173 of 178 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2004
The distributor advertising this DVD as a "Double Feature" stretches the truth a bit. "Curse of the Demon" is merely the shortened American version of the British film "Night of the Demon." The American version runs thirteen minutes shorter and is by far the weaker cut of the film, if still a fine piece of work. It's a nice feature to have the complete American cut on this disk for the sake of comparison with the original, but this is hardly a "double feature." And there's no reason to watch the edited, shorter version when you have the superior British original of one of the seminal horror movies of all time on the same DVD.
"Night of the Demon" hit theaters in 1957 and marked a turning point in macabre cinema. Director Jacques Tourneur had made some important 1940s horror films ("Cat People," "Leopard Man," and "I Walked with a Zombie," as well as the film noir classic "Out of the Past") that moved against the grain of the gothic fantasies that Universal produced during the 1930s. With "Night of the Demon," Tourneur cemented the idea of the modern horror film, where the terrors of the gothic, demonic, and supernatural appear within the realm of the modern, everyday world -- the essentially rational setting of the contemporary times. The success of this film would eventually lead to such movies in the following decades as "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist," which took place in the recognizable contemporary world, where the invasion of supernatural forces seemed all the more ghastly.
The screenplay comes from the short story "Casting the Runes" by master Victorian ghost story writer M. R. James. (You can find this story in an excellent and currently in-print volume of the same name.) In the story, a professor and practitioner of the black arts, Karswell, has found a way to send demonic forces against his academic foes by passing them a slip of paper covered with magical runes. The movie expands the premise: Karswell (Niall MacGinnis, who played Zeus in "Jason and the Argonauts") leads a witchcraft circle and uses his rune-tracker to send a demon after his opponent, professor Harrington. After Harrington's death, his American friend, psychologist Holden (Dana Andrews), comes to America to learn more, but scoffs at the idea that anything supernatural could lurk behind Harrington's death. Unfortunately for Holden, Karswell feels threatened enough to decide to send his murdering monster after the American.
Tourneur brilliantly films the movie in a split style, dividing between realistic, bland daytime scenes, meant to have an almost documentary feel, and increasingly warped and bizarre nighttime scenes as the curse of the demon moves closer and closer to Holden and it becomes harder for him to deny the truth of what is occurring. The demon itself is a point of controversy among film students. Tourneur was famous for keeping his horrors hidden, and some people believe that he never planned to show the demon at all, but the producer forced him to shove it up front. The appearance early in the film of the full demon might have been an error (it would have worked better to save it for the finale), but its materialization at the end is pretty incredible and it's hard to believe that Tourneur wouldn't have wanted the ending any other way. This is (excuse the pun) one hell of a demon. Designed by Ken Adam (who would later create the sets for most of the James Bond films, as well as "Dr. Strangelove"), the monster looks like it leaped from the freakiest medieval woodcut representation of Hell. The special effects and sounds accompanying it are also eerie and disturbing.
Andrews is a bit stodgy in his part, but Niall MacGinnis makes up for it with his scene-stealing role as Karswell. MacGinnis is both a bumbling, whimsical British professor (complete with a doting and scolding mother), and a cold-blooded sorcerer -- often both in one scene. The ending of the film, involving the passing of the runes, is both funny and incredibly tense, leading to one of the most stunning climaxes in horror films. Peggy Cummins as the love interest is delightfully perky and intelligent, much more so than female leads in most horror films.
The only extra on the disk is the inclusion of the American cut. However, the film is in perfect condition, and is finally shown in the original aspect ration of 1:1.66 (a typical European screen format infrequently seen in the U.S.; it's halfway between the shape of a TV screen and the typical 1:1.85 that most American movies are shot in today). "Night of the Demon" is essential horror film viewing for anyone who wants to understand the development of the genre into its current form. (And I have to repeat it, that's one helluva demon!)
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
I rented this movie one night based on a great multitude of great reviews it had received online. As I popped the tape in my VCR, I wasn't sure what to expect. Imagine my surprise as I began to watch one of the single greatest horror/suspense films ever made. Everything in this film works, including the "controversial" appearance of the demon at the beginning and end of the film. The performances are quite noteworthy, especially that of the actor who portrayed Karswell. Niall MacGinnis does a great job in humanizing his character and makes sure that Karswell is leaps and bounds beyond the average evil villain in most horror films. Probably my favorite aspect is the fact the film has a film noir quality to it, which suits it fine, since it is a cross between a detective film and a supernatural thriller. It's one of the few films I've seen recently that has made me yell at the characters when they do things that may be understandable, however they are a bit on the unintelligent side. By the way, if you are a fan of this movie, be sure to check out Hammer's The Devil Rides Out, recently released in a widescreen edition by Anchor Bay Entertainment. It contains a similar occult theme, as well as the same level of sheer intensity. Oh, and I don't want to forget the fact that it stars Christopher Lee, is directed by Terence Fisher, and has a screenplay written by Richard Matheson (based on Dennis Wheatley's novel).
