Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon is a 1957 British horror film, produced by Frank Bevis,[1] directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis. It is adapted from the M. R. James story "Casting the Runes" (1911).

Night of the Demon
Directed byJacques Tourneur
Produced byFrank Bevis[1]
Screenplay by
Music byClifton Parker[1]
CinematographyTed Scaife[1]
Edited byMichael Gordon[1]
Distributed byColumbia[1]
Release date
  • December 1957 (1957-12) (United Kingdom)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom[1]

The film's storyline concerns an American psychologist who travels to England to investigate a satanic cult suspected in more than one death.

The production was turbulent due to artistic differences that arose between producer Hal E. Chester on one side and director Tourneur and writer Charles Bennett on the other. The original plan was not to show the demon on screen, but Chester inserted a special effects creature over the objections of the writer, the director and lead actor Dana Andrews. To accelerate the pace, the 95 minute British feature was trimmed down to 83 minutes and retitled Curse of the Demon for the US market, playing there in June 1958 as the second half of a double feature with either The True Story of Lynn Stuart or The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), depending on the local film market.[2]


In England, Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham) begs his rival, Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), to rescind the curse he inflicted on Harrington; in return, Harrington will cease his investigation into Karswell's Satanic cult. After learning that a parchment he gave Harrington has been destroyed, Karswell ushers him out and promises to do what he can. As Harrington arrives home, he perceives a gigantic demon materializing in the trees. Harrington tries to escape in his car but crashes into power lines. The authorities declare electrocution as the cause of death.

Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) arrives in Britain to attend a convention at which Harrington had intended to expose Karswell's cult. He is informed that the only link between Harrington's death and Karswell's cult is a man suspected of murder, Rand Hobart (Brian Wilde), who has fallen into a catatonic stupor. While Harrington's collaborators consider the possibility of supernatural forces, Holden rejects the idea as superstition.

Holden meets Karswell at the Reading Room of the British Museum. When a rare book that Holden requests goes missing, Karswell offers to show Holden his own copy at his mansion. At Harrington's funeral, Holden meets the dead man's niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins). She gives him Harrington's diary which details Harrington's increasing fear of Karswell's power. Holden remains sceptical, but goes with Joanna to Karswell's mansion the next day. When a very strong windstorm abruptly starts, Karswell claims to have created it with a spell. When Holden mocks him, Karswell grows angry and predicts that Holden will die in three days.

Holden and his colleagues discuss Karswell and make plans to further examine Rand Hobart. Then Holden goes to dinner with Joanna and she shows him her uncle's diary. Harrington's diary mentions a parchment with runic writing on it that was passed to him by Karswell, and Holden finds a similar parchment that Karswell secretly passed to him at the library. A powerful wind comes through the window, blowing the parchment from his fingers towards the fireplace, only to be stopped by the fire guard. Holden then recovers and pockets it.

Holden begins to feel more uneasy after a visit to Hobart's family to seek permission to hypnotise Hobart and find out about the death he is suspected of. The mother gives her consent but says that the family are 'believers'. As Holden leaves, the parchment is blown from his hand again. Hobart's family become fearful and declare Holden to be "chosen". Later, Holden compares the parchment's runes to ones inscribed on the nearby stone circle at Stonehenge.

Joanna takes Holden to a séance at the invitation of Karswell's mother (Athene Seyler). The male medium claims to channel Harrington, who tells them that Karswell has the key to reading the runes in his copy of the rare book, but Holden abruptly exits, saying it is all nonsense. After they leave, Joanna says she intends to search for the book's key and they drive to Karswell's mansion. There, Holden insists he will break into the house while she waits outside. Entering through an open window, he is attacked by a cat which seems to morph into a panther. Holden is rescued by Karswell entering and switching on the light, saying he knew Holden would come. Against Karwell's warning, Holden leaves through the woods, as he had arrived, and believes he is chased by a mysterious cloud of smoke and fire before escaping. He and Joanna report the events to the police, but he feels embarrassed by their scepticism and leaves.

Under hypnosis, the suspect Hobart reveals to Holden that he was "chosen" to die by having a runic parchment passed to him, but avoided death by passing it back to the person who had given it to him. When Holden shows Hobart the parchment he had received from Karswell, Hobart thinks he is trying to give it to him and goes berserk and jumps out of a window to his death.

Holden learns Karswell is taking a train to Southampton, and on the train discovers that he has kidnapped and hypnotised Joanna. As the time for Holden's predicted death draws near, Karswell becomes agitated, and when the train stops at the next station, he tries to leave. Holden manages to sneak the parchment into his coat pocket, but when Karswell retrieves it, it flies from his hand. He chases it down the tracks, but as he reaches it the parchment combusts. As an oncoming train approaches, the demon manifests and violently attacks Karswell. When his corpse is found by the tracks, the police believe that he was struck and dragged by the train. Holden is shaken and, instead of going to inspect the body, accepts Joanna's advice that "it's better not to know", and they leave together.



