Happy Halloween! Get out your candles, Tarot cards and crystal ball! In the spooky spirit of the day, let’s watch a movie about a very wicked witch! But in this case, the witch happens to be a man.
You may or may not have heard of it, but Night of the Demon (1957) is a film that Martin Scorsese claims is one of the scariest films ever made. And it is a Val Lewton film that happened to be made 6 years after he died. How can that be, you ask?
Let me explain.
Night of the Demon was directed by Jacques Tourneur. Jacques Tourneur became a famous director after collaborating with movie producer Val Lewton at RKO on movies like Cat People and The Leopard Man.
Val Lewton’s influence on Tourneur is undeniable. In an interview, Tourneur described their movie- making partnership. He said that Lewton was an idealist and a poet. He meant that figuratively and literally — Lewton was actually a published poet. And when it came to making movies, Lewton had big ideas, inspired by art, history, philosophy and folklore.
However, director Jacques Tourneur was more of a pragmatist. He had the skills to turn Lewton’s ideals into reality. But he acknowledged that he needed Lewton’s vision to do that. Lewton collaborated with the director, writer, film editor and composer to bring his creative vision to life.
And Tourneur stated that even when working on films without Lewton (Lewton died in 1951), he incorporated the stylistic elements, the “poetry” he learned from Lewton, in his subsequent films.
So, yes, Night of the Demon is a Tourneur film but it is also very much a Lewton one! Lewton’s influence is definitely present.
For example, in collaboration with Lewton, Tourneur had developed a style of film-making that suggested rather than depicted horrific scene. Not only did this approach make films more affordable to produce, it also lent an air of mystery and suspense. And that is what Tourneur intended for this film.
But…you know what they say about good intentions!
The film’s plot is partially based on a story called “Casting the Runes” and features themes of witchcraft and psychology. In fact, it is even set on Halloween!
Screenwriter Charles Bennett bought the rights to the story and was the screenwriter for the film. According to Wikipedia, however, he lived to regret selling the screenplay to Sabre Films producer Hal Chester, since RKO subsequently expressed interest and would have allowed Bennett to direct the film.
But it was not to be. Chester owned it and he did some things with it that Bennett and Tourneur came to regret. Even the lead actor Dana Andrews threatened to walk off the picture unless Chester ceased interfering with Tourneur’s direction.
There are some interesting allusions to witchcraft in this film. The new religion of Wicca was just emerging in the UK around the time Night of the Demon was released and you’ll hear the “witch” making reference to “magic circles,” “black and white magic,” and other terms perhaps not wholly unfamiliar to UK and American audiences then and today.
Now, back to the production. Tourneur and Bennett particularly stressed to Chester that the demon should not be shown in the movie, in order to enhance the frightening climax for the audience. After all, that technique had worked marvelously in Cat People and The Leopard Man. Suggest, do not show. Let the audience imagine it.
However, against these wishes, Chester rewrote portions of the script and inserted scenes of a frankly ridiculous demon after Tourneur had finished directing the film. Why? Well, Chester feared audiences would be disappointed if they did not see the demon. So, he overrode the creative direction of the writer and director.
Well, it was just disastrous. Even the man who produced the special effect of the monster did so only under protest. He agreed with his fellow creatives that the movie was far more effective without the demon being shown.
But Chester did not stop there. He had the demon depicted on movie posters and promotional materials for the film. Talk about spoilers!
The screenwriter was so furious, he stated “Hal Chester, if he walked up my driveway right now, I’d shoot him dead.”
Ah, so the movie has a flaw or two, but it is still very special. This film was released in the United States under the title, Curse of the Demon and was cut by 10 minutes. Some of those scenes were important. You can find that version on YouTube or Amazon Prime Video.
But…who wants to watch that version? Not me! You want the UK version, right? Of course you do. Below, find the UK version that includes those missing 10 minutes. I’m so grateful it is online. Hopefully, it remains online for your enjoyment.
By the way, you may recognize a line from the movie that was included in Kate Bush’s 1986 song, “Hounds of Love,” in which a character exclaims, “It’s in the trees…It’s coming.” When you hear it in the movie, you’ll know exactly what I am referring to!
So, enjoy Night of the Demon, look out for bad witches tonight (just hang out with the good ones) and Happy Halloween to you!