Saturday, September 29, 2012

Night of the Demon

   Normally I wait until October to begin my annual FRIGHT FLICK FESTIVAL, but I started a couple of days early this year. My buddy Jim loaned me his copy of the 1957 British horror film Night of the Demon. I have some vague memory of seeing this as a child but I didn't recall much about it, so I sat down today to give it a look.
   Very impressive old school horror movie. Loosely based on the M. R. James short story CASTING THE RUNES, Night of the Demon is one of the early horror films to hinge the plot as much on psychological horror as more gruesome scares. The tension builds slowly (Apparently too slowly for 1950s American audiences as the movie was shortened by about 10 minutes and released over here as Curse of the Demon) and the filmmakers spent a lot of time and effort making the movie visually unsettling.
   Filmed in an almost Film Noir style, the movie is full of odd camera angles, claustrophobic settings, and continual play of light and shadow. There are very few daytime scenes. Almost everything happens at night, except for one effective scene at a Halloween garden party and here the stark, almost washed out daylight produces its own surreal feeling.
   The story involves Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) who travels to England to attend a convention where another doctor is supposedly going to expose a Satanic cult. But when Holden reaches the UK, the other doctor is dead, killed under mysterious circumstances. Following the late doctor's notes, Holden plans to continue with the expose. While researching at the British Library, Holden is approached by  the very man his colleague was planning to expose, Dr. Julian Karswell. Karswell tries to convince Holden to drop the matter and when Holden refuses, Karswell pretends to knock Holden's notebook onto the floor so that he can return it. What Holden doesn't know is that Karswell has slipped a parchment into the notebook, a parchment containing runes that will draw a demon from hell to Holden at a predetermined time. Once Holden learns what has been done he is skeptical. The viewer has already seen that the demon is quite real at the beginning of the film, so they know Holden is in real danger. Holden slowly comes around to believing he's in trouble, but at that point he's almost out of time.
   A lot of horror film buffs consider this a classic, and I can see why, The script is intelligent and the directing and cinematography are top notch. The acting seems a bit dated now but is overall good. Niall MacGinnis is particularly effective as the creepy Dr. Karswell.  (Between this and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, I'm beginning to wonder if the British countryside is hiding dozens of Satanic cults.)
   When the demon actually appears in two brief scenes, he's still pretty scary. The special effects used in his initial materialization hold up especially well.
   Anyway, I very much enjoyed Night of the Demon. My Halloween season is off to an good start.


Jay Dugger said...

Kate Bush sampled the seance in this movie for her song "Hounds of Love."

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Ah hah. That is fun. Thanks for the info.

Brett Brooks said...

Yeah, it was the Kate Bush thing that got me to see the movie years ago. And another fun fact: the director never wanted to show the demon. He wanted to keep it off screen for the whole movie, and fought hard for that, but the studio insisted that the demon was shown. He was able to keep it down to those two scenes, though.