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Night of the Demon

by Glenn Erickson Oct 20, 2018

A top horror title gets the Powerhouse Indicator treatment just in time for Halloween — it’s not a domestic release but it plays in our Region A players. You can shuffle the alternate versions like a deck of cards: one basic movie, but six separate encodings: by length, title sequence and aspect ratio. Plus fascinating extras and a killer versions comparison feature.


Night of the Demon / Curse of the Demon
Blu-ray
Powerhouse Indicator
1957 / B&W / 1:66 + 1:75 widescreen / 95 & 82 min. / Limited Edition / Street Date October 22, 2018 / available from Amazon UK / £47,42
Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Maurice Denham,
Athene Seyler
Cinematography: Ted Scaife
Production Designer: Ken Adam
Special Effects: George Blackwell, S.D. Onions, Wally Veevers
Film Editor Michael Gordon
Original Music: Clifton Parker
Written by Charles Bennett and Hal E. Chester
from the story Casting the Runes by M. R. James
Produced by Frank Bevis, Hal E. Chester
Directed by
Jacques Tourneur

 

I just reviewed a French disc release of the great Night of the Demon / Curse of the Demon back in May of 2017. Why look at it again? Because of the fine extras on this new disc, that’s why.

The French Wild Side disc from 2013 was a class act, but U.S. purchasers may have felt at a loss thumbing through a collector’s book they couldn’t necessarily read. In the last few years the UK firms Arrow and Powerhouse Indicator have been reinvigorating the video disc market with lavish special editions. This new item has extras that diehard fans will drool over. It’s quite an achievement, considering how difficult it is to concoct good extras for a picture nearing sixty years of age.

For a general review and essay on Night of the Demon please check out the earlier CineSavant review — I’ll indulge myself here with more general observations about Jacques Tourneur’s super horror classic, before settling down to admire some of the better added value extras I’ve seen this year. The important news for U.S. horror fans is that, like the earlier French disc, the Region coding is not enforced — the two discs in the Powerhouse Indicator release play fine in Region A.

 

Curse of the Demon has long been a special favorite. In my neck of the woods it didn’t play much on television until the later half of the 1960s, so I was introduced to it piecemeal. It’s pointless for me to imagine the film without a demon, because images of the demon were all I saw of it for years, in the pages of Famous Monsters magazine. Then came a two-dollar 8mm silent ‘condensation’ about two minutes long, that had some pretty impressive shots. That classic demon portrait in Carlos Clarens’ book prompted me to show it in the UCLA dorms on Halloween, where it was a big hit.

Then came an article by Ronald V. Borst and Scott MacQueen in the great magazine Photon, which told us of a long-lost extended version called Night of the Demon, identified as an ‘English cut.’ I must have read the article ten times, wishing that the longer version wasn’t lost. The business with Julian Karswell’s mother and Holden’s visit to The Hobart Farm are what give the film’s notion of a Satanic cult real weight — all this necromantic hocus-pocus is blighting lives. When the extended, so-called English cut surfaced on home video and cable TV in 1987,  it felt like a gift.

Finally, the last big ‘historical’ step in the progress of Curse/Night of the Demon was Wayne Schmidt’s rescue of the long cut — that early NTSC transfer might have been the last anybody saw of it, had not Wayne negotiated the return of the only good film element from a responsible collector who had bought it thinking it was a print. I asked Wayne to write up the experience for me, which he did last May, in Rescuing the Runes: The Almost-Lost Original Long Cut of Night of the Demon.

 

I’m not sure that somebody just getting into film studies now would know what it was like for film fans of the ’70s and ’80s, before home video made most everything available, and prompted studios to take inventory of their vaults. Today one can discover James Whale’s The Old Dark House in its incredible new restoration, something that older viewers never had a chance to see. In 1980 films that just weren’t available in the U.S. except at rare screenings were Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Lewton’s The Seventh Victim and Val Guest’s Quatermass 2.  Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers was just beginning to circulate in an uncut form, as was the long version of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.  I had shown Losey’s These Are the Damned twice at UCLA, unaware that Columbia had printing elements for a version almost fifteen minutes longer. For this viewer, the best thing about the recent Powerhouse Indicator discs are extras that document the history of cut versions and censor elisions. Their examination of Hammer’s The Stranglers of Bombay was a revelation, and their video essay on Curse/Night of the Demon opened my eyes to many version differences I hadn’t noticed.

