Thursday, November 5, 2009

Night of the Demon (1957)

Spanish film poster.
[Correction: Italian film poster.]

Night of the Demon aka Curse of the Demon
Director: Jacques Tourneur
United Kingdom 1957
95 min
Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Athene Seyler and Liam Redmond, among others.

"Dana Andrews said prunes
gave him the runes"
 - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Up until yesterday night I had never heard about this film. The reason why I checked it up was that I read through some message board discussions on IMDb about Rosemary's Baby (1968), and some people swore that they had seen a black and white version of the film where you actually get too see the title baby. Someone suggested that they might have confused the film with a similar one from 1957, Night of the Demon. When I noticed that the coolest of the film noir anti-heroes (well, at least one of them) Dana Andrews starred in this British horror film, I simply had to investigate!

Well, after having seen this surprisingly frightening and well-made horror film I can state that there is no Devilish baby to be seen. The confusion is however understandable: there are some obvious similarities between the two films. They both revolve around mysteries about satanic cults, all characters except the main character behave remarkably strange and suspicious, and the Devil we see is very reminiscent of the one we briefly see during the hallucination/rape scene in Rosemary's Baby (although that Devil looks slightly more ape-like).

Now to the film itself. I can't believe that I never heard about this horror gem before. Probably because it doesn't seem to have been such a big production. The company making the film is called Sabre Film Production, and under the authority of Columbia Pictures they only seem to have made three films in total.

Anyways, I absolutely loved the film. The camera work is amazing, taking full advantage of shadows, contrasts and different camera angles. The cinematographer is a fellow named Edward Scaife, who apparently had something to do with the camera work on both The Third Man (1949) and The African Queen (1951) before Night of the Demon. Does not surprise me at all.

What amazed me most was the unusual mix of both directly showing the scary elements and build up a suspenseful atmosphere with twisted camera angles and music. I also read that director Tourneur never wanted to show the actual "monster" in the film, but was forced to by the studio who wanted the movie to bring in more money. The usual tale, in other words. But for me, it works.

So Dana Andrews plays the paranormal psychologist Dr. Holden who is flown to London from the USA to investigate some rumors of a satanic cult and its leader. Andrews interprets his role in a well-known film noir manner: he is cynical, charming and pretty unsurprised by any events. How I like him.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can safely say that there of course is a pretty lady in distress, Joanna (Cummins) who seeks Dr. Holden's guidance. However, Dr. Holden seems to trouble the presumed cult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (MacGinnis), who puts a curse on him and informs poor Holden that the day and time of his death is determined - and it's within two days. Of course, Dr. Holden is convinced that all this satanism is pure humbug, but Joanna is not so sure.

A glass of brandy, a beautiful woman... Mr. Holden thinks it's a perfect opportunity for romance, but Joanna much rather talks about her uncle's mysterious death. Typical women.

I feel that I have trouble doing the film justice (even including all the screenshots), so I will simply cut out a scene for you to create an opinion for yourselves. This scene of a seance is one that makes me smirk at Dr. Holden's obvious inconvenience, and at the same time make my stomach hurt of fright. That's pretty impressive, I must say!
Funny trivia: "It's in the trees! It's coming!" is the first lines in Kate Bush's song "Hounds of Love" from the album by the same name (1985). The line is from this film, and is heard in this scene.


Unknown said...

I haven't seen this one yet (& I'm a huge Dana Andrews fan!!) I think I was scared a little to see him go from Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, etc. to a low budget horror movie - but from how you describe it, it doesn't seem like a B-Movie at all! I'll definitely check this one out now :D

Lolita of the Classics said...

Kate G:
I was hoping to hear your answer to this post! No, it really isn't a B-movie - at least there is nothing to indicate that it is from the film itself! I have no idea what their budget was, but they certainly got a great result out of it ;)

DKoren said...

Nice write up!

I watched this one a few years back when I was working through available Dana Andrews movies, and it surprised me how much I ended up enjoying this movie. It is surprisingly well done and definitely spooky in places. I think Dana's perfect in it, though the lead bad guy, Niall MacGinnis, steals most of the scenes he's in.

Christopher said...

stay off them railroad tracks!!

Matthew Coniam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Coniam said...

Yes; definitely not a B movie! This was quite a big deal for a British production, and is generally now regarded as a masterpiece all over, more than comparable with the films Tourneur made for Val Lewton. The screenwriter is also a top man, responsible for a lot of early Hitchcock and much else.
It's a bit of a myth that Tourneur didn't want to show the demon at all; he just wanted to limit its appearance - in particular he didn't like the (much inferior) shots of it picking up Karswell, slapping him and throwing him on the ground.
A great movie though.
Another trivia link to add to your Kate Bush one: in Joe Dante's film The 'Burbs, one of the characters is reading a book on Satanism and a brief shot of the cover reveals it to have been written by Julian Karswell!

Tom said...

If I watch this movie, will I understand the "Rocky Horror" song lyric about the prunes and runes? (I never understood that)

Christopher said...

we've had two great horror classics from Val Lewton Alumni..Tourneur with Demon and Robert Wise with The Haunting..both demonstrating what made those 40s b-horrors work so well..

Lolita of the Classics said...

Thanks! I agree fully with both statements on Dana Andrews and the Irish villain!

I love The Haunting, so darn scary. It beats all modern horror films I've seen!

Matthew Coniam:
Thanks a lot for all the interesting information! It makes me glad that Tourneur wanted the Devil in the film from the beginning, then I don't have to feel bad for liking it!
Interesting trivia, too!

Oh, yes! The truth will without a doubt be revealed to you... ;)

Matthew Coniam said...

I agree.

Anonymous said...

That isn´t the spanish poster, but italian poster. Check this one:

Lolita of the Classics said...

You're quite right! Sorry for the screw up.