Night of the Demon was a movie that scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. That iconic shot of the demon from the end was always in books about horror and issues of Famous Monsters. I’d always hide my eyes from it while still being fascinated.
Little did I know that the issue of the demon being in the film was a major point of argument between producer Hal E. Chester versus director Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People) and writer Charles Bennett (The 39 Steps) on the other. Chester ended up jamming in the special effects monster over the objections of the writer, the director, and lead actor Dana Andrews.
Even worse, 12 minutes were removed from the British version of this film and it was renamed to Curse of the Demon. Tourneur later said, “The scenes where you see the demon were shot without me…the audience should never have been completely certain of having seen the demon.” Bennett, also about the changes to the script, said “If [Chester] walked up my driveway right now, I’d shoot him dead.”
Based on the M.R. James story “Casting the Runes,” the story begins with Dr. Julian Karswell being visited late in the night by a rival who begs him to remove the curse he’s placed. After learning that the patchment he gave the man was destroyed, Karswell rushes the man from his house just as a giant demon materializes in the trees, a shocking effect even today. The professor tries to escape but his car crashes into powerlines and he’s electrocuted.
Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews, Airport 1975) arrives in England to attend the convention where the dead professor had intended to expose Karswell and his Satanic cult. Holden believes that there’s no such thing as the supernatural while the dead professor’s niece (Peggy Cummins, Gun Crazy) believes the opposite.
Later, when a windstorm destroys a party, Karswell takes the blame and Holden mocks him. The older man grows angry and predicts Holden’s death within three days. Soon, the same parchment of protection is found by our hero and he slowly becomes convinced that the demon is on his trail as well.
The end of the film, where the demon changes his target from Holden to Karswell, is harrowing. As he runs up the train tracks, the demon manifests itself and chases the magician. When his corpse is discovered, the police believe that it was a train dragging him, not the demon.
Holden goes to inspect the body, but the professor’s niece tells him that that sometimes, “it’s better not to know.” He walks away with her.
In the movie The ‘Burbs, Ray finds a book called The Theory and Practice of Demonology in the basement of the Klopeks. Its author? None other than the villain of this film, Julian Karswell. It’s also mentioned in “Science Fiction Double Feature” in the Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, but passing them used lots of skills.”
According to BrightMidNight on the Sinister Screen, “This movie is a true Satanic classic because it exposes the devil worshiper for what he is. Anytime you have to rely on someone or something else to help you to be a success in life, you’re diminishing your own self-worth. People who do this are basically saying, “I’m not good enough to get these things on my own; I need some kind of outside force.””
They go on to say: “Satanists viewing this movie should understand that YOU are in charge of your own destiny — and no one else. Asking some devil or some imaginary demon for favors only causes problems in the end. Satanism strives on individualism. The Satanist is his or her own God. There is no need to ask other entities for help.”
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