Screened at FrightFest to celebrate a whole new bunch of Hammer horror releases from StudioCanal in honor of 60 years of the famous British horror studio Demons of the Mind is a 1979 oddity about madness, murder and dark family secrets.
Set in 19th century Bavaria we see a young girl forced against her will on a crazed coach ride across the countryside. Force-fed drugs as she is carried back towards her home and prison we watch her memories of a failed escape and chance encounter with young progressive doctor Carl Richter (played surprisingly well by Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones).
The girl is Elizabeth (Gillian Hills) and her capture is her deranged father Baron Zorn (well known actor and Harry Potter star Robert Hardy) who keeps his daughter and her brother Emil (Shane Briant) confined to his immense home convinced they have inherited the hereditary madness passed down his family line that also resulted in their mother committing suicide in front of them.
Always searching for a cure but so far failing to find one the Baron contacts a discredited psychiatrist named Professor Falkenberg (A Clockwork Orange Patrick Magee) who has some very controversial theories and practices which he is more than happy to employ on the sick siblings.
While the family pursue a last ditch and disturbing treatment Falkenberg feels will finally release them from the malicious malady the arrival of Carl Richter who is determined to save Elizabeth from her father and the doctor he believes to be just as mad throws the mansion into further turmoil.
While inside the ailing abode everyone argues outside the villagers are desperate to discover the man or beast behind a spate of murders on local women and when they find the latest missing body on the Baron’s land they grab their pitchforks and head to the castle for revenge.
A strange gothic entry into Hammer’s catalogue of films as well as the prerequisite nudity, sex, blood and violence all aimed to titillate the audience there is a heavy dose of psychobabble with the story plunging deep into the subconscious of the crazy clan reveling in theories and scenes of incest, psychosis and uncontrollable animalistic drives.
What is interesting is the counterbalance between the modern psychological ideas proposed by the film predominantly through Falkenberg and his obsession with hypnosis and unlocking the demons of the mind and the ancient superstition, bygone beliefs and pagan ceremonies played out by the squalid villagers themselves seemingly as unable to control their base desires as the gentry who rule over them.
The acting is extremely over the top as all the main cast especially Hardy and Magee take turns chewing the scenery and trying to outdo each other making the more serious side of the story slightly ridiculous.
Luckily the film is saved from being a bunch of histrionic hyperbole by insane flashbacks and fantasies alongside scenes of bleeding treatments and bloody serial slayings all of which ends in an epic chase that gets very gory.
Credit to StudioCanal for bringing these films back as the releases are great for Hammer fans who get not only a beautifully restored copy of this particularly bonkers movie but some great extras including the brand new featurette Blood Will Have Blood: Inside Demons of the Mind.