Re-reading my earlier essay, my main thought is that I didn’t fully express the uniqueness of Night/Curse of the Demon. One can make a case for it as an extension of the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur films, but only in its bloodline — it’s not the same kind of intimate psychological study. The Lewton pictures now seem almost too sophisticated for the horror genre. The supernatural is used as a metaphor for sexual unease (Cat People), family dysfunction (I Walked with a Zombie) and existential despair (The Seventh Victim). The Leopard Man’s disconnected killings now play as a proto- giallo scenario. In general, the Lewtons point to the psychological future of serial killers and the ‘horror of personality’ subgenre, such as Psycho; perhaps the most progressive character in the Lewton films is the deranged sea captain in The Ghost Ship, who knows full well that he is a murderous fiend, but cannot do anything about it.

 

Night of the Demon instead goes to the core of ‘did it really happen?’ ghost stories, and invents one of the few convincing Satanic cults in film. There are no unlikely coven gatherings, no bizarro inverted Christian ceremonies as in Ulmer’s The Black Cat. The cult is not a polite book club, as in The Seventh Victim. Karswell’s minions live in fear, tithing to him and remaining silent to avoid becoming the next prey of a demon summoned from Hell. It’s all about morbid fear, and Karswell knows he’s running a supernatural protection racket. The clincher is that Karswell is himself relatively powerless, equally vulnerable. A debunker like Holden could wreck his life, but that’s nothing compared to what will happen if Karswell takes a single step not pre-approved by the Satanic Book.

Perhaps we don’t reject the supernatural in Demon because Dana Andrews’ Dr. Holden is already doing it for us. We are instead kept fascinated by the film’s mechanics to summon a demon. We see no hokey scenes of Karswell donning robes or speaking a Lovecraftian language. We instead see the runes in action — the impish slip of paper has a life of its own, like a Satanic Tinkerbell. They engage us the way all those millennial J-horror gimmicks do — cabalistic rings and spirals and demonic VHS tapes. While we’re busy worrying about how the runes work, we’re being seduced into the larger premise. This evil art of distraction and misdirection is producing terrific results for politicians these days.

So, how about that sequel? With Karswell gone, will the British Museum get its book back, or will some cult member steal it and set himself up as a new necromancer-despot?   I’m not sure the powers of darkness made the right move in liquidating Karswell — if nobody knowledgeable remains to spread unholy fear across the land, one would think Beelzebub’s influence and glory would drop to nothing. Or, thinking over the concept again, is there a Satan behind this at all, or just a Hell-world with nasty rules about intersecting with us feeble humans up here in the sunshine?

 

The other amazing thing about Night of the Demon is that its fascinating premise contradicts Holden’s rational skepticism, without giving rational viewers offense. Most of us love ghost stories that simply ask us to suspend disbelief for a few minutes to enjoy some spooky scares. I personally loathe pictures that take a superstitious premise too seriously. The Exorcist drags serious religion into the mix, and uses it like a club on sensitive viewers. That doesn’t seem to bother most fans the way it does me. Night of the Demon doesn’t demand that we believe anything, and instead ends on a soft note asking, “Perhaps it’s better not to know.” We’ve just seen the world’s most accomplished skeptic put through an ordeal that ends with him prevailing by besting a supernatural sorcerer at his own tricks. For the sake of ghost story thrills, we’ve accompanied Holden as his eyes are opened to ‘a world he would never have believed existed.’ Through Jacques Tourneur’s superior direction and striking visuals, the show makes its fight between Good and Evil into an exciting battle of wills and wits.

