director Jacques Tourneur
viewed: 01/26/2013 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA
It’s a little hard for me to believe, but I think this showing of Night of the Demon was my first to San Francisco’s Noir City Festival, even though this is its 11th year. Odder perhaps that the first film I see at this notable film noir festival is not exactly a noir film. But rather, it’s the first of a double feature starring Peggy Cummins, who was this year’s guest of honor, most notable for her amazing performance in the remarkable Gun Crazy (1950), which opened the festival the night before..
It was fine enough for me, a fan of director Jacques Tourneur and the film itself, glad to see it on the big screen, glad to have impetus to finally go to the festival.
Luckily, this time around, they showed the original British Night of the Demon as opposed to the truncated American version Curse of the Demon. It’s a little longer and features a particularly uncanny scene with a clan of probably devil worshipers in the English countryside.
For a film that Martin Scorsese has listed as one of the scariest movies of all time (a pretty damn fine list), it’s certainly one of the more bizarre horror films of the 1950’s. As the film was introduced, the discussion highlighted the conflict between producer Hal E. Chester and director Tourneur on the showing of the demon. Chester wanted to market a “monster movie”, which unsurprisingly required a monster. Tourneur, no doubt hearkening to his work with Val Lewton, desired to build the dread and keep the mystery by never showing a creature at all, leaving it up to the imagination. Though it’s hard to imagine the movie without the demon (he is very prominent, even on the poster), one could imagine a version that had no creature could have been paired very well with Lewton’s The Seventh Victim (1943), a devil worshiping horror film he made with Mark Robson a decade earlier in which atmosphere and dread permeate the film rather than anything “physical”.
I don’t know. I think I’m in the minority that I actually like the monster. I don’t necessarily know or think that it’s “better” with him than without. Rather, I like him. I was no doubt a child of that crowd to which Chester was marketing the film initially. Devil worship in the 1940’s and 1950’s is much more far out than later in the century. Considering it comes from a story written in 1911, “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James, perhaps adds even more deep dark past to it. Who knows?
Great stuff, nonetheless.