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  Night of the Demon Runic Rumpus
Year: 1957
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Maurice Denham, Athene Seyler, Liam Redmond, Reginald Beckwith, Ewan Roberts, Peter Elliott, Rosamund Greenwood, Brian Wilde, Richard Leech, Lloyd Lamble, Peter Hobbes, Charles Lloyd Pack, Percy Herbert
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 3 votes)
Review: It is the dead of night and a lone car speeds through the forest road on the way to the mansion house of Dr Julian Karswell (Niall McGinnis), an expert on the occult who might be able to help the driver, a scientist called Harrington (Maurice Denham). Harrington had been writing an expose of Karswell's followers, but something occured that not only spooked him, but left him in fear of his life, and now he is at the occultist's front door, demanding to be let in. The butler makes some excuses, but Karswell agrees to see him, and tells him that now he is a believer he will try to lift the curse that is upon him - but although Karswell is an influential man, he cannot stop the approaching demon...

One of the most ingeniously scripted horror films of all time, Night of the Demon (known in a shortened form as Curse of the Demon in North America) was drawn from a short story by that British master of the art, M.R. James, updated to modern fifties Britain. At the typewriters were producer Hal E. Chester and Charles Bennett, a former scriptwriter for Alfred Hitchcock, and you can believe that he would have been proud to have directed such a cast iron artistic success. As it was, the directorial reins were handled by Jacques Tourneur, no slouch himself when it came to suspense, and crafting the very best of eerie and sinister atmospheres, while not being above making the audience jump when necessary.

We know from the start that Karswell has it in his power to send the demons all the way from Hell to pick off the unbelievers, due to a remarkable sequence where Harrington is hunted down by a towering beast that emerges from a plume of smoke in the night sky and tears him to bits. It looks like an accident as he had knocked over a power cable in his panic, and that's the line taken by our hero, psychiatrist John Holden (Dana Andrews), when he arrives in Britain. Much of the fun of this film stems from seeing Holden get his comeuppance as much as it does seeing his rival do the same, as we can see his rationality is no match for a world where actual supernatural entities exist, and can be conjured by the right spells or incantations.

Yet funnily enough, although we want to see Holden brought down a peg or two, we don't want to see him suffer the same fate as Harrington, so when Karswell realises his murderous methods are about to be exposed a second time and passes him a slip of paper that has runes etched on them, what we really wish for is to watch the psychiatrist come to his senses and figure out a way of escaping what we have been led to understand is inescapable. The battle between strict scepticism and unquestioning faith has a middle ground, and the only way Holden will survive is to find that state. Along the way he is exposed to a series of British eccentricities that have a pleasing edge of menace about them, from a children's party to a seance.

At that seance, Harrington makes an appearance (with the line "It's in the trees! It's coming!" that fans of Kate Bush will recognise), as Holden has become acquainted with his niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) - neatly there is no romantic subplot to distract us. All the way through, she tries to get her new friend to act, to do something that will foil Karswell who, in a superb performance by Niall McGinnis, is a curiously vulnerable villain, barely able to contain the dark forces he has access to. In one of many canny script choices, a discussion between teacher Joanna and Holden about the open minds of children leads into that party, where Karswell is putting on a magic show for the infants that shows how the creeds of what we choose to accept about the world are very much a matter of your experience. Holden knows that the puppies produced from the hat is a conjuring trick, but are the following gales any less of a jape? It's this sprightly dance between the known and unknown that made Night of the Demon such a cult favourite, and its grand finale could not have been better. Music by Clifton Parker.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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