DEMONS OF THE MIND (1972)
AMID the dying embers of the 1970's British film industry, attempts to move into more psychological thrillers resulted in a number of underappreciated efforts. Dumped onto the wrong end of a double bill with TOWER OF EVIL, DEMONS OF THE MIND - directed by Peter Sykes and written by Christopher Wicking - is a Hammer production which focuses on Baron Friedrich Zorn (Robert Hardy), who fears he has passed on the "family madness" to son Emil (Shane Briant) and daughter Elizabeth (Gillian Hills). Held captive to curb their incestuous desires, Emil is at least released at night to murder women, while Elizabeth is "bled" to make her weak (making use of a vintage Scarificator from the British Museum). When discredited psychologist Falkenberg (Patrick Magee) arrives with his associate scholar Carl (Manfred Man singer Paul Jones), an experiment to rid Emil of his lust involving Inge (Virginia Wetherell) ends in another strangulation. The villagers, influenced by a deranged, self-styled Holy Man (Michael Hordern), decide that Zorn is the true demon, and stake him with a burning cross.
A mix of Hammer's Mittel Europe and fledgling psychiatry was one way the company attempted to make its product fresh, another was by infusing proceedings with new young directors and screenwriters. But DEMONS OF THE MIND is more cynical than satisfying, conveying a relentless dourness (quoting Psalm 38 "For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh") where conventions are either twists or throwbacks: Magnee's unhinged Mesmerist and Van Helsing substitute helps no one ("Better men than I have been booted out of Vienna!"), an alleged Priest is a dangerous zealot, and the villagers revel in their own sadism.
In a role originally intended for Marianne Faithfull, Gillian Hills plays somnambulant Elizabeth Zorn. Faithfull was pulled late on due to insurance issues on her drug use.
A Poe-like story of an incestuous, murderous dynasty crumbling to dust, Zorn is driven by subconscious compulsions of his peasant bride's "virgin blood" and bare flesh (Zorn is a character undermined by Hardy's pantomime performance; to think we might have had Eric Porter, Paul Scofield, Dirk Bogarde or James Mason). Hordern is also overtly loopy, barely able to carry his over-sized wooden cross, and despite the emotional slant, DEMONS OF THE MIND actually serves up a copious amount of exploitative, early 70's gore: although optically fogged, Zorn's wife is seen to slash her wrists and throat in front of her children, but further scenes of Emil killing maiden aunt Helda (Yvonne Mitchell) with a bunch of keys and Zorn's climactic impalement are in no way shrouded.
The original pitch to Hammer by Frank Godwin - the composer-cum-independent producer who penned Strange Love for LUST FOR A VAMPIRE - was actually a werewolf picture. The studio was intrigued by Godwin's knowledge of the legend of Blutlust, and together with Wicking, formulated a treatment based on the Bavarian story of a man-wolf which was actually a psychopathic condition not understood by the medicine of the time. However, the tale was a complete fabrication, and Hammer did not warm to the werewolf elements anyway, leaving only a vague lycanthropic reference in the finished film where Zorn imagines himself stalking as an animal (to further the pseudo-werewolf angle, the muted cinematography is lensed by Arthur Grant, making his last Hammer picture in an association which started with THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF).