"Blood will have blood, they say…"
So exclaims actor Robert Hardy - an allusion to the bad blood that may be responsible for the madness that possesses his sickly children. Originally designed as a werewolf myth, the concept by producer Frank Godwin and Christopher Wicking was reworked into a darker piece, bolstered by research into antique and arcane objects (such as a lengthy sequence involving an authentic scarificator kit), ancient practices, and medical quackery from the 19th century.
While the film stands on its own as an eerie Gothic entry with an effectively mysterious first act, "Demons of the Mind" ably fulfills the requirements of the exploitation genre, offering plenty of shocks, splashes of gore, and nudity deemed a-okay during England's more liberal censorship days.
Anchor Bay has brought together a good trio of film participants for the DVD's commentary track, moderated by Hammer historian Jonathan Southcott.
Underrated director Peter Sykes - who seems to have largely disappeared from the directing scene after the late-seventies - had made a name for himself during the sixties with the short film "The Committee" and episodes of "The Avengers." In the engaging commentary track, he offers some solid production and casting specifics, such as the producer's original pursuit of Marianne Faithful, which, due to insurance problems, was ultimately recast, and working with Manfred Mann's Paul Jones again, after directing the singer/actor in "The Committee."
Screenwriter Christopher Wicking had done some rewrites on Sykes' previous film, "Venom," and their relationship - furthered in 1976 with "To The Devil A Daughter" - is reflected in the comfortable tone of their exchanges, with several amusing anecdotes.
Beginning as a comedy writer, Wicking found success (and income) by writing various horror scripts for American International Pictures, and he offers some interesting facts regarding the writing and editing of a horror screenplay under the 'enlightened' tenure of BBFC head John Trevelyan - England's censorial bigwig, whose influential 'suggestions' toned down some of the film's eroticism and sexual cruelty.
Virginia Wetherell (who plays the doomed, uninhibited prostitute) had appeared in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" (along with Gillian Hills, and veteran character actor Patrick Magee), and had acted in "The Curse of the Crimson Altar" - one of Boris Karloff's last films. Quite talkative, Wetherell also recalls Kubrick's oddball improv requests that led to her casting as a nurse/psychiatrist in "Clockwork," and the purchase of many knickers at the behest of naughty Stanley (ahem).
Similar to his contribution for "Straight On Till Morning," historian Southall gets everyone talking about the Hammer studio, and the typical double-bill format of the times which often played to non-West End theatres and frequently resulted in weak publicity. "Demons" was originally paired with "Tower of Evil," and the latter's poor reviews severely harmed the former's box office returns.
Anchor Bay's transfer was made from a really nice "hot version" (the "continental" version featured less naughty bits), and includes all the gore and full frontal allowed during the early 'enlightened' seventies. The location work is first rate, with exteriors and some grand interiors shot at a huge estate - owned by the alleged mastermind of England's Great Train Robbery. The forest scenery is effectively eerie, though several montages suffer from a bad mixture of night and day-for-night shots that lack lighting continuity, adding some confusion to time passages, particularly the gruesome finale.
Sykes took advantage of the script's historical research, and with cinematographer Arthur Grant, composed some wonderful sequences. Based on a magnetic rod contraption designed by Mesmer, Sykes' high-contrast hypnotism session uses a spinning candlestick, glistening rods, and violet glassware; the sequence has dense blacks, and the colour layers - particularly the Trevelyan-influenced super-impositions - are stable, and show little grain.
Harry Robinson's orchestral score adds a haunting quality to the Family Secret, and the film's straightforward mono mix offers a good balance of aural elements.
The included trailer reveals a great deal about Hammer at the time: having produced a less generic period thriller without Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing - "Demons of the Mind" was the studio's platform launching pad for their new Lee for the long-haired set, Shane Briant - the marketing department retained one foot in old-style campaigning, via muddled narration and flashy text; and the other foot in something slightly more modern, through the use of Sykes' aforementioned stylish super-impositions, and actors in their more menacing postures.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan