(1957) dir. Jacques Tourneur
One of those movies that I’d wanted to see for years and for reasons impossible to understand, I never did until now. Director Jacques Tourneur is one of my favorites, noted mostly in his pairing with producer Val Lewton, but he made a number of the most haunting horror films (Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943)) and one of the greatest film noirs (Out of the Past (1947)). And Night of the Demon fits well along with these other excellent films.
What is most shocking about it in some ways is its focus on demonism, black magic, Satanic cults, and the like. The subject matter, devil worship, and the summoning of a demon, somehow, seem more foreign in this time period. I don’t know if it’s truly so unique in that way, but it’s how it struck me.
Starring Dana Andrews as a professor who has come to England to help debunk and disprove the teachings and statements of a bizarre demonologist, the film ties the depths of devil worship back to pagan times, even pulling Stonehenge into the picture, carved with mystic runes. Having been publicly decried, the villain summons a demon upon his critics, the disbelievers who only disbelieve until it’s too late.
The demon itself is both campy and scary, quite iconic in its own way. Though there is some dispute over whether or not Tourneur wanted to display the demon or not, the effects that display it in its two appearances are striking: sparks in the sky, an unfolding cloud, and then the demon, a horned beast, who grows to enormous size and wreaks his vengeance. The ending, I believe, has long been considered one of the scariest of horror films by many.
I ended up watching the version called Curse of the Demon, which is a truncated version released in the US. I didn’t do my proper research ahead of time, or I would have watched the Night of the Demon version, the original, longer UK version of the film. I skimmed it, but didn’t see significant enough differences enough to watch it again, though I was certainly willing. My recommendation would be the slightly longer original, just for propriety sake, not that it’s so importantly different.