|Night of the Demon (1957)
Run time: 95 min
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writers: Charles Bennett, M.R. James
Stars: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis
Andrews is a dedicated skeptic investigating a deadly supernatural cult, with unexpected results. Misty, ominous English locations and a fine cast make this one of the finest horror films ever made.
Release Date: July 1958 (USA)
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A skeptical American psychologist comes to England to investigate and disprove the concept of the supernatural. But before long he finds himself cursed by the leader of a witch cult and disbelief becomes terrifying reality.
Some superbly brooding shots of Stonehenge accompanied by a haunting speech about runic powers start what is without doubt one of the darkest and most solemnly atmospheric films ever made. The cult leader Dr Karswell is brilliantly portrayed and the film is filled with memorable dialogue, well-realized characters and powerful horrific/psychological imagery, all accompanied by a grippingly sinister soundtrack. Whether you’re a horror fan or not, this is unmissable.
"Curse of the Demon" (aka "Night of the Demon") is one of those weird little lost films that everyone agrees is wonderful and yet very few people seem to have actually seen. This is one of those rare British movies that is set, not in the city, but rather in the chilly, fog-choked countryside where little seems to have changed since Stonehenge was built. Niall McGinnis holds sway here as the impish leader of a Satanic cult, who swiftly dispatches of his critics by summoning a huge, horrific demon to rip them to shreds.
Into this isolated world walks psychologist John Holden, played by yet another seriously underrated actor, Dana Andrews. Andrews, who made a name for himself playing tough guys in films like "Laura" and "The Best Years of Our Lives" is wonderful here as the skeptical, even slightly smarmy, American who absolutely refuses to believe in demons, even when strange, unexplainable things begin to happen to him. Peggy Cummins is his love interest, the open minded schoolteacher whose uncle may have been a victim of the Demon. Niall McGinnis is disturbingly likable as the head of the Demon Cult, chucking aside a chance to play Aleister Crowley and opting for Benny Hill instead. He is very disarming as the films central villain, and Andrews confusion mirrors our own as the movie stalks relentlessly through a seance, a stormy Halloween party and a frightening hypnosis session to its surprisingly violent conclusion.
This movie is, by turns, sarcastically funny, suffocatingly tense and shockingly scary. The demon looks a little corny nowadays, and was revealed much too quickly with no suspenseful build-up, but the movie is so smart, so moody, so creepy and well done with an excellent cast to boot, that one can easily forgive the demon, which looks a lot like a slightly deformed bear with a pig nose and goat horns.
This is an excellent adaption of the short story "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James and still has the power to scare even 50 years later. Highly recommended!
Anyone who sees this film for the first time really needs to remember when it was made and what there was to compare it with at the time. In 1957 this film was a pioneering work. The subject matter hasn’t been effectively dealt with since – despite the mammoth budgets available to today’s film makers.
The film’s success is in it’s simplicity. Scientists try to expose a Devil Cult for being fraudsters. They profess their innocence and are told to do their worse – which is exactly what they do.
Director Jacques Tourner makes up for an obviously tiny budget by weaving an extremely disturbing atmosphere throughout the film’s pivotal moments. Those dissenters who carp on endlessly about whether or not the demon should have been included are arguing about the wrong issue, which is whether or not Tourner managed to effectively scare his target audience with an essentially psychological beast from the depths of Hell. He easily achieved this without showing the actual demon, but it should however be noted that the very last shot of the demon where it is shown for the only time in profile tearing poor Karswell to bits, is the only representation of a devil that I have ever seen that sticks rigidly to the earliest known wood cuts of demons. All you oculists out there – check out your old books, this film might be more of the real deal than you give it credit for. Remember that in 1957, the British public were still reeling from the witchcraft murders of Lower Quinton and Hagley Wood (do your homework on these murders!)
I honestly believe that this film addresses the subject of Black Magic in a far more sinister fashion than I have seen since. It is the ‘Thinking Man’s’ Exorcist … Watch it with an open mind !!!
"Curse of the Demon" might just be the best horror film I’ve ever seen. When I saw it for the first time as a teenager in the mid-sixties on television one night, it really frightened me. And even now, at my age, it still gives me goosebumps.
Dana Andrews plays the skeptical American psychologist investigating a devil worship cult in England led by Dr. Karswell, played by Niall MacGinnis. The acting is pretty weak once you get past the two main characters, but it’s the craftsmanship of the director that really matters.
Jacques Tourneur manipulates light and shadow to create fear of the unknown in this tale of modern science colliding with ancient sorcery. The monster is pretty tame as far as it goes, but that’s not the point. It’s not what you see, it’s what you imagine that gets to you.
Long, dark corridors ….. dancing shadows ….. strange sounds contrasted with eerie silences ….. the impending sense of doom and apprehension. This film touches our primal fears, like a child waking up during a thunder storm. Is nature an ordered world or can it be manipulated by evil forces?