1971, UK, Directed by Peter Sykes
Colour, Running Time: 85 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Optimum; Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DD Mono
I am actually going to watch something other than a Hammer film at some point… I promise. I found this to be an interesting departure from the usual style of plot that Hammer adopted, quite daring in fact. A despotic father (Robert Hardy) keeps his incestuous (grown-up) son and daughter pretty much captive in a huge mansion, mainly because he believes the insanity that runs in the family has genetically afflicted them. Meanwhile, people in the village are being picked off and killed, thus creating the stereotype ‘angry mob’ of villagers out for revenge. Hardy has the brilliant Patrick Magee visit the house to conduct what they believe to be experiments in the hope of finding out more (and curing) this endogenous madness, whilst also having his daughter bled, possibly in order to drain the ‘infected’ blood from her body (something that was thought to be a cure for many diseases in the middle ages). There’s also a priest wandering around the woods who babbles to a point where you feel he’s not any more sane than the inhabitants of the mansion.
It’s a difficult plot to describe but that’s partly because I feel it’s quite radical for Hammer. The concept borders on ideas of mental illness being sourced in the genes, crossed with older ideas that it’s due to supernatural causes. The film explores the material with some confusion to the viewer but it makes for a rewarding experience if you can get into it. There are some morbid moments in the film (the father quietly tipping a corpse into the lake against some eerie soundtrack music) and it is surprisingly violent in places. The conclusion is grim to say the least.
Optimum’s DVD (part of the Ultimate Hammer Collection or available separate) looks fantastic with nice colour and plenty of detail. There’s also a commentary track featuring the director and a trailer. Sometimes flawed, this is certainly worth owning because, while still a period piece, it deviates from Hammer’s usual story types and proceeds down a conceptually enticing and fairly morbid path.