Sunday, 27 October 2019

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon
Based on the classic M.R. James story 'Casting the Runes', 'Night of the Demon' tells the story of an American psychologist, the somewhat overbearing Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews), arriving in the UK to debunk a notorious satanic cult led by Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) only to find himself wrapped up in both the murder of a colleague and his own predicted and imminent demise.

Made by the French director Jacques Tourneur (who had previously made the fabulous 'Cat People') ''Night of the Demon' is an early entrant into what has become known, perhaps slightly clumsily, as folk horror and certainly set the scene for many a Hammer and Amicus film to come in the next decade and a bit.  Standing stones, (references to) witchcraft, black magic, rural landscapes and runes all feature prominently but the film is made with a master's eye for atmosphere conjuring malevolence even in broad daylight as in the garden party scene - later perhaps to find an unlikely homage in the video for UK prog rock band Marillion's video for their song 'Garden Party'.

Night of the Demon
Beyond the technical skills of the director 'Night of the Demon' features fantastic performances by all involved.  MacGinnis is superbly understated as Karswell equally at home delivering his blase threats (and curse) against Holden as he is gently dealing with his 'wayward' mother's (Athene Seyler) attempts to help the same.  Andrews is almost smotheringly pompous in the lead role as his brash and rational new world confidence comes crashing into old world irrationality helped only by the presence of his murdered colleague's niece (Peggy Cummins) whose scientific education matched with her British heritage allows her to straddle both worlds.. 

There's some dispute over the demon itself, was it's appearance always planned or was it inserted at the insistence of producer Hal E. Chester and should it even be seen at all. Personally I come down on the side of those who would rather not have seen the beast but I do wonder if that's partly because this was a film that eluded me as a youngster and so I first saw it when the teenaged metalhead version of me with my Slayer patch adorned denim was already becoming a distant memory and he would have bloody loved seeing the demon.

Buy it here - Night of the Demon (1957) [DVD] - or watch it below.


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  1. A stone cold Brit classic for me, this one; I've probably seen it six times or more. I think you're quite right with the 'less is more' argument regarding actually 'seeing' the Demon, though, yes. The scene in the woods particularly highlights this, with Dana Andrews breaking into a panic-stricken sprint as we see the smoke emanating from those temporarily invisible nostrils coming menacingly through the trees behind him.
    On the other hand, as you say, the addition of the Demon in all its glory makes the film more of an attraction for a certain demographic. My teenage self would have been included...I think I probably didn't get to see the film until adolescence was becoming a distant memory...around twenty five perhaps. Nice piece, enjoyed reading, and although it's only 9.50am I'm feeling tempted to draw the curtains and watch this classic again! :D

    1. yeah the woodland scene is very much a taste of what could have been. generally i'm happy with what we got but oh what could have been.