Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon)
Dir: Jacques Tourneur. Cast: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis. 1957.
"It's in the trees! It's coming!"
It’s hard to write anything new about this movie, but here goes.
Based on Casting the Runes by M.R. James, director Jacques Tourneur showcases all the shadowy skills he developed under the tutelage of Val Lewton on Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man back in the 1940s. A contemporary tale of witchcraft and how not believing puts us at risk, the studio insisted that Tourneur insert shots of a demon against the director’s wishes. The look of the demon is terrific, but it’s hard to argue that the rubber demon suit is more effective than the creature’s presence would have been if simply suggested. In support of this, feel how the film raises the hair on your neck through the conjuring of a wind storm with nothing but the breeze to suggest the power of black magic.
The plot in a nutshell concerns an American professor (Andrews) attending a parapsychology conference in London where an infamous Alister Crowly-like warlock (MacGinnis) is to be discredited. The professor is handed a rune which preordains his death unless he can pass it back. There’s much more to it, of course, but that’s the ten cent plot tour.
Night/Curse is eerie, entertaining, smart and effective. There are scenes that recall Hitchcock without seeming derivative, and MacGinnis’ performance itself deserves a place in the Rogue’s Gallery of the best of Hitchcock’s villains. Kate Bush fans will recognize some of the film’s dialogue at the beginning of the Hounds of Love track from the album of the same name.