Back in 1985, the English critics of Phil Hardy’s Encyclopedia of Horror Movies were likely correct when they tapped Night of the Demon as a predictor of visually-oriented Eurohorrors to come. Tourneur’s show seems more connected to them than it does the newly-hatched Hammer brand of up-market Technicolor thrillers. Ted Scaife’s marvelous night scenes extend the atmospherics of Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie to a new height in artistic spookery. Further elaborations into eerie imagery would be forthcoming in the work of Mario Bava.

Night of the Demon is a fully satisfying experience in a genre where fans frequently find themselves making excuses: ‘It’s really good considering how little it cost.’ ‘The market insists that this exploitative content be included.’ ‘That kind of horror movie is obsolete, Glenn.’ Tourneur’s film stands alone, outside the shadow of any tradition, house style or fashionable trend. The show needs no excuses. It wins over audiences that have little or no use for horror movies.


 

Powerhouse Indicator’s Blu-ray of Night of the Demon / Curse of the Demon is definitely not a budget package. To begin with, it carries six different encodings of the film, which are ‘different, but the same.’ Rather than imply that the longer cut is English in origin, PI identifies it as a pre-release version, fully finished and preserved even though it was (they say) never shown when the movie was new. If that’s the case, it’s a cinema miracle that should have happened to The Magnificent Ambersons or any number of features that incurred criminal revisions just prior to release, or was truncated to facilitate a post-Code reissue. Considering that Columbia pictures was involved, it’s hard to believe that such a fully-articulated pre-release version would have been preserved. Nobody kept Orson Welles’ longer version of The Lady from Shanghai, for instance.

Here’s how I account for Indicator’s six separate encodings. Disc one has the long 96-minute versions, called the ‘original full-length pre-release version’ (Night) and the ‘US reissue version’ (Curse). They differ only in the title sequences. We question if the long cut was ever formally re-issued, except on home video. Disc two has the ‘original theatrical cuts’ of both the U.S. Curse and the U.K. Night, which PI’s documentation says were both 82 minutes long and distinguished only by different title sequences.

The other two versions are accounted for this way: all four are offered in Hi Def at 1:66, but the two 96-minute cuts are also presented in their 2K BFI restorations, which are formatted at the standard of 1:75.

In other words, this is a release for the eager cognoscenti: one movie, six versions to fuss over. Please Powerhouse, license Sony’s Major Dundee and give its variant versions a similar working-over.

Other formatting graces: an isolated music & effects track, and removable English subs.

Although it’s not likely you’ll sit through all six permutations of the Karswell vs. Holden donnybrook, you might be tempted to look at almost all of the extras. PI has found genuine experts to weigh in on Demon. They’re not quite as numerous as garden-variety Hammer authorities.

With its quadruple encodings, disc one only has one extra, a very good audio commentary by author Tony Earnshaw. His book on the film is a little pricey at present on Amazon — today’s quote is only $1,454.60 for a used copy.

 

Disc two’s extras list is so long, it reads like 2001’s Zero Gravity Toilet instructions. An opening twenty-minute featurette gives us interviews with Ken Adam and the late Peggy Cummins. We agree that her role isn’t an acting showcase, but she recognizes that the show is superior, one of her best. The fascinating Cloven in Two compares and contrasts the versions. It surprised me with the news that the reshuffling of scenes to make the short version required that several alternate takes be used. After going to all that trouble, with new opticals, one transition splits a previous dissolve. Either a mistake was made or an unexpected last-minute edit was ordered. I also forgot that several early references to Rand Hobart in the short version should have tipped us off that something was missing, mainly permission to hypnotize him for scientific inquiry.

Christopher Frayling is a big fan of horror; he offers his thoughts on Demon and Ken Adam in the same spirit he applied to Jack Clayton’s The Innocents. Chris Fujiwara gives us a talk on Jacques Tourneur that lasts almost half an hour; his Tourneur book is recommended, even if it’s available at a reasonable prices.

Thanks to Scott MacQueen we get to hear Dana Andrews in a rare ten-minute audio interview. Andrews’ wife insists on speaking for him and over him a bit too much, but I don’t recall any other interview with Andrews, and much of what he says is good. A far lengthier audio discussion gives producer Hal E. Chester the floor to review his entire career. You can make up your own mind if you think he’s to be congratulated, or criticized for insisting on an extended appearance by The Demon.

My favorite overall analysis is by Kim Newman, whose pleasant attitude toward these gems of horror cinema verges on ‘jovial.’ He’s a font of information, and augments his knowledge with clever, thoughtful insights.

A lengthy gallery of ‘Appreciations’ gives spokespeople ten- and twenty- minute showcases to speak about Night of the Demon from multiple angles. Fujiwara, Newman and Frayling are joined by essayist Ramsey Campbell, Scott McQueen, music commentator David Huckvale, and M.R. James expert Roger Clarke.

The original Casting the Runes story is read by Michael Hordern for an audio extra, and is also presented in a 1947 radio adaptation. A trailer is present, along with an image gallery and the 8mm cut-down souvenir version of Demon, the longer one I could not afford at age twelve.

The 80-page illustrated book has essays, interviews and critical coverage of the release; Kat Ellinger’s first-up essay takes an interesting look at turn-of-the-century tiffs between self-promoting magicians and spiritualists. In terms of a model for the diabolical Julian Karswell, all roads seem to lead to Aleister Crowley. Among the writers that contributed to the script was the favorite Cy Endfield, working uncredited because of the blacklist; the various remarks on record about the inclusion of a visible Demon are good as well. Bethan Roberts contributes a piece on Dr. Margaret Murray, a witchcraft consultant for the film. We’re also told that Powerhouse has upped the number of units being prepped for this Limited Edition, in anticipation of a larger buyer demand. I may buy a copy to get the book, the dramatic box art, and Julian Karswell’s haunted calling card.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Night of the Demon / Curse of the Demon
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements (beware eye fatigue):
DISC ONE: Night of the Demon — the original full-length pre-release version (96 mins); Curse of the Demon — the US reissue version (96 mins); 2K BFI restoration presentations at 1.75:1
High Definition remaster presentations at 1.66:1; Audio commentary with film historian Tony Earnshaw, author of Beating the Devil: The Making of ‘Night of the Demon
DISC TWO:
Night of the Demon — the original UK theatrical cut (82 mins); Curse of the Demon — the original US theatrical cut (82 mins); High Definition remasters at 1.66:1; Speak of the Devil: The Making of ‘Night of the Demon‘ (2007, 20 mins): a documentary featuring actor Peggy Cummins and production designer Ken Adam; Cloven in Two (2018, 23 mins): a video essay exploring the different versions; Hal E Chester at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (1996, 51 mins): a rare archival video interview with the producer; Dana Andrews on ‘Night of the Demon‘ (1972, 10 mins): a rare audio interview with the actor conducted by film historian and preservationist Scott MacQueen; The Devil’s in the Detail (2018, 36 mins): Christopher Frayling discusses the film and Ken Adam; Horrors Unseen (2018, 27 mins): an interview with Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall; Sinister Signs (2018, 21 mins): an analysis by Kim Newman, author of Nightmare Movies; Under the Spell (2018, 19 mins): a personal appreciation by horror writer Ramsey Campbell; The Devil Gets His Due (2018, 23 mins): Scott MacQueen details the film’s release history; The Truth of Alchemy (2018, 22 mins): a discussion of M R James by author Roger Clarke; The Devil in Music (2018, 11 mins): David Huckvale on composer Clifton Parker; A Note of Fear (2018, 10 mins): Scott MacQueen discusses aspects of the film’s score; Casting the Runes (1984, 53 mins): an audio recording of Michael Hordern reading M R James’ original story; Escape: ‘Casting the Runes’ (1947, 30 mins): a radio adaptation of the story; Super 8 version (7 mins): original cut-down home cinema presentation; Isolated music & effects track; Original theatrical trailer; Image gallery: promotional and production material; New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing; UK premiere on Blu-ray; Limited Edition exclusive 80-page book containing a new essay by Kat Ellinger, M R James on ghost stories, extensive writing on the film and its history, archival materials, and film credits; Souvenir Julian Karswell business card.

Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Two Blu-ray discs and book in card sleeve.
Reviewed: October 18, 2018
(5845demo)

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.