57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
There is really only one thing significantly wrong with the 1957 horror classic "Curse of the Demon" is that the producer insisted the "demon" had to make its appearance at the beginning and ending of the film. The better move would have been to leave the appearance of the monster up to the audience's imagination as director Jacques Tourneur intended, but you know producers. Still, "Curse of the Demon" (originally released in England as "Night of the Demon") is a great horror film. The film is based on "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James, with a literate screenplay by Charles Bennett and Hal E. Chester. The story deals with a curse cast by an evil magician, supposedly based on the self-proclaimed English sorcerer Aleister Crowley. The tone for the film is amply established in the opening sequence where a terrified Professor Harrington (Maurice Dehnam) comes to the home of Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Harrington the scientist had led an expose of Karswell's devil cult and made the mistake of telling the sorcerer "Do your worst." Now he wants Karswell to call off the demon, but, of course, it is way too late for that now.
The protagonist in this story is Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews), a noted American psychologist who comes to England to help with the investigation of the cult. Holden does not believe in the occult, but then Karswell slips him a parchment marked with runes and learns the rules of our little game: whoever holds the parchment will die on an appointed day UNLESS they can pass it on to a WILLING recipient. Sounds like big time fun, right? Holden tries to hold on to his skepticism, but in due course he becomes a true believer. Allied with Joanna Harrington (Peggy Cummins), daughter of the late professor and Holden's obvious romantic interest in the film, the pair try to turn the tables on Karswell.
The star of this film is Karswell as portrayed by Niall MacGinnis, who manages to give nice shadings to his villain. When Holden first meets the man trying to kill him at Lufford Hall, Karswell is dressed up as Dr. Bobo the Magnificent entertaining the local orphans. He even gives Holden a chance to recant his disbelief and when the psychologist becomes even more insulting Karswell summons a cyclone to take the American down a peg. One of the best sequences involves Holden breaking into Lufford Hall only to be attacked by the wizard's demon familiar. Andrews manages the passage from disbelief to understanding and horror adequately, but Karswell steals every scene. Even with the cheesy monster, "Curse of the Demon" is a classic horror film featuring a first rate script, solid performances, and artful direction. This may well be the proverbial best horror film you never heard of.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2002
An underrated classic finally on DVD!!
This is a truly great horror film based on the short story "Casting The Runes" by M.R. James. The movie mainly uses concepts from the story and isn't a direct adaptation of the story - kinda like Roger Corman's Poe movies. The names Karswell and Harrington are the only ones that appear in both James' story and the movie. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur whose Cat People (1941) is probably more well known. Unfortunately, the studio mettled a bit and forced Tourneur to show the demon way too early in the movie.
Dr. Holden arrives in England only to discover that his colleague, Professor Harrington, has died under mysterious circumstances. During Dr. Holden's research into what happened, a curse that involves the use of Runic symbols is discovered. Karswell is the leader of a local religious cult.
This DVD contains both Night of the Demon (UK version) and Curse of the Demon (US version - 13 minutes hacked out). Both movies are letterboxed. The image quality is great. There were a few points where it seemed the audio might be slighted distorted, but I'm not sure if it would be noticeable to the average viewer. It's not distracting. Something you'd have to be listening for.
The close-ups of the Demon are great considering that this movie was made in 1957. The wide shots are not as impressive.
The version of Curse of the Demon on this DVD is not as complete as the version that has been on AMC. The version AMC aired was closer to the UK version - with only a few minutes missing and the "Curse" titles at the beginning. I do prefer the UK version and would recommend skipping Curse of the Demon unless you just want to compare how the versions were edited. Just select Night of the Demon to see the complete, unedited version. I wouldn't call it a Director's Cut since he would want to cut all shots of the Demon from most of the film.
I did find one little quirk with this DVD. Once you select a version, you're locked into it until you stop the DVD. Each movie has its own menu. Once you select a movie from the first menu, you are stuck on that movie's menu with no way to back out to that first menu. If your DVD player remembers where you left off when you hit Stop like mine does, you'll have to clear that memory to switch movies. With my player, I just hit Stop an additional time, and that makes the player go back to the beginning of the DVD when I hit Play.
