November 17, 2022

filmsgraded.com:
Night of the Demon (1957)
Grade: 62/100

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummings, Niall MacGinnis

What it's about. Sardonic Dr. Holden (Dana Andrews) arrives in England to attend a convention on the supernatural. He is a nonbeliever in the hocus pocus, and something of a celebrity. He learns that the man he has come to meet, Dr. Harrington (Maurice Denham), has died in a tragic accident.

Harrington's predictably beautiful niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins), implores Holden to investigate Harrington's death. She suspects that the wealthy and mysterious researcher Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) may be responsible, and that Holden may be Karswell's next target.

But how could Karswell have killed Harrington, when he was home in bed? Perhaps Karswell invoked a demon by passing a scroll bearing an ancient runic language to the unsuspecting Harrington. He is a magician, after all.

Holden doesn't doubt that Karswell leads a devil cult, and may well be behind Harrington's death, given that Harrington was persecuting Karswell. But the ever-skeptical Holden refuses to believe that anyone can summon demons. Nonetheless, he becomes even more cross than usual after he learns that Karswell has indeed passed him a similar runic scroll, and that his allotted time is almost up.

The movie was issued in England as Night of the Demon with a 95 running time. In America, it was edited down to 82 minutes, and issued as Curse of the Demon. It is listed in Wikipedia under the former title, and at imdb.com under the latter title. The copy at Turner Classic Movies is the shorter American version, but you can watch it at DailyMotion in its uncut glory.

How others will see it. Director Jacques Tourneur is perhaps best known for the film noir drama Out of the Past (1947). After that title, though, his three most popular movies are in the horror genre: Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and Night of the Demon (1957).

By 1957, the career of the purportedly alcoholic Tourneur had long since declined into "B" movie territory. Luckily for Tourneur, former Alfred Hitchcock screenwriter Charles Bennett had been tasking with adapting the source short story, "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James.

Unluckily for both Tourneur and Bennett, their producer was the Hal E. Chester, who wanted to make a profitable monster movie instead of something atmospheric and intellectual, like Cat People. Alas, we never got to see Simone Simon turn into a murderous panther, and Chester sought to resolve that by showing the huge, unstoppable demon invoked by Karswell.

Chester also meddled with the script, to the degree that Bennett reportedly said that if Chester "walked up my driveway right now, I'd shoot him dead," a scene that Tourneur presumably would have enjoyed filming.

Nonetheless, Night of the Demon is undeniably far better than the typical low budget 1950s horror movie. At imdb.com, it has a respectable user rating of 7.4 out of 10. The 14K user votes is almost double that of Separate Tables (1958), which was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture.

The user reviews ooze with pleasure from viewers, even though it remains an open question whether they would rather see the demon come for the nefarious Karswell or the humorless Holden.

How I felt about it. In the 1940s, Dana Andrews starred in two celebrated movies, The Best Years of Our Lives and Laura. Like Tourneur, his best days were behind him by 1957, yet the two managed to make minor movie magic here.

I credit the script a bit more than Tourneur, and both more than Andrews, though he remains grumpily in character from beginning to end. Peggy Cummings is not much more than a love interest, though to her character's credit, she averts Andrews' passes.

The real surprise, though, is the villain Karswell, played to near perfection by Niall MacGinnis. He does have a creepy beard, and receding hairlines are rarely a good look, but the only thing scary about the pleasant and distant Karswell are the demons he can cast.