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With: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Maurice Denham
Written by: Charles Bennett, Hal E. Chester, based on the story "Casting the Runes" by Montague R. James
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: -99
Date: 12/16/1957

Curse of the Demon (1957)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Demons Are a Boy's Best Friend

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was at my neighborhood video store when I noticed a used copy of Curse of the Demon on sale for $10. I picked it up, knowing that it was the chopped, 82 minute American version (it said so on the box). The British version of the movie runs 95 minutes, and is called Night of the Demon. (The title was changed for American audiences.) What the heck, though. It's a great movie nonetheless, and I'd been wanting to see it again.

I got home and watched the tape. To my surprise, the counter kept on going well past 82 minutes, and all the way up to 95 minutes, even though the title on the screen was still Curse of the Demon. I was thrilled. Somehow, I had lucked into a complete version of the movie.

I am unclear on all the precise cuts in the 1958 American release, although one scene I am sure was cut is the one in which Dana Andrews, as Dr. Holden, visits a group of Satantic farmers. This scene was on my tape. I have heard, also, that the close-ups of the demon were inserted for the American release. But I have also heard that they were inserted for the British release as well. The demon was certainly not director Jacques Tourneur's doing. His style was always to imply, never to show, a tactic which he learned from producer Val Lewton on Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Leopard Man (1943).

Curse of the Demon was written by Charles Bennett -- a writer for many of Hitchcock's British films, including The 39 Steps -- based on a story by M. R. James. Bennett's script was re-written, many times, by Hal E. Chester, much to the chagrin of Bennett. But apparently, even the re-writing and the insertion of the demon could not destroy the poetic work of Tourneur, who I think is one of the very best film directors of the period.

The movie opens as a terrified Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham) arrives at Dr. Karswell's (Niall MacGinnis) home. They have an enigmatic conversation, something about a parchment. Then Harrington is hunted down and killed by the demon on his way home. Cut to Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins as they travel separately on a plane to England. Andrews is a scientist who does not believe in the supernatural, and Cummins (who was also in the great Gun Crazy) is Joanna Harrington, the niece of the deceased professor. (Poor Cummins was so beautiful and talented, and she was only in these two worthy movies.)

It turns out that Karswell, a practicing witch, can "predict" someone's death by passing a special parchment to someone. The parchment will then blow away and land in the nearest fireplace. This sends the demon after you. This plot allows Tourneur to conjure up such fantastic moments as the children's Halloween party at Karswell's house, the sudden windstorm, the parchment trapped by the grate in front of the fireplace and trying to wriggle free, hypnotizing the catatonic man, the final showdown on the train, and, of course, the demon itself.

Most film scholars denounce the presence of the demon in the movie. But Danny Peary, in his Cult Movies book, said, "I think the demon is terrific. I am in favor of this vile creature as big as a house and ugly as sin." I think I agree with him. The demon looks like a Godzilla-type monster, but now that I've seen him, I think I would miss him if I saw the movie without him.

Curse of the Demon is much darker than Tourneur's 1940's work with Lewton. It loses some of the dreamy poetry and digs a little deeper into the psyche. I love all of Tourneur's work, though. Cat People is one of the most beautiful and mysterious films ever made, but Curse of the Demon shows a little more maturity in Tourneur, and it allows for maturity in its audience as well.

In 2002, Columbia/TriStar released the definitive DVD of this classic, containing both cuts of the film. Curse is the American release that runs 82 minutes, and Night is the original British release that runs 95 minutes. The director Jacques Tourneur was trained on his early horror films like Cat People to keep the actual horror just around the corners of the screen, but producers wanted a physical monster to appear onscreen. However, the final compromise works out great for the audience. To tell the truth, there's no real reason to watch the shorter version of this film, but I feel much better knowing it's there. If you only happen to have 82 minutes in which to watch a movie, the cut version actually plays very well.

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