Do not dismiss this 1957 film as being dated and old, it is a decent film with some high-profile fans from the world of Hollywood. Sited as on of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films, and having nods to it in the likes of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) and “The Burbs” (1989), this film is a fantasy horror mystery, directed by Parisian, Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur was the first director to work on a newly formed horror unit at RKO in 1942 and that produced classics such as “Out of the Past” (1947), “Cat People” (1942), and “I walked with a Zombie” (1943) – the first two of which were selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. While making his name in horror, he would go on to make masterpieces in many different genres due to his command of mood and atmosphere in his films.
Quick plot: An American doctor arrives in England to expose a devil cult leader as a fraud but gets mixed up in something he swears that he doesn’t believe in.
Detailed plot: American, Dr John Holden, is due to attend a paranormal psychology symposium in London, and while he’s in the city he intends to expose devil cult leader, Julian Karswell, as a fraud. Holden teams up with Joanna Harrington, who is investigating the death of her uncle after he met up with Karswell. It seems that Karswell has some evil supernatural powers, one of which the ability to bring about the death of somebody via ancient runes which he gives to a victim on a slip of parchment paper. Haven given Holden a piece of parchment Karswell is hoping to do away with the doctor, thus ending the witch hunt aimed at uncovering him. It’s a race against time for Holden, he has to uncover the truth about Karswell and any powers he might have, and also, if necessary, save his own life too.
Film Stuff: This film goes by different titles depending on what side of the Atlantic you are on (more if you count the foreign language titles!). You may know it as “Night of the Demon“, or you may know it as “Curse of the Demon“. Both are pretty much the same film, just with a things juggled around a little. This film is dark and atmospheric, something that Jacques Tourneur became famed for. At times it is tense and haunting, while there are occasional moments of it being sarcastically funny too. Based extremely loosely on the novel “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James, Tourneur presents us with a noir(ish) horror that uses suggestions and implications to elicit its fear rather than an abundance of monster effects. There is a monster in the film, but his is something that Tourneur fought against, but the studio producers added anyway. Given the way the monster appears in the film I rather think he had a point, and this movie would not lose any of it’s intensity without the portrayal of the monster as it does. Despite that, there are some interesting set pieces and effects on display here; the random storm, the final train sequence, the flying parchment, the run through the forest at night, the cat/demon guardian.
Cast: The 3 main roles to focus on here are Dana Andrews as John Holden, Peggy Cummins as Joanna Harrington, and Niall MacGinnis as Julian Karswell. All 3 deliver great performances, and although the script is not as dialogue rich as films circa 2000, they all manage to add emotion an elevate the script into something that becomes enjoyable and engaging. Andrews is the tough sceptic who acts as the sense of balance for the audience. Cummins is the ‘what I’, as she portrays an open-minded schoolteacher willing to accept that things might not be all as they seem. MacGinnis portrays a lovable cult leader that’s more a kin to Benny Hill than Aleister Crowley, but which makes him all the more engaging and interesting.
Wrap up: I enjoyed this movie. My Sunday’s tend to be reserved for films from yesteryear like this. While it might not be a midday kind of film, this is definitely something that I could watch as the days become darker, late on a Sunday. Despite being an old film it has aged well and still has a sense of tension and atmosphere that make it a captivating film. This is a great, from a time when a good story is more important than effects and jump-scares. If you want to visit a classic horror film then you can do a lot worse than watch this lovely film. Even if you aren’t sure, give this 10 minutes to see if it can hook you in, because as the title of the review says, and as is quoted in the film; “Some things are more easily started than stopped”.