Night of the Demon (1957)


Night of the Demon

Jenny Davies recalls fond memories of 1957 classic Night of the Demon and how trouble behind the scenes have not detracted from a piece of perfectly crafted storytelling…​

Even as a child I was always drawn to the occult, the strange and the macabre. Night of the Demon was one of many horror films my Dad would record for me, and it would become part of my ‘select few’ – my carefully chosen collection of well-loved VHS tapes, watched repeatedly, sometimes daily if it was the school holidays (yes I was a weird child, I know).

I can remember watching Night of the Demon with my grandad, and he would roar with laughter when the demon appeared, saying you could hear the wheels squeaking as they pushed the figure along on a trolley. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that sound was actually the unearthly chittering of a fire demon. Yes ok, the demon was a bit ropy. Yes, some say that revealing the creature in the first ten minutes of the film ruined the suspense. But to me, that reveal just added to the impending sense of inevitability. We know the demon is real, but will our sceptical protagonist John Holden realise before it’s too late?

Night of the Demon (UK, Jacques Tourneur, 1957) is the tale of American psychiatrist John Holden (Dana Andrews) and his battle of wills with a satanic cult leader. Holden has come to England to investigate this cult and how it uses powers of persuasion and suggestion to manipulate its followers. Cult leader Julian Karswell (played with villainous relish by Niall MacGinnis) is not a happy chappy about being exposed, and politely warns Holden off. He has already threatened Holden’s colleague Professor Harrington, who upon Holden’s arrival in England has suddenly died in an accident with some power lines ‘But his body should have only been burned – it was mutilated, horribly!’ beseeches his niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) as she warns Holden of the danger he is in. night of the demon 1957

The curse that Karswell places on his enemies gives them three days to live, after which time a fire demon is invoked to brutally kill them. It is the three days of psychological mind games that I love about this curse. It begins with feelings of being followed, hearing strange folk music meant to invoke the devil, unexplainable cold, and even being chased by ‘a monstrous smoky shape’. Whether Holden believes in witchcraft or not, he is certainly being psyched out.

At one point Karswell’s Mother tries to help Holden by calling upon her medium friend Mr Meek to hold a séance. There follows a fantastic scene of comic relief, with Mr Meek’s wife and Karswell’s Mother wailing along to a crackly old gramophone recording of ‘Cherry Ripe’ to help invoke the spirits. Holden mocks the medium scathingly until Meek is suddenly possessed by the voice of Professor Harrington and warns Holden to drop the investigation. Kate Bush fans will recognise his cry of ‘The Demon! It’s in the trees! It’s coming!’ as the intro to ‘Hounds of Love’. Perhaps one of the film’s most enduring legacies in pop culture.

Night of the Demon was based on the M.R. James short story Casting the Runes. For US audiences it was retitled Curse of the Demon to avoid confusion with the similarly titled The Night of the Iguana (John Huston, 1964) The film was allegedly beset by many conflicts. There was an ongoing disagreement between producer Hal E. Chester and director Jacques Tourneur over whether to fully reveal the demon. Then there are many anecdotes about Dana Andrews’ struggle with alcoholism during filming, which threatened to disrupt production altogether. Many have criticised Andrews’ performance in this film, but I find his slightly wooden delivery really enhances his displacement in the world of witchcraft and devil worship. As an American discovering strange British folklore and customs, he really is a stranger in a strange land. night of the demon 1957

Arguably, Niall McGinnis is the star of this production. He has some fantastic pieces of dialogue which he delivers in a perfect Shakespearean baritone: ‘If it’s not someone else’s life, it’ll be mine. Do you understand, Mother? It’ll be mine’.

Diehard fans of the film may like to seek out ‘Beating the Devil: The Making of Night of the Demon’ (Tony Earnshaw, 2005). Now sadly out of print, you can expect to pay upwards of £70 for this fantastic companion book. The very fact that it even spawned such a publication is a testament to the importance of Night of the Demon in British folk horror history. But to me, it will simply always be one of very few films that stands up to multiple rewatches, that never fails to give me chills and to make me hang on to every beautifully crafted line of dialogue.

Picture of Jenny Davies

Jenny Davies

Jenny Davies is an avid horror fan but new to the writing scene, having previously only written a couple of pieces for retro gaming site Adventure Classic Gaming. A busy working Mum, her spare time is spent devouring folk horror in art, literature and film. She loves Stephen King, cats and anything paranormal. Follow her on Twitter @misstwinpeaks79.

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2 thoughts on “Night of the Demon (1957)”

  1. Iseult Murphy

    Great article. Love this film. I have it on dvd where it has two versions – one with the stop motion demon and one with only the demon fx.

  2. 🌙 Hello, fellow ghoulhounds …😈

    And so felicitations fellow film fans… 🐈 Welcome to a butchering and burial but not a hatchet job on Night Of The Demon. Not to bury it alive or dead …

    Aaaaarrrgghh …You cry not the Killer Bees Movies.

    Truthfully you know that straightforwardly Night Of The Demon is that kind of movie and not that kind of movie: a bona fide spinechilling is-this-a-dagger–I–see–before–me? scrotum-tightening not quite ultraviolent B-Movie masterpiece. Struggling in a Siscichpheyan way to count the clichés and drive-in bucks equally indeed… So it goes. Natch.

    And furthetmore it’s main USP is quite good its a post pub kebab soaked cosy horrormania in all its over the top Mozartian batpoop pomp you do know that don’t you ? .But of course you do. And This Reviewer is semi honest methinks. And so it goes.

    Great fun nonetheless Night Of The Demon even if it sometimes out Camps Camp David. Ye God’s it does indeed. So, buckle up my heroes we’re leaving monochrome Kansas and going to Technicolor Oz I think. And we ll shake The Heavens Themselves.


    So, come up to the lab here and see whats on the slab…

    And that’s the mission statement here film fans.

    To scare and amuse you in almost equal measure my cinephile friends. Alpha to Omega.

    And this is This Viewer’s take on some cliche-stained Horror tropes as well.

    In Horror Cinema there is after all one golden rule.

    And thats don’t show the Goddamned monster….

    And just like THX 1138 they just had to show the goddamned monster. Bleeding ❤️ Heart or indeed Serial Killer that I am I can identify with Monsters these days in middle age. I preferred The Morlocks to The Eloi you see. Tell that to the younglings today. Every Halloween and they demand to be scared. Shock Horror. Young ghoulhounds today…

    And so here the Devil cursed 🤬 Night Of The Demon rears it’s pretty little head thats going straight to Hell. Naturally. Natch. OMG film fans descending further into Dantes 9th circle. Of course its not that bad a film actually its quite a good film.

    And so 🍿 popcorn munchers talking of Hell as aforementioned basically here Dana Andrews gives a career best performance indeed before The War. You remember The War don’t you?.

    You see one of Danas films apparently indeed unintentionally influenced Airplane. The he-had-a -bad-war film so beloved of spoof fans everywhere. Dana goes Tonto at 10,000 feet. Ye God’s.

    And so think of Airplane incidentally my friends before thinking of the fee. Terror at 10,000 feet. Is that not The Twilight Zone? Just don’t call me Shirley. Think about the money in Ohio instead .

    More information anon. Send American Express.

    And so what’s the film I hear you cry?… Something at 10,00 feet I think as mentioned. I’d have to Google it here alas. Great film nonetheless if unintentionally indeed cog-grindingly comic unfortunately.

    😞 Sorry Dana fans.

    And as aforementioned starring the late great Dana Andrews it lives up to this equally aforementioned reputation enthusiastically and most excellently. Natch. Intergalactically. Gloriously. Uproariously.

    On the other hand it is ungrungy and old school it is a rollercoaster not a psychodrama. It is shock horror too clever for that. Natch Natch and thrice Natch. So bad its overwhelmingly marvellous is not for many reasons my opinion or my agenda. Not my monkeys not my circus to eviscerate a good little film really.

    Indeed for one thing it IS scary and it IS good. Of course it is my death cheating friends. And ultimately scary or not is the eye of the beholder stuff anyway…of course it is.

    Incidentally freaks and geeks this is not a hatchet job on Dana Andrews and his thespian tendencies. He IS a good actor unfortunately he made some bad films. However Night Of The Demon 😈 is his masterpiece. Cards on the table. His performance here is nuanced against a creepy unreliable narrator backdrop. As sure as Knights go Ni indeed…

    😈 Indeed eschewing splatterfests you see as the cliche goes intensifies the dread naturally. And if the creature feature aspect is overhauled by sinister minister good old Mister Satanism then why not indeed?…Never ever overplaying its hand its not campy but a relateable man on a mission scarefest thats down to earth with a bump horror. Natch.

    The Horror. The Horror.

    You see this after all is scary on a psychological jeepers creepers level that nonetheless might be Mary Whitehouse baiting in its own goddamned gotterdammerung way you see. That my friends is the mission statement. Seeing whether the quarterback will be toast is part of the fun indeed. Suspense building is its Joker card after all. And riling the late great Mrs. Whitehouse. Sabre Rattled?.

    And why not?.

    And so boy do they keep us guessing that suspense fans and that is the outcome. You see Lovecraftian and Luciferian influences indeed are its touchstones. And that’s foundational in dread building basically and fundamentally. It’s mission creep is AOK really as illustrated. Just watch that great ending. Up there with The Planet Of The Apes indeed… Spoiler free. Watch it yourselves my children.

    And so just as illustrated post pub you just —And I jest ye not brothers and sisters— might find Night Of The Demon on that new fangled thingies Netflix perhapson a double bill with a Charlton Heston fest…And so run run run while you still can indeed my friends brothers and sisters. Kill the TV. Kill the TV. Kill the TV. Nnnnooooooooo!!!!!

    Indeed because Night Of The Demon is peer through the eyes bloodcurdingly terrifying horror in a way Doctor Who of the 1960s and 70s was on the aforementioned idiotbox. Ahead of its time its a loveletter to Tom Bakers time in the TARDIS sent 15 years or twenty something years beforehand. Isn’t the speed of light slow these days my friends? . Way way ahead of the curve here. Again of course it is.

    That’s its appeal.

    Sounds good? It is. Very very very Mary Berry.

    And ultimately thats because given The Sherlockian nature of its marvellous killing thrilling storytelling it naturally had a Jack The Ripper quality to it basically underpinning the narrative . And here Night Of The Demon is superlative in spades. Bloodbath or something more of less is more horror storytelling.

    Told before Norman Bates went Psycho or Paszazus went Tonto this is a cheerleader for scream fans to scare themselves and everyone else into a crescendo not of vomit or diahorrea but to take all the hate in the universe with you indeed. Its the dark side of Harry Potters grimoirs film fans. 🎥 You see it’s influences and its legacy then. And approved incidentally by The Catholic Churchs censors. OMG.

    Influenced therefore perhaps indeed by The Twilight Zone as well here is the plaything of Rod Serling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meshing in a superlative way. Imagined through the prism of Spike Milligans The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town from The Two Ronnies. Ye God’s what other reason do you need my little scare masters?.

    Go away film?.

    Not a bit of it.

    So, as we waddle towards a wham bam thank you ma am ending watch while you can my friends and download stream project write and enjoy The Night Of The Demon before… Well you know the drill killer driller fans friends odds and ends . Natch.

    Go scare yourself silly without Strawberry 🍓 Jam or needless jump scares or sympathetic needles or scooby doo kids being chopped into fish bait or deux ex machina possessions doom and gloom fans indeed. Because this old fashioned horror horror deserves and needs a new audience. It needs you. The way sometimes an abandoned puppy needs a new home indeed. Weepy Weepy really. It is Xmas.

    And so goddamn it deserves you. You deserve it.

    And it’s scary really.

    And why not indeed ?…

    And so go on my fellow creatures of the night 🌙 you know you want to dwelve into that hidebound Occultish kafkaesque nightmare.. See how Night Of The Demon got round the Hayes Code as well. More anon in future multiverses my brothers and sisters.

    And so welcome again to the end of the Spectacular Spectacular my friends. Instead of reading this watch Night Of The Demon. The scales will fall from your eyes. Nonetheless in a good good good way.

    And why not again?…


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