FANCY A DEMON??? Today's Halloween movie is the 1957 Jacques Tourneur film "NIGHT OF THE DEMON" -- or as we know it in the colonies "CURSE OF THE DEMON". Actually, the recent DVD release has both versions; and the original British "Night" is longer and uncut. Tourneur's movie is very much in the style of the work he was doing in the previous decade with producer Val Lewton (like "I Walked With A Zombie" which I chose as a Halloween movie last week).
The story of the film comes from M. R. James' classic short story "Casting the Runes" and it concerns our skeptical hero (Dana Andrews) finding out that black magic might actually exist after all. Black magician Niall MacGinnis (in a marvelous performance modeled after Aleister Crowley) slips a parchment of runes to Dana Andrews which will cause a demon from Hell to slice and dice him in two weeks time (well at least he got 2 weeks. . .the poor shmucks in "Ringu" only got 7 days). While Dana Andrews spends the first half of the movie pooh-poohing the notion of supernatural forces, he spends the second half nervously trying to pass BACK the deadly runes to Niall MacGinnis. Of course, the magician is proving much too wily for him. Andrews is assisted in his quest by Peggy Cummins; who is well-known for playing a VERY different, much less demure character in the noir classic "Gun Crazy".
The famous controversy over the special effects mechanical demon inserted into the film by the producers after filming had ended seems to evenly divide people. I actually don't mind it; the demon looks marvelously baroque and gothic at the same time and, while you can certainly tell he's not real, the look of the damn thing is so wonderful that you can hardly be TOO upset about his inclusion. I don't really think it ruins the film; or in fact harms it at all. Some do -- and I can understand where they're coming from too. But I think the movie is vastly entertaining and well-made that this one little problem can be overlooked.
Dana Andrews is his usual buttoned-down self; even when pursued by the forces of Hell itself. Peggy Cummins is fine but unremarkable (miles away from her amazing performance in "Gun Crazy". Niall MacGinnis is simply phenomenol. He can provide tons of menace even while dressed up as a clown at a children's party he is throwing at his country estate. (Of course, those of you out there who are terrified of clowns probably will have a different reaction).
Speaking of the children's party. . .there has always been an idea of mine that Alfred Hitchcock (consciously or unconsciously) swiped the basic set-up of this scene for a remarkably similar one in "The Birds". Remember the children's birthday party scene in Hitchcock's film where the birds suddenly attack the children? Tables are upended, everyone goes running. . . Well, that seen is almost exactly the same in tone and mechanics as this kids party scene in "Night of the Demon" (only without the birds). Black magician MacGinnis, in order to convince Andrews that his powers are real, conjures up a violent windstorm. Tables are upended, everyone goes running. . .the scene plays exactly the same as the later Hitchcock scene with the wind and the birds interchangeable as forces of nature run amok. Compare the scenes side by side the next time you get the chance and I think you'll agree with me.
And remember that one of these October nights when the wind is whipping up and you hear something approaching through the nearby trees. . .it might just be a demon.
One last trivia question before I leave: a sample of dialogue from "Night of the Demon" was used in what 80's rock song???