The two trailers are for Fright Night and The Bride.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys older horror movies and/or movies based on the supernatural. This is a personal favorite.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
I will include some further reflections below my original review of 3/9/99, below:
Based on -- and admirably expanding on - M.R. James' story "Casting the Runes", this remains one of the finest supernatural movies ever made. The screenwriter, Charles Bennett, was a Hitchcock veteran and it shows in the tautly structured plot. Niall MacGinnis is superb as the urbane villain, and the film has any number of classic sequences: the seance scene, the scene at the Hobart farm, the Children's Halloween party and whirlwind scene, the scene in the woods -- even the controversial special effects of the fire demon actually work (although it's debatable whether the film would be better without) -- the only special effect that doesn't come off is the scene where Dana Andrews is fighting purportedly with a large wild cat -- obviously fake. But that is a tiny flaw in what is a classic of the genre. Eerie, atmospheric, and highly recommended. Another bit of trivia: this is the film referred to in the opening song of The Rocky Horror Picture Show ("Dana Andrews said prunes / gave him the runes/ and passing them used lots of skills") and also in the scene where Janet collides with atree branch in the "There's a Light" number.
If anything I damned the film with faint praise, as I neglected to mention so many other interesting elements. Such as the specific Hitchcockian elements-- the suave villain, the villain's daffy but kindhearted mother (one is reminded of the mother in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), the scene where the hero is in a den of the "bad guys" (the ominous scene where Holden visits the Hobart farm and confronts Rand Hobart's mother) are some that immediately come to mind. There are some interestingly erudite elements in the script: Holden works with two of the late Dr. Harrington's colleagues, Professor O'Brien and Dr. Kumar-- from the two furthest fringes of the Indo-European world, the Celts at extreme west and the peoples of Northern India on the extreme east-- and each of them is more attuned to the possibilties of the supernatural than Holden himself from the purportedly more sophisticated center of Indo-European culture-- more sophisticated perhaps, but also stubbornly closed-minded. It is interesting, too, that the eerie music which is running unbidden through Holden's head (after he unwittingly accepts the runic parchment) is mirrored in folk tunes from Ireland and India, both about the supernatural. (And that the tunes could objectively exist is a proof of sorts that what is going through Holden's head is more than a coincidence.) The wonderful seance scene, where Holden is almost offensively skeptical, is mirrored later by a sort of "scientific seance", where Rand Hobart's spirit, it could be argued, is roused from catatonia by hypnotism, sodium pentothal (the "truth serum") and methylamphetamine (stimulants).
Karswell, brilliantly played by MacGinnis, admits to his mother that his motivation, and the motivation of his followers, is fear. Well, in metaphysical circles it is also said that fear, fundamentally, motivates those who follow the "lefthand path" of black magic. This fear is shown in a number of clever ways: in the "prelude" scene where Professor Harrington begs Karswell to "stop it", Karswell asks in an affectedly casual manner whether Harrington still has the parchment. On hearing that it was burned-- and seeing by the clock it is uncomfortably close to 10pm, when the demon is due to kill the last holder of the parchment (as well as anyone else nearby, evidently), Karswell still tries to seem nonchalant, but rather too quickly urges that Harrington had "better go home"... a first time viewer may not catch this, but MacGinnis wonderfully conveys Karswell's dread and desire that Harrington be as far away as possible when ten o'clock rolls around.
The film is full of wonderful things like this. Even little touches: when at the Hobart farm Holden opens his wallet to abstract a form, the Runic Parchment seems to almost jump out on its own, and the people at the farm all gasp and rear back-- Mrs Hobart saying, "He has been chosen!" When Holden asks, "Chosen for what?", all she says is, "Let no hand be raised to defend him!" And leaving, as the door slams on him, he sees Kabbalistic symbols drawn on it, reminding one the the blood smeared on the doors in the Bible Story of the Death of the First Born in Egypt-- to deflect the angel of death! Holden then visits nearby Stonehenge- where he sees that the runes on the Parchment he has are indistinguishable from the ancient ones on that monument. And as the scene shifts back to London to the wry arpeggio of an oboe, we see a cat stealthily moving along a windowsill on a facing building-- the cat pursuing prey, no doubt, precisely as the demon is pursuing Holden. This is just a small sample of the attention to detail, large and small, that makes this picture so fine.
