Director Jacques Tourneur didn’t make many movies and is largely forgotten today, but he has a cult following of which I am a part. He made horror films such as I Walked with a Zombie, film noirs such as Out of the Past and films that exist somewhere in between, such as 1957’s suspenseful and scary Curse of the Demon.
The plot of the film pits hard-headed American psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) against sinister British cult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (a deliciously malevolent yet courtly Niall McGinnis), who claims to have magical powers. Holden is investigating the mysterious death of a colleague who, like himself, was trying to debunk Karswell’s claims. Karswell tells him calmly that his colleague was destroyed by the curse of the demon, and that a similar curse has been placed on Holden and will end his life in just a few days. Holden at first laughs this threat off, but then begins to experience a series of unnerving events that cause him (and the audience) to becoming increasingly scared that the curse of the demon is real.
Handsome, broad shouldered Dana Andrews looked like he had decades of stardom ahead of him in the 1940s, but unfortunately he developed a serious alcohol problem that drove his career southward before he finally got into stable recovery around 1970. In some of his scenes here, he looks a little shaky and pale and one wonders if that is acting or not, but in either case, it works perfectly as Dr. Holden begins to unravel psychologically. Peggy Cummins, so unforgettable in Gun Crazy, is pretty bland here as Holden’s fellow investigator and love interest, so the real sparks come in the scenes between Andrews and McGinnis. Their debates about science versus superstition are among the highlights of this film (This photo is from my favorite such scene, which Tourneur brilliantly set at a children’s party in which Karswell is wearing a clownish magician’s costume).
As you would expect for Tourneur, there are lots of noirish visual touches, including abundant shadows and deep focus shots of people walking alone down empty corridors and streets. It all works perfectly to maximize emotional tension in this classic chiller.
N.B. This film is sometimes entitled “Night of the Demon” and sometimes “Curse of the Demon” depending on whether you’ve got hold of a US or UK print. In any event, the thing to ensure is that you have the full 95 minute version and not one of the chopped up shorter prints that are around.
After the jump, I will discuss a dispute that arose during the making of this film and what it means for the interpretation of the story. SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read the material after the jump if you haven’t seen the movie. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Curse of the Demon”