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
As we come to the end of a triumphant British Horror Month we took some time to chat to classic horror and Hammer Films star Shane Briant about his career, horror films, the classic horror campaign and much, much more!
A. Ever since I played my first bad guy – the spider in ‘Little Miss Muffet’ at pre-school, I wanted to act. I acted at all my schools and went pro when at University (Trinity College Dublin) In my final year I was cast in a three-hander play called ‘Children of the Wolf’ which transferred from Dublin to the West End. I was discovered by Michael Carreras, head of Hammer Films, and put under contract for two years to play leads in four films.
Q. Of all of your classic horror performances, which is your own personal favourite and why?
A. ‘Straight on Till Morning,’ because it had the best script and gave me great scope to show what I was capable of. Working with Rita was a delight.
Q. Are there any particular memories you would like to share with horror fans of working with other great actors such as Peter Cushing and Caroline Munro?
A. All my best stories are in my autobiography! I encourage everyone to buy a copy! Peter was a very kind man and again, wonderful to work with. I leant so many tings from him – most importantly to conduct myself always in a professional manner and work damned hard. Caroline was so gorgeous she was a constant distraction on ‘Kronos.’ But I managed to keep my fingers off her!
Q. You have made a number of excellent short film sequels to many of your most famous horror films over the last few years. Can you tell us more about these?
A. It was my friend Robert Kenchington’s idea to shoot short sequels to my Hammer movies. And a great idea too! They were fun to do. I deliberately mixed original footage and cut to my sequel material to see how the sands of time had treated me. Quite a shock. But then 40 years had passed so in some ways I didn’t feel too bad.
Q. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in your horror career of late. Why do you think this is?
A. I think it’s the Internet. I never realized that so many people still love Hammer horror films and that they want to see more made. Then my good friend Robert started up a fan site and another started up another and before I knew what was happening I had hundreds of ‘fans.’ Then I was invited to a horror convention in Whitby and the following year in Hackney, organized by Don Ferney. Now there’s a petition going around to bring me back in horror films. I am honoured!
Q. Why do you support the Classic Horror Campaign and why would you urge film fans to sign our petition?
A. The campaign is fantastic and I encourage everyone to sign. There are COUNTLESS people ‘out there’ who LOVE classic horror movies. By that I don’t mean thrillers but old fashioned vampires in a classical setting. Monsters and werewolves. Nothing modern – that’s my point.
Q. What message would you like to give fans who attend the Classic Horror Campaign Double Bills and did you ever expect to have websites and fan pages dedicated to you and your career?
A. I don’t think anyone expects to have hundreds of so-called ‘fans.’ But in reality they are simply people who like your work and enjoy the way you act and perform. When I was a young man some liked the way I looked! Ha! I am a fan of a lot of actors myself – De Niro, Pacino, Brando, Walken, Newman, Redford etc.
Q. Are you a horror fan yourself and do you have any particular favourite horror films?
A. I always found the Quatermass films disturbing. Hob Goblins did it for me. And vampires were good! ‘Hallowe’en’ was major scary. Also Dario Argento’s ‘Susperia.’
Q. Tell us about your current and future plans. Do you have any new films in the pipeline?
A. The film I made eighteen months ago, Roland Joffe’s latest movie ‘Singularity’ will be coming out next year. It’s a wonderful saga movie set in India. Josh Hartnett is great, as is Bollywood queen Bipasha Basu (she looks delicious) Don’t miss this one. Next week I’m off to Singapore and Batam to film a 10 hour series called ‘Serangood Road.’ An Australian/Singaporean co-production.Thanks again for your time Shane and we hope to see you back in the UK again soon.