Demons Of The Mind


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Demons Of The Mind
"In the best tradition of the Gothic, the plot is overwhelmed by the themes and the finer points of the acting frequently lost beneath exuberant displays of emotion."

After the much-loved vampire films that cemented the name Hammer in the public imagination, and before the more experimental period that produced Straight On Till Morning, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and To The Devil A Daughter, the famous English studio produced a whimsical curiousity that is, in its way, the most Gothic of all its films. It's a tale that draws on the famous tragedies of Europe's aristocracy, the literary tradition of Jane Eyre and The Turn Of The Screw, and the strange science of 19th Century German physician Franz Mesmer. Though not altogether successful, it's an intriguing experiment which hints at what might have been in interesting new direction for them.

In the best tradition of the Gothic, the plot is overwhelmed by the themes, and the finer points of the acting frequently lost beneath exuberant displays of emotion. Sometimes it descends into ham - Shane Briant, in particular, seems to have been encouraged to go to extremes and, being fairly new to acting, lacks the confidence to step back - but he and Gillian Hills still manage to be sympathetic as the two teenagers kept under close supervision in the confines of a remote stately home. These teenagers have a father who fancies himself as heir to the House of Usher, his wife having committed suicide, and who prevails upon a doctor of dubious reputation to try and save them from hereditary madness. Enter a series of elaborate mechanical and magnetic devices - a definite case of style over substance, but wonderfully so.

Copy picture

To complicate this situation further, the two young people have developed an incestuous attraction to each other. The boy is prone to waking up in strange places with no memory of what he's been doing - the more problematic because somebody in the area is raping and murdering peasant girls. The girl, meanwhile, is kept drugged and anaemic to make her easier to control. This gives her the kind of vacant beauty often fetishised in Hammer's vampire films, but for once the writers seem alert to its problematic nature, and to the folly of the young doctor who arrives on the scene full of romantic notions about saving her.

Opening with a coach journey intercut with flashbacks to the girl's brief escape, Demons Of The Mind makes immediate use of distorting lenses and uncanny perspectives to create a sense of mental disjunction. Coloured lights, deliberate slides out of focus and extreme close-ups come on like a Victorian-era MK Ultra. Drawing us back to reality is the gorgeous set, a mouldering yet elegantly decorated house not immediately recognisable from any other Hammer work. The outdoor cinematography is strong and contributes to a sense of place that's vital in helping the audience to identify with the teenagers' plight.

There are really too many story threads here to tie together in a single film and at times the deliberate disorientation blurs into real incoherence, but Demons Of The Mind is nevertheless a bold attempt at doing something different. It draws together the ancient curses and torch-wielding mobs of the past with the psychological disturbance, ethical betrayals and less forgiving narratives of a different kind of horror, and somewhere in the resulting tumult of colour and noise it finds unexpected soul.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2017
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In 19th century Bavaria, deranged Baron Zorn keeps his children locked up because he thinks they are possessed by tainted hereditary madness. It’s up to discredited psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg to unravel the dark family secrets.

Director: Peter Sykes

Writer: Christopher Wicking, Frank Godwin

Starring: Patrick Magee, Paul Jones, Shane Briant, Gillian Hills, Robert Hardy

Year: 1972

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: UK


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