Night of the Demon (1957)

Jacques Tourneur, director of both CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, delivers this top-rate psychological thriller from 1957 that is just as shocking and powerful today as it was at the time of its release. NIGHT OF THE DEMON follows Dr. Holden as he arrives in London for a seminar in which he hopes to disprove the existence of witchcraft in modern society. It is here that he quickly incurs the wrath of a local warlock, who places a demonic curse over his head just as he had done to Dr. Holden's friend just a week earlier. Holden refuses to give in to the same superstition and fear that seized his friend's heart in an icy death grip, but as the date of his supposed death draws nearer, he grows increasingly alarmed by the odd occurrences that are unfolding all around him.

It has long been debated whether or not Tourneur originally intended to reveal demon to the audience rather than subtly alluding to its presence, which may have been a decision that was influenced by the film's producers under the same circumstances that occurred in CAT PEOPLE. In spite of this possibility, the towering beast that steps out of the smoke in NIGHT OF THE DEMON has become one of the most frightening and memorable creations in classic Horror. Its earth-shattering appearances at the beginning and end of the film are fearsome spectacles of special effects and costuming.

While NIGHT OF THE DEMON does function as a chilling creature-feature, Tourneur succeeds on a much larger scale in creating a brilliantly-crafted mystery that builds itself around the themes of auto-suggestion and mass hysteria. By placing the medieval ingredients of black magic and demonology into a modern, real-world setting, he is able to contrast superstition and science, leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether the unfortunate victims have given in to hypnotic suggestion and fear, or whether the gates of hell have literally opened to unleash one of their fiery spawn. Had the physical embodiment of the beast been removed entirely from the picture, it may have proven to be even more effective in this regard.

The exceptionally spooky atmosphere and spine-tingling mood that can be found all throughout CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE are ever-present in NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Tourneur's dark forests are drowned in ethereal lighting and a creeping mist that recall the Gothic settings of the Universal classics. An increasing sense of dread permeates from each of the characters as simple coincidence begins to give way to fate. Dana Andrews and Niall MacGinnis are superb opposite one another, one being the skeptic and the other being the true believer. Their final confrontation aboard the train offers a clever exchange between the characters that is rife with humor and suspense.

Jacques Tourneur proves, once again, that he is a master in his field, and NIGHT OF THE DEMON is one of the greatest accomplishments in the genre.

Rating: 10/10.

If you liked NIGHT OF THE DEMON, check out:
CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, DRAG ME TO HELL.

6 comments:

  1. Yeeeah! Glad to know you loved it so much man! Its one of my all time favorites! Torneur didn't want to show the demon, he wanted to keep it all very subtle, very psychological. If you notice, the sequences where we see the demon are the only cheesy aspect of the story. Though I gotta admit, I like it anyways! That huge demon suddenly appearing in the background, pretty cool image non the less. However cheesy.

    If you notice, the demon from Drag Me to Hell looks eerily familiar to the one on Night of the Demon, its because Raimi based a lot of Drag me to Helll on this movie, which I love dearly.

    The villain steals the show!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I loved it Franco, but MAN is it ever apparent how much Sam Raimi generously 'borrowed' from the film. Where does homage end and plagiarism begin??

    I can still appreciate the psychological aspects of the film even with the giant demon, but the guilty and gluttonous side of me always appreciates a good giant killer creature lol..

    Fantastic film. I hope more people continue to find it over the years!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Third on my Netflix queue. Night is the original cut, right? I believe Curse is the American version that isn't well reguarded.

    I can't wait to find out why passing runes used lots of skill.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's correct, Fred, Night contains about 13m of additional exposition from what I understand. The American cut does not remove the demon, it is simply a shorter version of the English film. Excited that you get to see it for the first time!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've always thought that the reveal of the horned demon at the conclusion is one of the greatest moments in British horror. I've never quite understood the flak the film has received over the years for it. It scared the hell out of me. I'm a firm believer that horror films have a duty to show their monsters. A balance of subtlety and show is what must be struck, and I can think of no film that achieves this balance as well as 'Night of the Demon'

    ReplyDelete
  6. I ended up leaving my response to this one on Celluloid Shaun =D See other comment for my thoughts!

    ReplyDelete