Night Of The Demon

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With his film Night Of The Demon (1957) director Jacques Tourneur marries the two genres at which he most excelled: film noir and the Gothic Horror. The character Dr. Holden (Dana Andrews), though he is a scientist, functions as the typical gumshoe of noir as he collects clues and matches wits with cult leader and witch Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Karswell, the villain of the piece, doesn’t rely on gangsters, thugs, or hitmen to do his dirty work. Instead Karswell utilizes his powers as a conjuror to summon terrible wind storms and demons to enforce his will and to protect his interests. Ms. Harrington (Peggy Cummins), a kindergarten teacher, serves as Dr. Holden’s love interest and sidekick on this caper.

This genre fusion, so beautifully brought to life by Tourneur, was co-written by the great Charles Bennett who penned many of Hitchcock’s earliest features produced in Britain. In Bennett’s writing and Tourneur’s images resides the notion that the suggestion of fear can itself create a monster. The entire execution of Night Of The Demon hinges on this concept. The audience is, much like Dr. Holden, required to be skeptical of the seemingly supernatural events that unfold. Producer Hal E. Chester thought otherwise.

This is why at least four versions of Night Of The Demon exist. Chester thought that the audience needed to see the monster, fearing that if they didn’t the film would bomb at the box office. The Indicator home video release of 2018 collects four versions of Night Of The Demon with enough supplements that if one were to watch all of the content on this release if would be equivalent to having taken a college course. Suffice to say that Night Of The Demon is as well known today for Hal E. Chester’s meddling as it is for its aesthetic excellence.

Set during Halloween, Night Of The Demon is an ideal film for the spookiest time of year. Any of the four available versions of the film is worthwhile and a masterpiece in its own right. Even the goofy looking demonic puppet used in close-ups has a sort of campy yet whimsical quality to it that’s endearing. Tourneur directed a lot of really great films in his lifetime and Night Of The Demon is his last true masterpiece.