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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Night of the Demon a.k.a. Curse of the Demon (1957)

"Dana Andrews said prunes, gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills."  So goes the famous line from Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Science Fiction/Double Feature."  This, boys and ghouls, is where it came from.  Night of the Demon is a smart supernatural thriller which is based on M.R. James' short story "Casting the Runes."  The plot revolves around American professor John Holden [Dana Andrews] who goes to England to investigate a Satanic cult.  It's nefarious leader, Dr. Julian Carswell places a Runic curse on Holden and this sets the story into motion.

Night of the Demon is greatly helped by its director Jacques Tournier who, with Val Lewton, made some wonderfully memorable thrillers for RKO in the 1940s.  My two favorites are Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie.  Tournier is a master at creating a beautiful atmosphere for his films.  The lighting, camera angles and scene composition was spot on every time.  The only thing that doesn't work are the two scenes where the demon actually appears on screen.  Tournier got into an argument with producer Hal E. Chester who insisted that the demon needed to make a highly visible presence on camera.  Tournier didn't want to show the demon at all.  I believe Tournier was right because what appears on screen is a giant hairy, two legged creature with a bat face.  [Quake with fear, you mortals!] Sometimes less is more!  Torunier's work is also further enhanced by a superb soundtrack that helps to further set the mood for the film.

The acting in Night of the Demon is also very good.  Andrews is perfect as the skeptical American professor who is bound and determined to prove that Carswell is a fraud.  Naill MacGuiness [Jason and the Argonauts, Never Take Sweets From a Stranger] is ever better as the evil Carswell.  He gives a subtle but menacing performance.

Sometimes they did get it right in 1950's horror.  It's not always a cheese-fest.  Night of the Demon is a great example of a finely crafted film that remains suspenseful from start to finish.  Now, if I could not figure out why prunes gave Dana Andrews the runes!  I thought it was Dr. Carswell!!

RATING: Very Good.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB

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