Monday, 21 October 2013

Notes On 'Night Of The Demon'

001 Director Jacques Tourneur is something of a hero of mine, having directed a number of film noir and horror films which rank amongst my favourites. Nothing in ‘Cat People’ or ‘Out Of The Past’ can prepare you for ‘Night Of The Demon’, however. Whereas Tourneur normally gets his effects through subtlety and suggestion, shapes in the shadows, here the producer rode roughshod over his tendency to ambiguity and inserted a stop motion demon. Tourneur hated it, but I rather like the way it sets out the stall and lets you know immediately that black magic is real, monsters are real, Satan is real, Hell is a real place and, if you’re not very careful, you’re going there.

002 There’s something very persuasive about fictional worlds where witchcraft and magic are real, everyday things. In ‘Night Of The Eagle’ (1961), for instance, Peter Wyngarde finds that his academic career has been furthered by his wife’s mystical interventions, then finds out that all the faculty wives are doing the same. In ‘Cast A Deadly Spell’ (1991), magic is a mundane affair and people live alongside zombies, demons and other assorted monsters as if it were the most natural thing in the world (Fred Ward plays a private investigator called Philip Lovecraft, by the way. It’s an interesting film, check it out). In ‘Night Of The Demon’ a children’s party can instantly turn into a black magic battleground, just as the good old, cosy old British Library can become a weird, hallucogenic place of great psychic danger.

003 With regard to the demon whose night it is, it may not seem particularly scary now (in fact its face could best be described as ‘goofy’, it’s execution as ‘clunky’) but it is a real demon, not a mental suggestion, a will o’the wisp or trick of the light. The demon may resemble a hairy cousin of the animated monster from the old ‘Chewits’ advert (“He ate the Taj Mahal…”), but he is a supernatural creature who snatches up people and stomps them to death, a stone cold killer, an occult hit man from beyond our ken.

004 I’m all for scientific scepticism, but how long does it take Dana Andrews to cotton on that he is dealing with fanatics not fakers? That his soul really is in the balance? How much proof does he need? Like Brian Donleavy in the ‘Quatermass’ films, Andrews was supposed to have been drunk in pretty much every scene, but it’s hard to tell. What a trouper. The film has a great cast: Andrews, Maurice Denham, Peggy ‘Gun Crazy’ Cummins, Brian ‘Mr. Barraclough’ Wilde, Niall McGinnes, Reginald Beckwith…I’d like to think they were all drunk in pretty much every scene.

005 There is a séance scene in which medium Reginald Beckwith speaks with the voice of a small, dead girl. I have become somewhat hardened to horror over the years, i.e. repeat use has left me difficult to scare. However, all of that means nothing in the face of a middle aged man speaking in the voice of a small, dead girl, which, for some reason, I find terrifying. I would also find a small girl speaking like a middle aged bloke scary. I suppose I just don’t do disembodied voices very well, especially if they sound rather plaintive and confused.

006 The scenes with or about Rand Hobart have a sickly, oppressive feel, the sensation of dreaming that you are caught in quicksand. Tourneur draws a picture of unspeakable depravity with the merest of suggestions, a brilliant counterpoint to the explicit horror of rampaging Chewit monsters.

007 I will be presenting ‘Night Of The Demon’ at The Showroom Cinema on November 2nd at 7pm in the company of my friend Matt Cheeseman from The University Of Sheffield . The screening will be followed by a DJ set from Adrian Flanagan, one of the electronic warlocks behind the excellent Eccentronic Research Council, whose Pendle Witch obsessed album ‘1612 Underture’ I should have recommended a long time ago. If you do come, come and say hello. I promise not to stomp you to death. More HERE.


  1. I do love the threatening atmosphere in the Halloween children's party scene when Dana Andrews goes to see Niall MacGinnis.

  2. Chief, you're the first person I've read to defy the "orthodoxy" that the demon should not have been seen.
    Yet, at the risk of sounding tepid on the "show/don't show the monster" debate, I fall in the middle: The first scene of the demon could have been omitted or edited to make it less explicit thereby building greater anticipation. (In fact, when I taped this film on VCR years ago, I edited out the shot of the demon's face.)
    By the way: That end scene with the fire demon picking up old Niall and VICIOUSLY savaging him with its claws stuck with me for twenty years after I first saw the film in the all-night movie room at a science fiction convention in Fort Lauderdale; it appeared to ENJOY shredding him. Wicked!