Directed by: Jacques Tourneur (Cat People)
Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Athene Seyler, Maurice Denham
Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (originally released in the U.S. with 12 minutes cut and under the title Curse of the Demon) is this wonderful oasis in the midst of the general run of horror movies from the 1950s. And there’s virtually no
reason it should have been. Not only were the times against it, but it’s from the era when British pictures tended to have an American star shoehorned into them for stateside marketing purposes — and usually not a top-tier actor at that. In this case, we get Dana Andrews, a solid enough actor who was also an alcoholic and reaching the end of his leading man days. (And while reports indicate that Andrews was pretty much in the bag throughout filming, you’d never know it in the film.) With a marvelous screenplay by frequent Hitchcock-writer Charles Bennett and producer (and former East Side Kid) Hal E. Chester along with director Jacques Tourneur at the top of his game, Niall MacGinnus as the evil Dr. Karswell as one the great horror movie villains and Brit composer Clifton Parker providing what gets my vote for quite possibly the best horror score ever, the film is nigh on to perfection (or no further from it than one effects shot). Quite honestly, it is my favorite horror picture (at least among those that have no other desire than to be scary).
Whenever I find myself reviewing a movie for the second time, I read the old review and watch the film to see if I have anything new to say — and while I’ll link to my earlier review, several things did occur to me on this viewing. The first thing that struck me was how very similar the final scenes of night driving in Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932) are to the opening of this film — and I doubt this was accidental. It also struck me that the basically unnecessary long shot of the interior of the library in the British Museum is there because the layout of the library recalls that of Stonehenge, which figures heavily (and fancifully) in the film. Then there is Dr. Karswell’s clown makeup for the children’s Halloween party and its striking similarity to Emil Jannings in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930). I think this is deliberate because — at least in the complete version where Karswell isn’t entirely unsympathetic — in many ways the powers of darkness have him just as much a prisoner of his desires as they do for Jannings in the Sternberg film.
However, what really caught my attention this round was how perfectly structured the film’s last 10 minutes are. Everything from the moment Dr. John Holden (Andrews) takes off after Karswell is absolutely and precisely judged for maximum suspense leading up to a climax that justifies the buildup. Yes, that climax has one unfortunate shot where the effects work isn’t quite what it ought to be, but with the buildup and all the things that do work, I don’t think it matters all that much. For more on the film go to: http://avl.mx/k9
In Brief: One of the greatest of all horror films, Night of the Demon is as fresh and brilliant today as it was when it first appeared in 1957. This is a rare case of a movie where absolutely everything comes together just right: the script, the direction, the acting, the musical score. In fact, this story of a Satanist who conjures a demon from hell to dispose of those who oppose his devil cult may be in the running for best pure horror film ever made.