Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon is based on a short story (Casting the Runes) by M. R. James, perhaps the most famous of all English writers of ghost stories. It concerns a witch cult and a deadly curse that is passed on in a scrap of parchment. The parchment has to be passed to the victim without his knowledge. Dana Andrews plays a sceptical scientist who is trying to expose a cult leader as a charlatan. Peggy Cummins plays the niece of another scientist who tried the same thing but met his death in mysterious circumstances. It’s a good film but Tourneur seems to have forgotten what he learnt working with Val Lewton in the 40s (for whom he directed two of the greatest horror movies ever made, Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie) that horror works best when you don’t actually see the horror. In Night of the Demon we do see the demon, and although the special effects aren’t bad by the standards of the day the actual demon doesn’t quite come off. On the other hand it offers some solid acting, an intelligent script and classy direction by Tourneur and the result is an extremely good example of subtle cinematic horror.
8 out of 10