There is certainly no doubt whatsoever that by the time the 1970’s dawned that Hammer films were indeed struggling financially and also finding it difficult to maintain the standards that they had done in the glory days of the studio which many agree was in the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s. They had in fact probably been responsible for their own slow demise because of their insistence on up-dating the Dracula cycle, which many have never agreed with, myself included. Because how do you go back when you have placed a Gothic horror character into a contemporary setting? However, amongst numerous movies that the studio did release in the seventies, there were some shining examples that had a feint glimmer of vintage or classic Hammer productions as in Vampire Circus and The Vampire Lovers, even if they did have to resort to exposing certain parts of various ladies anatomies to get audiences interested. However, one movie that they released in the early 1970’s that was different and well, quite intelligently made was Demons of the Mind, that was in UK cinemas in 1972. I cannot really say that this is a movie that has a cult like following, but I do look upon it in a similar way because it is a polished and also thought-provoking motion picture.
Demons of the Mind is also different from what we would ordinarily expect from Hammer, and that is probably why it was less than a runaway success at the box office, it seemed that many people were saying it’s a great movie, but it’s a Hammer horror. Well, yes, it is a Hammer film and yes it has degrees of the horror element, but there is so much more to this motion picture that provokes interest from the audience. When I think of Demons of the Mind, I also remember films such as the studios excellent Fear in The Night also from 1972, which I think is the closest we will get to a British version of a Giallo movie all’a Argento etc. With films such The Bird with the Crystal Plumage coming to mind. And Crescendo again from 1972, which is a truly underrated movie. Hammer were great at Gothic horror’s but were also exceptionally good at the psychological or cerebral tale. Demons of the Mind was a favourite of composer Harry Robinson who worked on the movie. As he said in interview.
“I think out of all my Hammer scores I prefer Demons of the Mind, to anything else I did for the studio. I also thought the film was particularly good. It was a horror I suppose, but it was also a film that made you think a little. It was to be called Blood will have Blood, but the censors decided that you could not have blood in the title twice – why I am not sure? The film called for a score that obviously matched its storyline, but I also had a chance to be melodic on this picture which was a nice change from all the atonal and loud non- musical stuff. I used traditional instrumentation and enhanced this with a moog synthesiser”
Demons of the Mind was directed by Peter Sykes, who had before this directed the experimental psychedelic movie The Committee in 1968, which was probably better known for its soundtrack by Pink Floyd. He had also directed a handful of The Avengers TV series from 1966 through to 1969. Sykes went onto work on several movies but none that exactly fired up cinema goers, the big screen version of Steptoe and Son for example, and The House in Nightmare Park, which starred Frankie Howard and Ray Milland. Both movies being released in 1973. He also helmed Hammer’s To the Devil a Daughter in 1976, and in 1980 directed several episodes of the popular UK TV soap Emmerdale Farm, now called Emmerdale. Demons of the Mind focuses upon a well to do widower Baron Zorn, played by Robert Hardy, who keeps his adult children Emil (Shane Briant) and Elizabeth (Gillian Hills) under lock and key, locked away from everything. He lives in constant fear that they will go mad as their Mother did.
He then decides to invite doctor Falkenberg (Patrick Magee) to stay and see if he can help his children who are kept sedated and apart because of their incestuous attraction to each other. The doctor’s unorthodox ways do not however improve matters and when there are murders locally the villagers call in a holy man to track down the murderer. The role of Gillian was originally to be played by Marianne Faithful, but she eventually declined, the part played by Robert Hardy, was also offered to both Dirk Bogarde and Paul Schofield who both declined.
The film also starred Yvonne Mitchell as the housekeeper and Michael Hordern as the Holy man. With Paul Jones as Carl Richter. Writer Christopher Wicking was not pleased about Hardy being given the lead role, as he wanted either Bogarde or Schofield, but when they turned down the part Hammer films felt that they could not ask their leading actors Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing to even consider the movie. Thus, enter Hardy. The film has definitely improved with age if that is at all possible.