aka Blood Evil; Demons of the Soul; Nightmare of Terror
Director – Peter Sykes, Screenplay – Christopher Wicking, Story – Wicking & Frank Godwin, Producer – Frank Godwin, Photography – Arthur Grant, Music – Harry Robinson, Music Supervisor – Philip Martell, Art Direction – Michael Stringer. Production Company – Hammer/Frank Godwin Productions.
Robert Hardy (Baron Friedrich Zorn), Shane Briant (Emil Zorn), Gillian Hills (Elizabeth Zorn), Patrick Magee (Dr Falkenberg), Yvonne Mitchell (Aunt Hilda), Paul Jones (Carl Richter), Kenneth J. Warren (Klaus), Michael Hordern (Priest), Virginia Wetherell (Inge)
Baron Zorn calls Dr Falkenberg, a radical psychologist whose theories have had him evicted from Vienna, to him. He asks Falkenberg to cure the madness he has genetically inflicted on his two children, Emil and Elizabeth, who have to be kept locked away. Falkenberg eventually comes to see that Zorn has turned the children into extensions of his own monstrous madness. At the same time, a series of killings in the village are traced to the children and the local priest stirs the villagers up against the Baron.
This little seen film was an interesting item that came toward the end of the Hammer horror cycle and was one of the rare failures for the studio. Demons of the Mind was directed by Peter Sykes, a minor director to emerge from the Anglo-horror cycle first with the cheap Venom (1971), before going onto the lame Old Dark House comedy The House in Nightmare Park (1973) and being most well known for Hammer’s last theatrical horror film To the Devil a Daughter (1976). It had a script from Christopher Wicking, one of the most intelligent writers to emerge during the Anglo-horror era, responsible for Anglo-horror items such as The Oblong Box (1969), Cry of the Banshee (1970), Scream and Scream Again (1970), Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) and Peter Sykes’s To the Devil a Daughter.
Peter Sykes and Christopher Wicking reject the era of Victorian science and reason that most Hammer films seem to take place in and cast Demons of the Mind seemingly back into the Middle Ages. There Christopher Wicking interestingly deconstructs the Hammer Gothic by way of the early psychiatric movement of experimenters like Krafft-Ebing, Wilhelm Wundt and Lightner Witmer.
The sets and photography are much more brooding and sombre than the usual florid colours of the Hammer product. Peter Sykes creates a series of striking images – Patrick Magee’s hypnotising of Robert Hardy, which comes filled with flashes of images across Hardy’s face depicting the obscenities of his acts; the scene where Gillian Hills is coldly and clinically bled; the course of a coach racing through the forest with a hand clawing out a barred window; and Robert Hardy’s end impaled on a flaming cross.
However, much of the film is regrettably too murkily plotted to emerge in plain sight – the script never clearly resolves between the well-conveyed incest and hereditary madness themes or whether the children are products of the Baron’s madness and obsession. When the initial ideas run out of steam, the film falls back on the traditional staples of the genre – the lynch mobs of villagers, the reckless romantic hero, the murky goings-on in the woods, the hulking manservant. It never quite works, nevertheless Demons of the Mind can be considered an interesting failure.