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Of all the rather strange films Hammer cranked out during their last few years (Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde, Dracula AD 1972 and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires to name a few), Peter Sykes’ Demons of the Mind has a strong claim to being the very oddest.  The project started life as a vampire film called Blood Will Have Blood, but with the ever-baffling Christopher Wicking on screenwriting duties it soon mutated into something much more peculiar, and what the finished product lacks in werewolves it more than makes up for in mind-boggling psychobabble.

Demons of the Mind is a confusing film, but not a bad one.  For one thing it’s got a very interesting cast, combining respected thespians (Robert Hardy, Yvonne Mitchell, Patrick Magee and Michael Hordern) with a pair of former pop stars (Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones, and Gillian Hills – surely a definitive cult figure thanks to her roles in Beat Girl, Blowup and the TV adaptation of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, as well as her career in France as a yé-yé singer) and Hammer’s resident pretty boy Shane Briant.  The backdrop they perform against is the heart of Hammerland: a vaguely Germanic village at some unspecified point in the 19th century, populated by slightly oo-arr villagers who live in fear of the castle on the hill.  This time its inhabitant isn’t Frankenstein or Dracula but Baron Zorn (Hardy, who manages the remarkable feat of being both hammy and wooden at the same time) and his children.  Legends of insanity and incest (incestity, as I like to call it) haunt the Zorn family, and, convinced they’ve been infected by it, the Baron keeps twins Elizabeth and Emil (Hills and Briant) under lock and key.  Zorn calls in primitive psychoanalyst/hypnotist Dr Falkenberg (Magee) to cure his offspring, though it’s obvious to anyone watching that he’s the truly potty one.

Meanwhile, the villagers are increasingly angered by a series of savage murders of young women in the locality that they’re convinced are the work of the Zorns, and, whipped up into a frenzy by a crazy old priest (Hordern) march on the castle with flaming torches in time-honoured fashion.  The eventual explanation for the attacks is puzzling in the extreme, as is Falkenberg’s manner of reaching it – but the ensuing high drama leads to a splendid moment of double entendre as Robert Hardy cries out “let there be no more blood on our souls!” (don’t worry, the censor probably wouldn’t have allowed that anyway).

Gillian Hills doesn’t get a great deal to do other than waft about looking a bit dazed, and as her would-be love interest Paul Jones shows his acting hasn’t improved much since his debut in Peter Watkins’ Privilege.  Shane Briant’s pretty memorable as Emil thanks largely to the tangerine silk shirt he wears which contrasts sickeningly with the ultra-pale complexion of a boy who’s been kept inside his whole life, as well as the film’s one moment of truly startling violence, when he savagely slashes his aunt/jailer Mitchell to death with her own bunch of keys.  Patrick Magee’s performance is as eccentric as ever, but then Falkenberg’s a very eccentric character, as his various bizarre experiments for drawing out the Zorns’ obsessions show.

The star of the show is cinematographer Arthur Grant, who’d been working on Hammer films since 1957’s The Abominable Snowman.  He died in 1972 and Demons of the Mind was his last job.  It looks absolutely gorgeous, and even if you can’t follow what the hell’s going on you can just sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures.  But perhaps the single most satisfying moment in the film is when Patrick Magee actually intones, in that unique voice, “Deeemons of the miiind”.  It seems to me that a lot of films could have been improved if they’d only got him in to say the title.

Review by Ivan Kirby

Classic horror legend Boris Karloff would have been 125 years old today. Born William Henry Pratt on November 23rd 1887 he became a Hollywood horror star under the name of Boris Karloff with his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in the movie adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1931).

Raise your glasses to this wonderful actor and classic horror icon – beast wishes to Boris Karloff!

BORIS KARLOFF’S TOP 30 HORROR FILMS

  1. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
  2. THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)
  3. THE MUMMY (1932)
  4. THE GHOUL (1933)
  5. THE BLACK CAT (1934)
  6. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
  7. THE RAVEN (1935)
  8. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)
  9. TOWER OF LONDON (1939)
  10. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)
  11. THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)
  12. ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)
  13. BEDLAM (1946)
  14. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949)
  15. VOODOO ISLAND (1957)
  16. THE HAUNTED STRANGLER (1958)
  17. CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958)
  18. FRANKENSTEIN 1970
  19. BLACK SABBATH (1963)
  20. THE TERROR (1963)
  21. THE RAVEN (1963)
  22. THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964)
  23. DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965)
  24. MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)
  25. THE SORCERERS (1967)
  26. TARGETS (1968)
  27. CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (1968)
  28. THE FEAR CHAMBER (1968)
  29. THE INCREDIBLE INVASION (1971)
  30. ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE (1971)

 

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