Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Charles Bennett, Hal E. Chester
Cinematography: Ted Scaife
by Tory Maddox
On Netflix, the DVD is advertised as two movies - Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon. I started with Curse of the Demon, loved it, and then started Night of the Demon to discover that they’re actually the same movie, only with Curse of the Demon being edited down by about fifteen minutes. I didn’t leave Curse of the Demon in confusion or anything so I didn’t feel the need to re-watch Night of the Demon, though now that I write this a few weeks later maybe I should have. Any way - be warned if you’re checking it out. They are the same movie.
Some have defined this film as existential horror. I’d agree with that. It plays like Film Noir meets a Fellini film. After the mysterious death of Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham), his colleague John Holden (Dana Andrews) ventures to London to investigate. There he finds Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) who's rumored to have started a cult and been involved in Harrington's death. In a creepy scene between the two men, Karswell dresses as a clown and entertains the local town children. Karswell ends the ceremony by seemingly calling in a rainstorm, which Holden views as a coincidence. As the investigation continues, Karwell predicts that Holden will die in three days. Soon Holden discovers a strange piece of parchment paper in his pocket, containing runic inscriptions, planted by Karswell and containing a curse. Holden begins to experience strange paranormal hallucinations, taking the form of a terrifying demon that’s chasing him down. The story explores the depths of paranoia and skepticism, told with a mild magical realism style, usually reserved for art house pictures from the period.
Director Jacques Tourneur was the Roman Polanski of the 50s. A master of tone, he directed such films as Cat People (1942), Out of the Past (1947), and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), all of which paint a very distinct feel from the very first frame. Yet even comparing him to present day horror maestros is an understatement. He was an expert director who used horror to explore deep philosophical themes. Beneath all of the movies is a feeling of loss and alienation. Out of the Past best provides this with its strict Film Noir style and existential tone, though all of his films bear some degree of this same ominous mood. The lead characters are all downtrodden, wandering through life and trying to find some meaning of it all. If only more horror films took on such heavy handed material within such an accessible genre.
I’ll have to rewatch Night of the Demon next year. I have a feeling those fifteen minutes provide the meat that will tie it all together. I’m betting it was all of philosophical fluff that studios would be quick to cut. Viewers beware. It’s not the ‘Double Feature’ it’s billed to be.
BELOW: The film's creepy opening scene, which should be enough to hook you right in
Thoughts on films, old and new
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