Night of the Demon

1957 Movie

If you haven’t seen it:

nightofthedemon-poster

Yes, it is a well documented fact that the “demon” in this movie is, for want of a better word, crap.  It is about as scary (and about as convincing) as Sweetums from The Muppet Show.

However, if you can get past that, this is a well-crafted British occult movie with lots to recommend it.
The plot concerns an American psychologist’s attempt to expose a notorious occultist as a fraud. The occultist is not a fraud however, and he has the power to summon a demon to kill his enemies.

If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.

Plot:

The story begins with Professor Harrington in fear of his life.  He visits his enemy, the Satanist Dr Karswell, and begs him to lift a hex he has placed on him, admitting that he was wrong to cast doubt on his abilities as an occultist.  Karswell says it is too late to help him though, and as Harrington drives home, he is attacked by a giant demon. Harrington crashes into an electricity pole and is electrocuted.

Shortly afterwards, Dr. John Holden arrives in England to attend a psychology convention. It is the same convention at which Professor Harrington was planning on exposing Karswell’s cult. Holden also plans on exposing Karswell, and before long he realises that a Karswell has placed a hex on him too.

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If you have a clown phobia this is the scariest scene in the movie. In fact, even if you don’t…

At first Holden ridicules the idea of a hex, but when he is shown Harrington’s diary, by the late Professor’s niece Joanna, he is persuaded to investigate further, and he meets Karswell at his mansion who tells him he will die in three days.

A number of strange events take place, including a seance, sudden gusts of wind, strange noises, and hallucinations involving big cats and red hot pokers.

Holden and his scientific colleagues work out that the hex came about because Karswell tricked him into accepting a parchment covered in magical runes.  They learn (by hypnotising an earlier survivor of a similar hex) that the way to break the curse is to pass the parchment on again.

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You got served

Holden tracks Karswell down, finding him on a train trying to leave town. At the last moment before the curse is about to take effect, Holden manages to trick Karswell into accepting the parchment back again.  The demon then appears, and kills Karswell instead of Holden.

Steve Sunday Says:

The special effects in this movie are twenty years ahead of their time; by which I mean that they are on a par with 1970’s Doctor Who.

Critics love to have a go at the “demon” but no-one ever seems to complain about Holden’s fight with the stuffed cat, which I thought was almost as bad.  Also, am I the only person who noticed that the sound made when the demon was approaching was a bit like an excited guinea pig?

nightofthedemon-seance

“Don’t look at me! You said you were bringing the Cluedo.”.

I did enjoy the movie though.  I liked the juxtaposition of the Satanism and the twee English characters with good manners, silly beards, and ridiculous seance techniques.

The overall story was quite entertaining too.  It would not have been out of place in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I mean that as a compliment.

Trivia Trish Says:

  • Night of the Demon is based on a story by Montague Rhodes James, a scholar educated at Eton and Cambridge, who is best remembered today as the originator of the “antiquarian ghost story” (i.e. contemporary setting but with a historical theme).
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Worst drive in movie ever.

  • Peggy Cummins is now in her 90s and lives in London, where she is very involved with a cerebral palsy charity. She retired from acting in 1961, but still occasionally makes guest appearances at special screenings of he biggest movies, including a screening of Night of the Demon in the courtyard of the British Museum (which was one of the locations of the movie) in 2013.
  • Dana Andrews had a photographic memory and could memorise a script after reading it just once, and he could still remember all of his lines from all of his movies decades later.
  • Niall MacGinnis played Zeus opposite Honor Blackman’s Hera in the 1963 Ray Harryhausen movie Jason and the Argonauts.
  • There is a story (possibly apocryphal) that the prop man working on the movie was one day asked to produce “two sets of runic symbols”.  Some time later the prop man returned clutching an orchestral cymbal in each hand.  He said to the director “We didn’t have any runic, will brass do?”

Chris the Critic says:

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It’s time to play the music; it’s time to light the lights…

The decision to show the demon on screen was not made by the director, Jacques Tourneur.  Tourner had made his name with subtle and atmospheric movies like Cat People and The Leopard Man, where the monsters were kept in the shadows, adding to the viewers’ feeling of dread, and it had been Tourner’s intention that Night of the Demon would be a similar sort of movie. However, the movie’s producer Hal E. Chester interfered and insisted the demon be shown (and not just at the end of the movie but, to Tourner’s dismay, at the beginning too).

Despite this, the movie is still remembered today because of its tense atmosphere, impressive noirish cinematography, and its flashes of dark humour.  We can only imagine how great it would have been without Chester’s meddling.

Main Cast and Crew:

Dana Andrews as John Holden
Peggy Cummins as Joanna Harrington
Niall MacGinnis as Doctor Karswell
Maurice Denham as Professor Harrington
Athene Seyler as Mrs. Karswell

Director: Jacques Tourneur

nightofthedemon-card

“Yes, just drive to Warwickshire. You can’t miss it.”

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