Demons of the Mind (18) | Home Ents Review

Dir. Peter Sykes, UK, 1972, 89 mins

Cast: Robert Hardy, Patrick Magee, Gillian Hills, Michael Hordern, Shane Briant

Review by Colin Dibben

You have to love 70s Hammer films. They’re tawdry, salacious, packed with sexualised violence and, in this case, plain bat-shit crazy. This restored version of a late period Hammer horror needs to be seen to be believed.

In Ye Olde Hammer Times, deranged Baron Zorn (Hardy) invites disgraced mind scientist Professor Fakenberg (Magee) to his estate to help him cure his son Emil (Briant) and daughter Elizabeth (Hills) of their incestuous desires. Meanwhile, some man-beast in a flouncy shirt is going around ripping open the more attractive local village women and a mad-haired priest (Hordern) stumbles about in the forest foreseeing the end of times.

Both storywise and scriptwise, nothing about Demons of the Mind develops and culminates properly and the direction and editing are absolutely bizarre. In other words, the film is crap.

And yet, Demons of the Mind must be seen – and not just as a cautionary tale for filmmakers who want to gaze in horror at the efforts of their elders who apparently had very little clue how to script, direct or edit and yet were given sizable budgets to work with.

What makes the film a treat is the atrociously over-the-top acting. The late Robert Hardy is unbelievably hammy, all shouting and swoons and mad eye rolls. Even the great sneer-voiced, bug-eyed, bushy browed Patrick Magee sometimes looks incredulous that he has been upstaged.

If one wanted to explore types of overacting, you could contrast Magee, the character actor, who always does the snide quiet psycho – but only the snide quiet psycho, the same every time – and Hardy.

Hardy’s modus operandi may be shouting and gesticulating in a manner one associates with bad Victorian theatre but 1) I think he thinks his shouting is expressive of Baron Zorn’s character and is different from other roles = instances of shouting and gesticulating, throughout his long and illustrious career; and 2) he is obviously enjoying himself immensely, which is nice to see.

It’s great to watch Magee and Hardy in their feeding frenzies of overacting – you can actually see them daring each other to take it all a step further. It’s fair to say, Hardy wins hands down.

Mores the pity that these two great slabs of ham share no significant scene with Hordern, who is in great over-the-top dithery mode. That would be Clash of the Titans, indeed!

Hills and Briant are perfect for their respective parts: she wears that dreamy ‘I’ve just been well fucked’ look throughout; he has the irritable nervousness and wasted, wan look of the compulsive masturbator. Which may well be the true story of heterosexual roles in the 1970s, right there.

Demons of the Mind is out now in a dual format edition.

Colin Dibben

Author: Colin Dibben

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