This was a surprising first watch for me last night on TCM. I’ve admitted to being biased against 50s horror movies because I’ve seen so many campy ones but Night of the Demon has immediately catapulted into my top 100 of all time. I’ll admit also that I’m biased in favor of anything involving Dana Andrews because I love Laura so much, but don’t let that stop you from checking this out.
A guy with a beard and no mustache, so obviously someone fashionably evil, is running a Satanic cult in England. Anyone who investigates him is cursed to die on the day he says they will, and then a demon appears and kills them. Andrews shows up as a skeptical American parapsychologist to speak at a conference and also to get cursed by old Chinstrap.
The visuals in this are just WOW, and I’m not even a visual person. The first time the demon appears there’s what looks to be an animated cloud that just blew me away. The demon itself bothers some people because it looks like a monster in a 50s horror movie, and it does appear in full form too soon in the movie, but for a monster in a 50s horror movie it looks damn good. Also, when you realize it is dismembering its victims it becomes horrifying. There’s a funeral scene where someone or something is always standing between the camera and the open coffin, which I thought was strange, until I realized at the end what they were conveying with those shots: you don’t want or need to see the deceased even thought they did their best to lay him out for the viewing. Chilling stuff.
There’s also suspense on hand, as you watch Andrews try to solve/prevent his own murder ahead of time, even as he doesn’t believe at first the reason why it is going to happen. And there are some pretty awesome sequences in which the method by which the curse is delivered may or may not find its target that had me on edge. To add to that, the movie is perfectly paced in the way that only mid-century to early 80s movies are, as if directors used to assume the audiences were not made up of idiots. You’re done with each scene, on to the next one, not belabored by explanations, but you’re not inflicted with quick music video style cuts either.
I believe my favorite scare/shock was when Andrews goes to visit the cult leader for the first time, and the evil guy is giving a party for underprivileged children while wearing clown makeup, and just casually talking about cursing his victims. I’m not afraid of clowns usually, as a matter of fact it’s a phobia I’ve always thought was kind of goofy, but for some reason looking at this guy dressed as a clown just seemed so WRONG, especially when I considered how shocking a movie this well-made about satanists must have been to 50s audiences.
I want to wrap this post up before I give anything else away but let me mention that there is some intentional humor to break up the tension and it’s mostly in the form of dialogue. Probably my favorite line is, and I can’t find the exact quote online, but it was something like “scientists should be like Missouri: ‘show me.'”
Finally, if you’re like me and you enjoy playing “spot the influence,” Night of the Demon definitely influenced Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, in both the idea that a curse can be returned and the ending being set in a train station.
Someone has uploaded the first demon scene, so watch it here: