Night of the Demon is a wonderfully wry supernatural story, with the chills coming from the ambiguity and atmosphere, and the tension and drama coming from the battle of wits between the human lead characters.
Psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) comes to England from the US for a science convention at which he plans to expose renowned occultist Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) as a charlatan and a cult leader. On arrival he finds that not only has his research partner, Professor Harrington, has died in a mysterious accident, but Harrington was growing increasingly afraid of the powers he thought Karswell possessed. Holden is having none of this however, even when Karswell tells him he is going to die in three days time. But as increasingly strange incidents keep occurring, Holden is forced to question whether the supernatural does exist - and whether or not his days are numbered.
Andrews does not totally convince as a scientist, but one thing he does bring to the role is a forcefulness and an unshakeable faith in rationalism that makes him a believable opponent to Karswell, an equally strong character supposedly based on the so-called “wickedest man in the world”, real life occult guru Aleister Crowley.
The tension between the two is palpable as the cat-and-mouse games escalate, but it also found an off screen parallel in tensions between this film's producer and director. Hal E Chester originally wanted to make a straightforward monster movie rather than ambiguity and atmosphere, and shot the scenes involving the demon without the director's knowledge. With little money in the budget, the end result is a little bit silly. The appearance at the beginning of the film sets completely the wrong tone for what is to follow, and the appearance at the end almost undoes the hard work that the director and actors have done up to then - almost,but not quite.
Director Jacques Tourneur had built a career on spooky and atmospheric horror classics such as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. He takes a similar approach here, with the end results feeling wonderfully spooky, rather than actually terrifying, with a ghoulish sense of humour thrown in, and much as the incidents affecting become ever more baffling they never truly spill over into the supernatural.
In addition, in all three of the demon's appearances, there are no external witnesses so it could still be argued that there is some ambiguity as to whether it makes it into the real world or whether it is simply a demon of the mind.
Night of the Demon (1957) by MargaliMorwentari