Note should also be made of the wonderful cinematography-- brooding and atmospheric and beautifully black and white--- and the score, which-- if at times is a tad overwrought-- at best is splendid. Indeed, the "demon motif" composed for the film is creepy and memorable, and is woven through the beautifully instrumented score very skillfully-- such as the moment right after receiving the parchment, in the British Museum, where his vision becomes blurred-- and again not long after in the corridor of his hotel. Also, the sound that accompanies the appearance of the demon is a wonderful cue that "something wicked this way comes"-- like some flesh-crawling prickling stridulation.
It should also be noted that the screenplay, which is loosely based on MR James' story "Casting the Runes", is actually very much better than James' story itself. The cast is almost uniformly excellent, though Ms Cummins is a tad stiff at times. A minor flaw, though, like the not very convincing encounter between Holden and the watch-cat at Lufford Hall-- minor flaws in what is a great film irrespective of genre, and of the genre itself, one of the greatest!
PS as Columbia Tristar have put the truncated US version and the 13-minute-longer original British version on the same disc, opt for the latter, under its original title NIGHT OF THE DEMON-- among the 13 minutes cut for the American version is the visit to the Hobart farm, not only a great scene, but a pivotal one.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
This atypical fifties horror film is more concerned with suspense and character development than the eponymous creature; but when the hoary beast does appear you'll agree it's one of the better screen monsters. Jacques Tourneur was already the recognized master of restraint in the horror genre by the time he directed this British production in 1957. His earlier collaborations with producer Val Lewton generated a series of minor masterpieces, including "Cat People" and "I Walked With A Zombie." Not content to direct a standard episodic thriller, Tourneur's films are imbued with a certain intelligence and respect for the audience. "Night of the Demon" is no exception. Charles Bennett's and Hal E. Chester's thoughtprovoking and thoroughly frightening screenplay forms the framework on which Tourneur hangs several remarkably well directed sequences. And, his work with actors Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins yields fine, workmanlike performances; however, he gleans brilliant work from Niall MacGinnis and Athene Seyler in supporting roles that are richly drawn and invested with real humor. This is not to say they are comic relief, these characters are indeed tragic and evil. Nearly everything about "Night of the Demon" is perfect. The production is first rate and its artistic merits are undeniable; from Ted Sciafe's black and white cinematography to Ken Adams production design, the care with which this tale is wrought is evident. Based on M.R. James' story "Casting the Runes," the film deals with an investigation into the witchcraft related death of a colleague by an American psychologist (Andrews). Aided by the dead man's niece (Cummins), the doctor must determine whether the power of a local magician (MacGinnis) to conjure up "demons" is truth or fiction; and if that power was used for murder. "Night of the Demon" has all the elements of a great mystery, with just the right mix of the supernatural. It is among the best horror films, and remains a literate and scary film. ***** (5 out of 5 stars)
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2006
Though I'm quite a big fan of the horror film from the late 60's and on I don't really have that much of a taste for or knowledge of the genre prior to then. Nevertheless, there's definitely some good stuff, and 'Night of the Demon' is about the best of it, probably my favorite horror movie, pre-'Night of the Living Dead'. (Though 'Carnival of Souls' does come close.) 'Night of the Demon' has got the same basic feel as most of your B&W horror movies from this era, but the craftsmanship is well above the norm, with eerie music and cinematography along with a first-rate plot and solid acting. (The few visual effects are, needless to say, quite dated, but they work for a modern audience better than just about anything else from the era, and are still kinda neat, in their way.) All in all, this is a first-rate slice of atmospheric horror, and it ought to appeal to discerning fans of the particularl style regardless of their especially preferred era.
The film centers around Dr. John Holden and Julian Karswell. Holden is an American who has flown into London to attend a paranormal psychology symposium. He is, of course, a total skeptic who quickly runs afoul of Karswell, the apparent leader of a local cult and reputed magician. Holden plans to do an expose on his group, so Karswell retaliates, eventually claiming that Holden will die exactly at 10 PM a few nights later if he does not back off. Holden is unconvinced, but proceeds to investigate the scene, with the assistance of Joanna, a believer and the niece of one of Harrington's prior victims.
