That’s not the best title IMHO. If you want demons, that’s great, but demons of the mind sounds like neither one thing not another; horror film fans demand real bona fide demons, imaginary ones are not up to snuff. In fact, Peter Sykes’s unappreciated thriller has some other big problems too, but not as many as its reputation might suggest. It’s an ambitious reworking of the Hammer formula, but rings a few changes on the format.
This is a period horror, and that rarest of things, a werewolf movie with no actual werewolves. Instead, mad patriarch Zorn (Robert Hardy) lives in his Gothic pile, keen to keep his two grown-up children Emil (Shane Bryant) and Elizabeth (Gillian Hills) a secret. But people are turning up dead, killed in horrid ways, and so Zorn sends for a dubious doctor, played by the first-name-on-the-teamsheet when quack doctors are needed, Patrick Magee. Meanwhile, the peasants are revolting, and a priest named Priest (Michael Horden, the voice of Paddington Bear) is keen to whip them up to storm Zorn’s stately home. And just to complicate things, Elizabeth has a lover named Carl, who is played by the popular singer Paul Jones from 60’s pop giants Manfred Mann (sadly not included in this film). Throw them all together, over-heat for some time, and you have a ripe Hammer melodrama that almost no-one knows or cares about.
Those who did see Demons of the Mind were not impressed; Hardy’s performance has been widely ridiculed, but for this viewer, that’s unfair. Check out the scene in which Magee’s Mesmer-inspired doctor hypnotises Zorn; Hardy is quite wonderful here, slipping gear in an instant and revealing that Zorn’s hold on his family is personality based, and unsustainable. Sure, there’s some barnstorming, Donald Wolfit-style scenery-gnashing moments, but if you can’t enjoy yourself in a film like this, what’s the point? Fortunately, both Macgee and Horden have their acting levels turned up to ‘visible from space’ as well, so you can’t say Sykes didn’t get continuity of performance from his cast.
Hardy’s role was previously offered to Paul Schofield and then Dirk Bogarde, both of which would have been a major coup for Hammer, and are presumably the reason for the excision of obvious supernatural elements. But fans will enjoy the lurid atmosphere, wild performances, and a narrative that doesn’t quite conform to expectations. Werewolves may be in short supply here, but there’s plenty of other goofy elements here to pass the time.