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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
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
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!
"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?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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 !!!
This film comes with two quality labels: it stars Peggy Cummins (best known
for 'Deadly Is The Female' a.k.a. 'Gun Crazy') and is directed by Jacques
Tourneur who had already shown his talent for suspenseful films with the RKO
classics Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie. So you know what to expect:
suspense and quality.
By now of course, technology changed a lot of how films look and it is the "show less - scare a lot" attitude of Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie that made them into the classics that they are. 'Night of the Demon' (a far better title than the American 'Curse of the Demon' - and if you see the film, you'll know why) has one nasty side effect: you see the demon and it's a film demon from the 50s. No matter how scary the film makes the demon, he looks like the thing you see on the cover of the movie box. It could be scarier. But now comes the best part... it doesn't matter! Because the suspense comes from something else in the movie and that is what makes this film so great. Dana Andrews is coming to England to prove that a so-called satanic cult is nothing more than a bunch of fakers and illusionists. The cult leader, however, puts a spell on him and warns Andrews that he will die in a few days. Other 50s film that depend more on the monsters and demons do have that problem: e.g. Roger Corman made some movies that could've been a lot better and scarier if the monster had either been more convincing or given less screen time.
Like in the other two films by Tourneur I mentioned, you always sense something scary could happen. That is what makes films work. In 'Night of the Demon Tourneur' succeeds in scarying you on some occasions when you least expect it. Combine that with cleverly built-up suspense and you know why you should watch this classic. Even if you don't like horror films in general.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Several books claim that the footage of the demon was inserted into "Night of the Demon" at the producer's insistence. Whether true or not, it's a good thing--because the demon is one of the most visually terrifying creatures in the history of cinema. And except for an awkward shot at the film's conclusion, the demon looks quite convincing. Still, he gets second billing to Niall MacGinnis' great performance as Karswell. My favorite scene: When Karswell explains to two non-believers the difference between white and black magic at a Halloween party he's thrown for the local kids. To make a point, he conjures up a stylish wind storm--which crashes the party and still fails to convince his intended audience. (Be sure to note the similarity between the kids' party here and the one in "The Birds"). All in all, "Night of the Demon" is a great chiller, marred only by Dana Andrews' routine turn as a skeptic who would put Dana Scully to shame.
Listen. Get yourself the biggest screen possible (preferably with a
good front projection TV), turn out the lights, sit back with your
popcorn and soda, and get ready for an evening of unrelenting suspense.
Directed by Jacques Tournear, whose other classics include "The Leopard
Man," Robert Mitchum's "Out of the Past," and "Cat People," one viewing
of this film will readily illustrate to you why Hollywood's audiences
are dwindling. This movie is what good movie making is all about; this
movie knows what it's intention is and executes it beautifully. When
you see this film, you will think to yourself, "Why can't they make
them like this anymore?" If you thought "The Others" was a good movie
(which I did) then you will like this one. "The Others," by the way, is
one of the few exceptions to my negative criticism above.
I'm not going to reveal any of the plot. Watch it without knowing anything about the plot; let the story unfold on you as it does to Dana Andrews. You'll be glad you did.
The film is available on DVD in the USA and longer English versions. The only difference I saw in the two versions is that the USA version cuts out a few unnecessary words that add nothing to the story.
Anyway, give this movie a viewing. You'll be glad you did.
