Demons Of The Mind (1971)
Proof that Hammer did try and do something other than warm lesbo action, lame comedy horrors and supposedly contemporary updates of old favourites in the early 70s (yes I know it was their most productive time, but a lot of people don't), Demons Of The Mind is an occasionally striking, but mainly daft, little tale in the vein of the company's 60s psychological shockers. But this one's got Paul Jones in it - hoorah!
As a blonde popsy is drugged and taken on a carriage ride, she dreams of meeting a young woodcutter (Jones) in the forest (where else), having a happy time (and a shag) and then being kidnapped by a man who really should audition for Stars In Their Eyes as Buster Bloodvessel. This brings her up to date. She puts her hand out of the window of the carriage, and somewhere, Shane Briant (oh oh) rises from his bed and reciprocates.
The girl is Elizabeth, Briant is her brother Emil, and they live with Buster and their dad (the amazingly be-sideburned Robert Hardy) Friedrich Zorn in the big old house we saw during the credits.
"This is where you should be," dad tells Elizabeth on her return to the house. "Here... with us..."
Emil struggles to see his sister, but is held back by dad, who tells him "It can only be the way I say it must be."
Both siblings are "unwell", apparently, and it's not long before a peasant girl called Magda is murdered in the forest, her mystery assailant sprinkling her body with rose petals.
It's not long before there are visitors to the area, too... Michael Hordern's nutty priest: "I have been led here, I have work to do. But what?", Patrick Magee (with contractual hilarious accent) as a dodgy doctor on his way to the Zorn house, and Jones as the usual Hammer idealistic young man, part-time woodcutter and medical student, who is also on his way to the Zorn house but for different reasons. The coach Jones and Magee are travelling on crashes (due to Hordern leaping out in front of it, the twat) and Magee (Dr Falkenberg) makes his way on foot to the Zorn residence, where he's berated for being late (another busty wench has carked it in the forest in the meantime).
Zorn tells him of the legends of insanity and incest in the family, and that he has been dreaming of being a "demon of the forest... like my ancestors before me..."
In order to purify the family blood, he married a virgin peasant girl, but her virgin blood disgusted him, and once she'd given birth to Elizabeth and Emil he refused to sleep with her. This led to, no - not divorce, or even a trial separation, but her committing violent suicide in front of the kids. Women, eh?
The villagers have lost another wench (careless of them) and are beginning to get jumpy, and the two troubled teens are busy making their escape from dad, kissing full on the lips when they finally meet up. "They say they love us," says Emil, "but I could kill them for what they have done to you."
Meanwhile, the idealistic young doctor has made his way to the Zorn residence, where he wastes no time in slandering Falkenberg: "This man may be a genius, but you ought to know... he's a fraud."
Falkenberg replying: "It isn't me that's discredited, it's any new ideas... you might as well kill them!"
Thanks to that stirring speech, Zorn decides to keep Falkenberg on. Falkenberg (who suddenly seems to know everything that's already happened) explains that Elizabeth was fine when she was living with Jones. However, he has a plan, but it's so dodgy he'd rather not think about it (I think you'll agree, they are usually the best kind).
The "plan" actually involves a local strumpet coming up to the house and parading around in the all-together whilst she chooses a dress (told you it would be a good plan). The idea is for her to pretend to be Emil and Elizabeth's dead mother. Now, I haven't got a degree in psychology, but it seems to me that this probably isn't a very good idea. And, as if to prove me right, it's not long before it's ended up in several gory murders. "Your dreams of blood... have brought about this horrible reality," Falkenberg tells Zorn. "Emil is the instrument of your lust."
Demons Of The Mind is a right load of old cobblers, which mixes costume drama with cod psychology and ends with a particularly gruelling amount of hand loppings, shootings, stabbings, and burning-crucifix-impalings. What makes it worth seeking out are the performances - Hordern's nutty priest is a sight to see, Hardy is his usual hammy self and Magee is... well, Magee. There's also a serious amount of gore on show: "Blood will have blood, they say..." Hardy quotes at one point. "Well, there must be no more blood on our souls." But there's plenty on the floor, cascading down breasts and shooting out of assorted necks, stumps and arses (yes, arses - thanks to a rather nasty piece of medical instrumentation used on Elizabeth's pert behind at one point).
The final image is along similar lines to Witchfinder General, as the only member of the Zorn family to survive is a screaming, insane wreck. It's rubbish, but it's watchable rubbish.
Last updated: February 22, 2010
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