Film / Night of the Demon

"Dana Andrews said prunes
Gave him the runes
And passing them took lots of skill
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, "Science Fiction Double Feature"

Classic 1957 horror film, sometimes titled "Curse of the Demon." It was directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Hal E. Chester, based on the short story "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James.

It starred Dana Andrews as skeptical professor John Holden, Peggy Cummins as the less-skeptical Joanna Harrington, and Niall MacGinnis as evil but charming cult leader Julian Karswell.

The plot involves Holden's attempts to put down a devil-worshipping cult led by Karswell, who is able to use Celtic runes to cause a demon to attack his enemies. Of course, Karswell is able to slip some runes on Holden, who must try to avoid death at the demon's scaly hands.

The script is very intelligent, the characterizations are awfully good, and it's got a slew of creepy moments and excellent suspense. The demon is well done, and the other effects, though not particularly fancy, do a good job of ramping up the fright.

Not to be confused with the 1988 horror flick, Night of the Demons, or with the 1980 Video Nasty. See also Drag Me to Hell which is basically a remake of this with a few character changes and directed by Sam Raimi.

Night of the Demon provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Karswell is an extremely likeable, charming man. He's also a spell-casting Satanist who murders casual acquaintances.
  • Agent Scully: Holden is a rock-solid skeptic about the supernatural.
  • All Hallows' Eve: Karswell hosts a Halloween party for the local children.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Karswell warns Holden not to do this; Holden ignores him and sees the demon for the first time.
  • Elemental Powers: Karswell very casually conjures up a terrific windstorm.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Karswell's relationship with his mother is very gentle and loving, even after she betrays him.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Rand Hobart's creepy family rejected him because he wasn't dedicated enough to die for Karswell's cult. "It were meant for him, but he passed it to a brother... A true believer. Not like him."
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Holden gets almost ridiculous when he starts rationalizing away the most utterly unnatural events imaginable as 'some sort of a trick'. It is subverted at the climax, however, when he tells Karswell that he does indeed believe in his powers now... so much so that he'll keep Karswell with him so the demon can kill BOTH of them.
  • Friend to All Children: Karswell hosts Halloween parties for local children. He appears to really like them, and vice versa.
  • Idiot Ball: Whoever thought it was a good idea to bring an insane, suspected murderer in front of an audience, and inject him with drugs to revive him from a catatonic state, without using any restraints?
  • Instant Runes: Averted. Karswell's runes are written on simple strips of paper.
  • Lottery of Doom: It's strongly implied that this is how Karswell's devil cult chooses its victims for Human Sacrifice. Unlike most such examples, they normally do it to their own members.
  • Monster Clown: Karswell dresses as a clown for the Halloween party. He's not a particularly monstrous clown, he's nice to all the children, and basically friendly with the protagonist... but the guy is a storm-summoning Satanist...
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: What gets the blame when the demon kills Karswell.
  • Religion of Evil: Karswell's devil cult, what else?
  • Right-Hand Cat: Karswell's pet cat Graymalkin that can turn itself into a leopard.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets
  • Skeptic No Longer: Holden finally gives up his skepticism, at least about Karswell's powers.
  • Spooky Silent Library: Holden has a creepy encounter with Karswell in the British Library.
  • Spooky Sťance: Karswell's mother takes Holden and Joanna to a seance to try to convince them to believe in the supernatural.
  • Super Smoke: The demon's appearance is heralded by an approaching ball of smoke, with the demon rising out of it.
  • Super Window Jump: How Rand Hobart kills himself.
  • Vocal Dissonance: The medium at the seance speaks in a wide variety of voices as he channels spirits.
  • The X of Y