shame really. She was amazingly watchable even when she did nothing on screen.
The story was unique, even though it lacked originality it was different from most of the horror movies that came out during that time. The touch of the doctor and Elizabeth's dreamy lover(Paul Jones of Mannfred Mann fame) bringing in a village girl to impersonate the Baron's crazy wife, who had died of suicide, to shock the kids out of their funk was nice. Are you a tad confused? So was I at times. The flick jumps back and forth through the story... so many subplots, so little time. Toss in an unforgettable bloodletting scene and a little topless fun and I'm a happy classic horror hound!
A great watch, if you like classic, gothic dramatic horror, and it is one of the late Hammer treats. Too bad it didn't get the attention it deserved, not from the audience nor from distributor EMI (who sat on the film for almost a year before releasing it in a limited run). Demons of the Mind is one of the more watchable horror flicks of its kind, and a well done DVD release to include in the Hammer collection.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 1.85:1.
Audio: English (Dolby 2.0 Mono), plus a Commentary by the director, writer Christopher Wicking, and cast member Virginia Wetherell.
Nothing but bare castle walls here, mates. Well, bare except for the ho hum Commentary track, and a Trailer for the flick. I would love to see more behind the scenes stuff for more flicks from the 70's, especially the Hammer stuff, but in most cases it's a vain hope.
Great cast, spooky sets, atmospheric camera shots and an offbeat, unique Poe-like story all contribute to a brooding and haunting period horror film certainly like no other. Nothing of its kind has been made with such angst and sheer trippiness since. For anyone who's into this sort of thing, or into the history and work of Hammer Films will definately have to check this forgotten gem out.