Film Long Reads/Series Marie O'Sullivan's Film Reviews Marie vs. Horror

Marie vs. Horror #9: The Night of the Demon (1957)

Next up Marie looks at the UK Horror Classic from the director of Cat People; Night of the Demon.

A UK horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur seemed like a good choice – but was it even scary?

French director turned Hollywood director Jacques Tourneur was responsible for one of my favourite films of all time, the noir classic Out of the Past; and so checking out Night of the Demon seemed like an obvious choice for the next instalment of Marie vs Horror.

Known in the US as Curse of the Demon (in a slightly edited version), Night of the Demon is a tale of logic versus superstition, or science versus religion, if you will. Dana Andrews is the visiting American scholar who has a logical explanation for every strange event that happens, and has no time for séances, superstitious tales or demonic runes. That is until events seem to persuade him that he’s been wrong all along, and there is definitely something satanic happening.

The viewer is already in on this however, due to a very strange decision made (not by the director, by all accounts) to show the demon in full after only 5 minutes. Even with my limited appreciation of horror movies I can see that either a gradual reveal, or even keeping the monster off-screen completely, would have maintained the suspense for longer. It would also have helped to mask the wonky effects, although the demon clawing menacingly at the camera was quite spooky.

I was amused by the statement on the screen just before the film started, from the television channel which was broadcasting the movie. It read “The following film contains scenes of the occult, devil worship, and outdated racial representation”. I liked that they did this. When the film was made, it was unfortunately acceptable to have white actors play characters from a range of ethnic backgrounds – it wouldn’t happen today (one would hope). In Night of the Demon, Peter Elliott plays a secondary character Kumar, an Indian scholar who proffers his opinion on events. The character is taken seriously and is not a caricature, and Elliott doesn’t overplay, but he is in make-up to darken his skin tone and it’s just a bit, well, *cringe*. Dana Andrews is solid as the straight forward American surrounded by eccentric Brits, but the best of them all is Niall MacGinnis as Dr Karswell. He can be sinister, jovial, threatening or a buffoon as required, and is easily the one that holds everything together.

Night of the Demon is not overbearingly scary at all, yet it definitely sets an uneasy tone. It’s this tone which will be picked up and magnified in future films such as The Wicker Man. There’s also an overhead shot of children running for cover during a wind storm which surely must have been seen by Alfred Hitchcock, as scenes in The Birds definitely appear to be inspired by Tourneur’s visuals.

Is it wrong to say that Night of the Demon wasn’t scary enough?

Next Column takes a look at a movie by a troubling director. Until then you can catch up on Marie vs. Horror right here.

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