NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957 Britain)

night-of-the-demon-the-demonFifty eight years later and this is still riveting. Not many 1950s horror films you can say that about. Not many were made back then! It’s most memorable aspect is the particular enthusiasm it has in using light and shadow to create mood and effect. A stellar cinematic treasure. Jacques Tourneur’s greatest achievement. This film has a lot going for it: 

Niall MacGinnis is outstanding as Professor Julian Karswell, a practitioner of magick and is as frightening as the Devil Himself. He gives the performance of a lifetime, especially diabolical as a clown at a children’s party when he summons the elements and commands a thunderstorm to occur. Dana Andrews is not to be overlooked as his nemesis in this story, and by his own admission, considered it one of his favourite roles. Stonehenge, people killed by mysteriously dark circumstances, seances, and finally a horned Demon straight from a medieval woodcut, who breaks loose and wreaks havoc in a murderous rampage.

In the opening scene, an obviously frightened character is driving along a winding road, the trees along the sides illuminated only by the cars headlights. The effect is both ominous and familiar, as everyone has seen trees illuminated that way. It’s quite subtle, since it’s just a harmless scene but it deftly sets up a mood of real menace. The most thrilling sequence is a chill-inflicting walk through a night time woodland, which becomes a harrowing chase that features a most spectacular use of footprints. Even more memorable is an unexpected windstorm, suddenly conjured up for the disbeliever to see the power involved, and it becomes a real creative moment.

wussThe finest scene in the film is the climax. The psychological battle between the two subjects involved comes to full tilt in a train carriage, where each one tries to pass each other objects containing the rune and each one politely refusing them, neither really saying what the other knows, is great. The final moment, when the police arrive and the hero does succeed in passing along the parchment is joyous indeed. That image of a doomed victim running along the railway track, trying to catch the parchment as it blows away is one that stays with you, as there are fewer images in cinema that seem to so effectively portray futile desperation.

The film does seem to work quite well with the demon, as its emergence out of the boiling cloud becomes genuinely eerie. The monster’s appearance at the front of the train, riding in a wreath of smoke on top of the carriage, is an image that is truly unworldly and quite extraordinary for 1957. The creature is well-designed, actually resembling the crude painting on medieval woodcuts seen in the story, oddly looking better in the film itself than it does in the artwork. With an exceptional script that keeps things moving along very well, without ever pandering to the audience, this is an intelligent, scary classic.

DEMON1

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