"Night of the Demon" is, hands down, one of the most superb horror/occult thriller films ever made, and that's particularly remarkable because the original concept got pampered with a lot of additional ideas and effects the director didn't agree on. Jacques Tourneur ("Cat People", "the Leopard Man") initially wanted to put the emphasis purely on the psychological aspects, but the money-suppliers didn't like this and insisted on bringing an actual demonic monster into the movie. It would be enormously interesting to see the non-existing version like Tourneur imagined it, as then you'd constantly be wondering whether the occurring events are real or all just going on inside the characters' heads. This creative and innovating (for 1957, at least) impact is naturally ruined by explicitly showing the hideous demon early in the film, so it's extra praiseworthy that the whole finished product is still extremely suspenseful. The plot revolves on a headstrong and overly rational scientist who travels from the States to England, exclusively to prove that the supposed blackly magical powers of a certain Dr. Julian Karswell are all just a swindle. Even the mysterious circumstances surrounding his overseas partner's death as well as multiple warnings from close friends and colleagues can't convince Dr. John Holden to abort his mission to expose Karswell as a fraud. The latter eagerly accepts this challenge and places a curse on Dr. Holden that gradually becomes eerier and pretty much inescapable the curse of the demon! This is a marvelously atmospheric and genuinely unsettling horror masterpiece! The dialogues and acting performances of the entire cast are downright impeccable and the script (adapted from a story by M.R. James) is so intense & persuasive that you almost begin to believe in the supernatural yourself! Ever encountered a film that has such an impact on you? "Night of the Demon" is very likely to become the first. Several sequences showing our good Dr. Holden pursued by evil forces are truly haunting, while the stylish black & white photography and the beautiful set pieces only increase this effect. You can honestly trust the high IMDb-rating and the praising reviews on this one; "Night of the Demon" is one of those rare films that every self-respecting horror fan simply HAS TO see for him/herself.
"Curse of the Demon" aka "Night of the Demon" is a wonderful set-piece study of the macabre, skillfully acted by Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, and the delightfully malevolent Niall MacGinnis, and masterfully directed by Jacques Tournier, a director who can turn even the warmest smile into something sinister. Andrews plays a psychiatrist determined to debunk the world of the occult, but instead nearly falls victim to a monstrous demon summoned by MacGinnis. At one point in the film MacGinnis, dressed in a clown suit, takes on an aura of pure demonic power under Tournier's direction, and it's a joy to watch. The effects, including the demon itself, are simple but surprisingly effective, and serve to highlight, rather than overpower, the actors and the storyline. Based on the story "Casting the Runes", this mostly-forgotten film is a masterpiece of scripting, editing, acting, and direction, and shouldn't be missed. We thoroughly recommend it for anyone who likes a nice, quiet little horror story played with an almost Hitchcockian subtlety that's rare nowadays.
Filmed in England, this 1958 film was originally released with a
running time of 95 minutes under the title NIGHT OF THE DEMON; when it
reached the United States it had a running time of 83 minutes and the
title CURSE OF THE DEMON. Both versions are contained on this DVD, with
the English version the better for those twelve minutes, but in truth
there is little significant difference between the two, and if you are
a connoisseur of 1950s horror films you will find both equally
Based on the short story "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James, DEMON offers the tale of American psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews) who travels to a conference in England, planning to debunk a devil worshiping cult led by Karswell (Niall MacGinnis.) Unfortunately for the professionally skeptical Holden, Karswell's powers are genuine: he has successfully translated an ancient text and, through runes written on parchment, casts a curse first against Holden's colleague and then against Holden himself.
DEMON was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who worked with producer Val Lewton to create a series of memorable and distinctly noir-ish horror films at RKO in the 1940s: CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and THE LEOPARD MAN. All three films created a sense of unease and scream-aloud fear by implication and suggestion, and although DEMON is much more explicit in its effects, Tourneur brings the same sensibility to bear on DEMON, endowing it with remarkable authority and power in spite of several distinct flaws.
Chief among these flaws is the script, which can best be described as somewhat abrupt in terms of dialog, and leading man Dana Andrews, whose performance is remarkably unsubtle even in a decade noted for a lack of cinematic restraint. Film lore also has it that Tourneur lobbied against showing the demon on screen, and given the fact that the visual is hardly inspired this clearly would have been the better choice. None the less, DEMON has jolts and jars aplenty, not the least of which is Karswell: Niall MacGinnis' performance, with its mixture of the commonplace and the flatly evil, is remarkably fine. The film also sports a host of memorable set pieces: the storm, the flying parchment, Dr. Holden's exploration of Karswell's mansion, Dr. Holden's run through the night forest, and the final train sequence, to name but a few.
Although it is not well known today, like Tourneur's films with Lewton, DEMON has cast a very long shadow in terms of influence, and it is very difficult to imagine such films as ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE CHANGELING without both this film and those that proceeded it. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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