I recently hunkered down with my new Blu-ray copy of Night of the Demon (1957) from Indicator (Powerhouse) Films and held my breath while pressing “Play.” As it was a British import, it cost more and I’ve had my fair share of disappointments with so-called “upgrades” of Black & White classics. 96 minutes later, I was grinning from ear to ear.
It’s no secret, I love vintage horror and science fiction films. Most of my favorites are the ones I’d grown up watching on Chicago television via “Son of Svengoolie,” “Monstrous Movie,” or “Creature Features.” One of the more obscure films I recall was Curse of the Demon which I remembered more for its gruesome ending with the title monster than the story itself. This movie was more sophisticated than average and too “talky” for my grade school self to appreciate. When I was seventeen, however, I got my hands on its first VHS release and it’s been a favorite ever since.
Night of the Demon was produced in England and starred American actor, Dana Andrews. Andrews plays John Holden, a skeptic who catches the attention of a dangerous (yet gentile) cult leader, Doctor Karswell, brilliantly played by Niall MacGinnis. Karswell curses Holden courtesy of ancient Runes and has three days to live before a giant, vengeful demon savagely kills him. Holden’s race against the clock might have gone a lot easier if he actually believed he was in danger. Instead, he stays true to character by treating the entire affair as little more than “superstitious nonsense.” He gives Agent Scully a run for the money by ignoring virtually every unexplained occurrence happening around him along with warnings from a former victim’s niece (the attractive Peggy Cummins played by Joanna Harrington) and just about everyone else in this movie.
The film was trimmed down from its original 96 minutes in an effort to make it more double-bill worthy which was popular in the US at the time. Here in the States, it played alongside 20 Million Miles to Earth and was renamed Curse of the Demon so as not to be confused with another film, Night of the Iguana.
That old ‘80s VHS was the 82-minute Curse of the Demon version and I had no idea there even was a longer Night of the Demon until I was in my ‘30s. A DVD was released that had both, though I was always vague on what the differences between them were aside from length. At the time, my biggest issue was that the DVD didn’t seem much better in quality than the videotape. So after seventeen years of waiting, I was ready to gamble on the Blu-ray. This was my first purchase from Indicator Films, a British company that reminded me of Arrow with their clear plastic cases and obscure titles. Their release boasted a digital upgrade courtesy of the BFI (British Film Institute) National Archives and was Region Free so I wouldn’t have to wait for a future, American release. Indicator Films offered a special limited edition that included a poster and an 80-page booklet but I opted for a cheaper alternative that didn’t include the physical extras but did have what I really wanted; a second disc with all the extras.
Ten minutes after starting the film I was satisfied that I’d made the right choice. It had a much crisper picture than my VHS and DVD copies which enhanced the viewing to the point that it was seeing it for the first time despite having watched seen it this past Halloween. This grateful American tips his hat to the gents at BFI. That’s not to say I’d give the picture quality a solid A but more of a B+ when compared to other Black and White restorations (the Universal collection…now THAT was an A+) but considering the low-grade viewings I’ve had since 1986, this one is a definite step up! I also felt the sound was much clearer, too, making the “chirping” sound that accompanied the monster even more alarming. It also made the scene where Doctor Karswell seemingly creates a cyclone more impactful.
The bonus disc wouldn’t disappoint either. I couldn’t resist putting it on right after the movie and was very pleased. The first extra was a 20-minute documentary called “Speak of the Devil: The Making of Night of the Demon” which was pretty interesting. It discussed the controversy regarding the appearance of the “Demon” which was added in after filming. This was done against the wishes of Director, Jacques Tourneur, by Executive Producer, Hal E. Chester who felt the monster needed to be seen. Tourneur felt it compromised his artistic vision and effectively turned his thoughtful, stylish film into cheap, drive-in fare. He reportedly stated that if Chester ever walked on his driveway he’d “shoot him on the spot.” Though both men have passed, the debate on whether or not the creature should have been shown still rages amongst fans and historians. Personally, I’m pro-monster and feel the Demon effects were top notch for its day. It definitely had an impact on me as a kid and has likely kept this movie from falling into limbo. So far as the cast is concerned, I’m in the minority.
In another featurette, an audio interview with Dana Andrews (taken in the early ‘70s) not only reveals his disdain for the monster whom he cites as “ruining” the movie but Hal E. Chester whom he refers to as a “schmuck.” The feeling was definitely mutual. In yet another bonus clip we see an archival interview with Chester at a sci-fi convention. Chester wastes no time calling Andrews and his friend, Jacques Tourneur, as a couple of “drunks.” He shared some anecdotes of Andrews behavior (often involving hilarious imitations of his alleged drunkenness) claiming the actor was inebriated 24/7. “That guy went to bed drunk and woke up drunk,” said Chester. “He must have had someone pouring alcohol in his mouth while he was sleeping!”
Drunk or not, Andrews had no trouble recalling his meeting a young Queen Elizabeth during filming. When Her Majesty asked what the movie he was filming was about he replied, “It’s about old English witchcraft.”
“Good Heavens,” said the Queen. “Don’t bring that back again.”
My favorite bonus feature was a 23-minute featurette called “Cloven in Two.” This alone made the entire purchase worthwhile as it literally puts both versions of the film side-by-side and compares the differences which were a LOT more sophisticated than the mere cutting/adding scenes I’d always believed. The entire order of scenes was changed up which often confused the narrative for those paying close attention. The cropped version also diminishes the role of Karswell’s mother, played by Athene Seyler, who would prove a true hero in this story. Needless to say, I’ll never settle for that old Curse of the Demon version again.
This edition is currently going for around $40 on Amazon. It’s a bit pricey but, in my opinion, well worth it! Despite controversial edits, cast and crew in-fighting, and a divisive monster, Night of the Demon has stood the test of time and proven itself to be anything but cursed!