`Night of the Demon' tips its hand almost immediately with a demon attack shown early in the film. This was done, I believe, due to studio interference, and while it was probably unfortunate at the time, I suspect it actually helps the film for a modern audience. It kind of undermines the tension of the film, arguably, since there could be some debate as to whether or not anything supernatural is actually going on were it not for this scene. For a modern audience, however, I suspect the final demon appearance is bound to be anticlimactic, so I think it's best to deflate this inevitability immediately and prevent this disappointment, just allowing the atmospheric middle section to work well on it's own. And work it does. This is one legitimately eerie movie, as Holden slowly sees the demon's presence manifested thru inexplicable music and the vague sensation that something is there. There are a couple of particularly effective scenes, such as when Holden flees from Karswell's home in the middle of the night trailed by steaming footprints and a mysterious vaporous cloud, and the later hypnosis-induced interview of a now catatonic former cult-member.
If the film has a major problem it's Holden himself. He's a self-possessed, arrogant jerk who's nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is and maintains incredulity well past the breaking point. Niall MacGinnis's Karswell is a much more entertaining personality, charming and playful but, of course, with a real dark side. Joanna, the female sidekick, of sorts, is kind of bland, though she provides for better audience identification than our leading man.
It's difficult to describe the film much further with out giving too much away, but suffice to say that the investigation into the cult and the curse is sufficiently absorbing, and the background of the film is more convincing and well-established than it would generally be in a 50's horror or sci-fi film. Finally, the climax is well staged and executed, and makes the most of the limited fx of the age.
Yeah, I'm done I guess. First-rate low-key horror here. Check it out.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
What you want to watch on this DVD is Night of the Demon, the uncut British version of the film. And it is a terrific film. For atmosphere, suspense, and true horror it has seldom been excelled. All performances are topnotch with Dana Andrews being very convincing and sympathetic as the American skeptic who comes to London to expose a Satanic cult which he believes is a fraud. But the finest performance in the film is undoubtedly that of famous British character actor Niall MaGinnis who gives great depth and dimension to the role of the professorial Satanist villain. What MacGinnis achieves with his beautiful and cultured voice, alone, is quite astonishing, and really he and his remarkable mother set the tone for the whole film. And that tone is amazingly reminiscent of the best of early 20th century horror films which so well employed the talents of other greats, like Claude Reins and Colin Clive. ----- Evil here is connected with sophistication, with musty leather bound books, and the venerable reading room of the British Museum, with runes written on parchment, and ancient secrets that can and have been unearthed by those greedy and unwise enough to seek them. The imposing and beautiful house of the villian, the elegant hotel where the principles meet, the lonely roads on which they drive in and around nighttime London --- all of these are beautifully explored in shining black and white film to sustain a mood of delicious dread. A haunting melody, the sound of footsteps following Andrews, the highly charged cries of a tormented ghost speaking through a medium -- all this conspires to make this one of the scariest old films you will ever see. But the crowning glory of the film is the demon itself. It's well known, of course, that the film as originally conceived did not include shots of the actual demon, and that even the cast was surprised to discover the fully realized monster in the theatrical release. But, oh, what a demon this is. It is huge, hideous, and utterly terrifying with monstrous fangs and claws, relentlessly pursuing its victims who have not the slightest chance of escape. I just loved it. So you get the best of both worlds, really, a film of subtle suggestion, suspense and fear on the one hand which might have worked wonderfully without a real demon; and then this perfectly capitol monster on the other hand, who descends on his victims in the midst of terrifying sound effects and boiling smoke. --- Of course the film has a strong moral point of view. The villains are indeed evil; and the good people who resist them are truly good. Dance with the Devil and you will be damned. --- The whole thing, in the final analysis is tremendously entertaining and a far cry from some of the chaotic, vulgar and utterly nihilistic "horror" films of today. I've seen this film probably half a dozen times, and will no doubt watch it many more times -- and as often as I can with some one who has not seen it before ---- but I will never, never watch it when I'm alone. Hope for a Blu Ray and enjoy.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2002
