Night Of The Demon (1957)

Because “Why not?”, and as it makes picking viewing easier, Trash Or Treasure is going through every movie in “Science Fiction – Double Feature”, the opening song for that trash culture classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This week

Dana Andrews said prunes
Gave him the runes
And passing them used lots of skills

It’s American name is “Curse Of The Demon” so I’m not calling it that.

The problems of post-war rationing.

I’m not going to muck around with things for this review, as this is still one of the most highly regarded horror movies of the 50s as a whole and especially of UK cinema. It’s a Treasure, even today, with some strong performances from all involved. It’s based on an M.R. James original, which helps, and does a fine line in blending stiff-upper-lips, unreliable narration, and tense horror. It also carries the blend of mysticism and science being pushed to their boundaries that was floating around in the post-WW2 era, so whilst it could be remade today it would be a very different beast. The balance of hauntology and Fortean intrigue would, inevitably, be shifted, but some of the looser elements would hopefully be tightened up.

Also a fucking scary giant demon!

The central story is that of John Holden (Dana Andrews) trying to expose Doctor Not-Alister-Crowly-For-Legal-Reasons (Niall MacGinnis) for being a fraud. He also wants to bust the Doctor for a series of murders and being a creepy clown at children’s parties, but mostly it’s so he can go “hah! I was right!” The two intolerable jerks preen off at each other in a number of dick-measuring contests, and Joanna Harrington (Peggy Cummins) gets to watch them do it because Feminism hadn’t been invented then.

“How ’bout a magic trick? I’m gonna make this pencil disappear…”

There are a number of set pieces, including a pretty good séance, which gives the viewer a load of supernatural thrills before Holden gets to tell them how the trick is done. Whilst the film favors the “it’s all psychology and illusion” explanation, it also has a number of sequences where the titular sodding huge demon turns up to eat people. One of them is Holden, which is a very nice touch, as he tries to explain away a thing that we saw happen. The ending is also semi-open-ended, focusing on the aftermath rather than the cause as the important thing.

“That’s my luggage, the one marked “Dickhead” “

If the demon sections seem a touch out of place, that’s because they were tacked on in post-production. Director Jacques Tourneur wanted everything to be suggested, and producer Hal E. Chester wanted bums on seats. I’m glad Hal won, as not only are the effects still impressive but they are just restrained enough to add to the ambiguity of the story. You can see the joins, but its nothing to warrant looking for an unsullied version.


A bigger distraction is the simple fact that Holden is a dedicated arsehole. He’s the main point-of-view character and his “bold Americanism” means you’ll want to slap him after 5 minutes. The fact that he negs Peggy into going out with him is quite sigh-inducing to the modern viewer, made even more frustrating by her being a well-rounded character that turns into a sexy lamp when he clicks his fingers for his prize as the credits roll.

“Yes, those are compelling socio-economic factors that keep you oppressed by capitalism. But have you ever tried having a 24/7 grindset?”

Also quite annoying is the way that the local yokels are handled. Not only are they presented as backward and superstitious, but every member of an allegedly tight-knit clan has a different cliched rural accent. Janet Barrow gets to do a proud turn as the matriarchal head of the clan, but other than that it’s hickoganda of the laziest kind. On top of that, one of their number is described as “hysterical” after they wake him up from a coma by injecting him with methamphetamine and he ends up going out of a window. Yeah, I’m sure someone with a university education would have taken it in their stride.

“Think man, did you leave the gas on?”

But these are minor complaints, and in some way add to the setting. It’s a well-paced film that explores its ideas and assumes the audience can work out some of the big bits. It’s even got a semi-twist ending that adds depth to the characters involved, even after a belter of an effects sequence. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in horror or suspense cinema as a whole, as its (admittedly few) failings don’t get distractingly in the way of the whole thing being an engrossing yarn.

The Raggedyman

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