Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


NIGHT OF THE DEMON (aka Curse of the Demon/1957). Director: Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Charles Bennett and Hal Chester. Based on "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James.

Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham), who has challenged the abilities and veracity of a warlock named Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), finds himself under a deadly curse, and is found dead and mutilated the following morning. Another skeptic, psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews), arrives in London and hooks up with Harrington's beautiful niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins), who is convinced that her uncle's death was not a grotesque accident. Holden is a complete non-believer, but he admits he is baffled by some of the things that have happened since he has encountered Karswell, whose supernatural claims he has come to investigate. Holden discovers that Karswell has secretly passed him a parchment covered in runic symbols which mark Holden as the next victim of a legendary demon. Although Holden scoffs at first, Joanna's near-hysteria and certain occurrences make him wonder if he really has something to fear ...

Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins
Night of the Demon was released in the U.S. under the title Curse of the Demon with fifteen minutes cut from the running time. It is a superior horror film, with very good performances, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, adroit direction from Tourneur, and sequences that stay in the memory. Clifton Parker's music adds just the right note, and Edward Scaife's [Tarzan's Three Challenges] cinematography is first-rate. At the time of the film's release and later, there were some who objected to the producers' insistence on including a demon during key sequences, suggesting that this ruined the ambiguity of the film -- is the supernatural real or is everyone over-reacting? -- but there are other sequences in the film (footprints suddenly appearing in the ground where no one is walking; a cat that turns into a much larger feline creature; those hands on the banister) that make it clear that the supernatural events are actually occurring. Besides, the monster looks great. Andrews' panicky run through the midnight woods with something after him is chilling, and despite the film's essential grimness, there is an amusing seance that features comic actor Reginald Beckwith, with Athene Seyler  [I Thank a Fool] as Karswell's conflicted mother. Brian Wilde makes an impression as the haunted prisoner, Rand Hobart, a member of Karswell's sect who has been driven insane. Tourneur also directed I Walked with a Zombie, among many others, but this is by far the better film.

Verdict: A highly effective, engrossing, well-made and scary horror film without a single severed limb and with a fine script by Charles Bennett and Hal Chester. ***1/2.  


angelman66 said...

I love this one, too, Bill. I have read reviews that criticize the filmmakers for actually showing the demon (would have been scarier leaving it to the imagination), but it is a scary design indeed, as you show. Just saw this again recently and it is as powerful and entertaining as ever.

William said...

Yes, it's a true classic of the genre. The kind they don't make anymore unless that add lots of spattering offal, LOL!