One of the all-time greats in the B-movie pantheon. The nitpickers on this review page can pick apart the abundant examples of the lack of financial means all they want to, but I won't join them. The masterly story construction and the creative imagining of scenes overrule the cheapness of the film's production design and its modest ambitions, thereby turning *Night of the Demon* into a fun, shivery delight. (And what are you nitpickers doing, anyway, watching an old B-movie from the 1950's? If special effects are your concern, shouldn't you be watching something of a more modern vintage? Criticizing the lack of high-tech effects in *Demon* is like criticizing the Sun for being yellow -- it's pointless.) The story is basically about the escalating antagonism between an Anton La Vey-prototype Satanist (Niall MacGinnis), disguised as a Country Gentleman with a palatial manse outside London, and a thick-headed American scientist and professional skeptic (Dana Andrews), who spends much of the movie downing one highball after another. One of Andrews' British colleagues has recently died in a presumed "car accident". A postumous diary reveals a connection to demonologist MacGinnis. Foul play? The dead man's niece thinks so, even suggesting MacGinnis conjured a demon to get rid of her uncle. Not Andrews, though: for most of the duration, he dismisses any supernatural connections, monotonously selling rationalism like a bland TV spokesman hawking toothpaste. And so it goes, each scene perfectly building to the next. As I said earlier, the storytelling is truly masterful: no wasted scenes, either in terms of plot or mood. But the real joy of the thing is the painterly composition. Seldom has a "B-movie" been so handsomely mounted. The great director Jacques Tourneur makes great use of the opportunities afforded by being on-location. The shots of local woodlands surrounding MacGinnis' mansion, a desolate Stonehenge, dense London fog, an ordinary hotel corridor, are all rendered with great imagination and creepy effects. And the movie's rather high-browed dialogue adds some amusing sugar to your B-movie cheesecake. -- Now, a word about that monster: Get a grip, people. I mean, if your prefer fake-looking computer animated creatures to fake-looking 10-foot-tall puppet creatures, then by all means. I've seen worse, MUCH worse, than the Demon in this movie . . . and I'm not thinking only of 1950's-era B-monsters. This Demon doesn't look any more ridiculous than the "Balrog" in last year's *Fellowship of the Ring* (which, btw, rather resembled the gargoyle hounds in *Ghostbusters*, but I digress). Once you stop laughing at the Demon, you start to realize he DOES look kind of scary, right in the horned, eye-popping, drooling face. [The DVD features 2 versions of this film: the edited American one, known as *Curse of the Demon*, and the properly uncut British one, *Night of the Demon*. Watch the British version.]
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2003
(UK - 1957 - black and white)
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Theatrical soundtrack: Mono
NIGHT OF THE DEMON (95m 39s): A sceptical American psychologist (Dana Andrews) travels to London to expose a notorious witch (Niall MacGinnis) who curses him to die at the hands of a fantastic demon...
CURSE OF THE DEMON (81m 35s): A re-edited version of the above, shorter by 14 minutes, with a couple of scenes rearranged for the US drive-in market.
Directed by Val Lewton's erstwhile protege Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE), and written by frequent Hitchcock dramatist Charles Bennett (YOUNG AND INNOCENT, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT), NIGHT OF THE DEMON is based on the story 'Casting the Runes' by M.R. James and was fashioned as an A-grade shocker (on a B-grade budget) which challenges the notion of unreasoning acceptance/denial of supernatural forces. Dana Andrews (WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT) plays the blinkered American cynic - cast adrift in a foreign country - who refuses to acknowledge the validity of the demonic threat made against his life, despite all evidence to the contrary, though Bennett's script makes it clear that the movie's central 'villain' (a powerful and charismatic performance by scene-stealer MacGinnis) is afraid of the repercussions which might result if he lifts the curse and relinquishes his magical lifestyle.
Both Tourneur and Bennett were reportedly horrified by the post-production tampering imposed by producer Hal E. Chester, who re-edited the picture for its 1958 US debut, retitled it CURSE OF THE DEMON, and added a monstrous demon to all existing prints on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite the reservations of fans and filmmakers alike, this fearsome-looking creature - which makes a brief appearance at the beginning and end of the movie - generates an authentic jolt of cinematic horror in a film which otherwise prides itself on visual ambiguity. Bennett's script foregrounds the human drama, and Tourneur's first-rate cast (including Athene Seyler [THE QUEEN OF SPADES] as MacGinnis' frightened mother, and Reginald Beckwith [NIGHT OF THE EAGLE] as a dotty psychic) plays it completely straight throughout.
There's at least half a dozen powerful set-pieces, including Maurice Denham's terrifying encounter with the eponymous beast, Andrews' confrontation with MacGinnis during a children's birthday party, and an episode in which Andrews is followed through the deep, dark woods by an unearthly, invisible... 'thing' (I'll say no more). Ted Scaife's atmospheric black and white cinematography makes a virtue of the bleak English landscape, and veteran technicians George Blackwell and Wally Veevers contribute some brief but memorable special effects. The final sequence - set within the claustrophobic confines of a late night train, as the hour of Andrews' death approaches - is a small masterpiece of nail-biting suspense.