Screenwriter Charles Bennett owned the rights to the original story "Casting the Runes" and wrote a screenplay loosely based on it, using the title The Haunted. He sold his script to independent producer and former child actor Hal E. Chester shortly before going to America. Bennett later regretted selling the script, because on arrival in America he was approached by RKO, who wanted to purchase it and allow Bennett to direct the film. Actors Robert Taylor and Dick Powell had been in line for the leading roles if this production had taken place.[3][4][5]

Jacques Tourneur was brought in by Chester on the recommendation of Ted Richmond, the producer of Tourneur's previous film, Nightfall (1957).[4] However, Tourneur and Chester had serious disagreements during filming. One argument was about the wind scene; Tourneur tried to convince Chester to replace two electric fans with two aeroplane engines. When Chester hesitated, star Dana Andrews threatened to leave the picture if Chester did not let "the director direct the picture".[4] Locations for the film include Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire (as Lufford Hall), Stonehenge, Bricket Wood railway station and the Reading Room of the British Museum.[6]

After completion of the principal shooting, producer Chester decided to show the demon at the beginning and end of the film. Tourneur later said that he was against the addition: "The scenes where you see the demon were shot without me...the audience should never have been completely certain of having seen the demon". Stop motion master Ray Harryhausen was requested by Columbia Pictures to create the demon for the production, but he was already committed to his Dynamation film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with producer Charles H. Schneer. Author Tony Earnshaw's book Beating the Devil: The Making of Night of the Demon argues that showing the demon was planned early on in the production (despite Tourneur's protests to the contrary), in order to heighten the tension in the film by letting the audience know the demonic powers were real. Bennett, also angry at the script changes, said "If [Chester] walked up my driveway right now, I'd shoot him dead".[5]


Cinema releases

The film was released in the United Kingdom for its theatrical run in December 1957;[7] at its original 96-minute length, it was shown as a double feature with the American film 20 Million Miles to Earth.[7] In the United States, it was released as Curse of the Demon. According to Charles Bennett, the title was changed because the studio didn't want it confused with the similarly titled The Night of the Iguana.[7] Columbia cut the film down to 81 minutes for the June 1958 US release. The scenes removed included a visit to the Hobart family farm, a trip to Stonehenge, and snippets of the séance scenes and conversations between Karswell and his mother.[8] Curse of the Demon toured drive-ins and theatres as a double feature with The True Story of Lynn Stuart and The Revenge of Frankenstein.[9]

Home video

In the United States, the film was released on VHS in 1986 by Columbia TriStar Home Video with a run time of 81 minutes.[10] A second VHS with the original British 96-minute running time was released by Goodtimes Home Video Corp in 1988.[10] In the same year, the film was released on LaserDisc by Image Entertainment/Columbia Pictures with an 81-minute running time.[11] Including both the UK version (Night of the Demon) and the edited US version (Curse of the Demon), the film was released on DVD in August 2002.[10]

In the United Kingdom, Night of the Demon was released on VHS in 1995 by Encore Entertainment/Columbia TriStar Home Video.[10] The film was released on DVD in the United Kingdom for the first time on 18 October 2010. This release also includes both the UK and US versions of the film. A Blu-ray edition from Powerhouse Films' Indicator label, featuring four different cuts of the film, was released as a UK all-region release on 22 October 2018.[12]


At the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100%, based on 15 reviews, with an overall weighted average rating of 8.2/10.[13] In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin commented that Tourneur's direction was "handled with much of the assurance the same director brought to Cat People" and that the film was "way above average".[1] The review commented on the image of the demon, stating whenever the demon takes on a visible form, "especially the ending", it seemed more like a product of "a child's nightmare than an adult's imagination".[1]

In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films.[14] Night of the Demon placed at number 52 on their top 100 list.[15] Director Martin Scorsese placed Night of the Demon on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[16]

The Kate Bush song "Hounds of Love" (1985) begins with a sample from the film, using the line "It's in the trees! It's coming!"[17]

See also


  1. "Night of the Demon". Monthly Film Bulletin. London. 25 (288): 7. 1958. ISSN 0027-0407.
  2. Warren, Bill (1986). "Keep Watching The Skies Volume 2". McFarland & Co., Inc. ISBN 0-89950-170-2. Page 776
  3. Peary, 1989
  4. Fujiwara 1998, pp. 242–246
  5. Jeff Stafford. "Curse of the Demon (1958) Articles" Retrieved 7 May 2008.
  6. "Night of the Demon (Curse of the Demon) film locations". The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  7. Earnshaw 2004, p. 65
  8. Bansak 1995, pp. 434–440
  9. Warren, Bill (1986). "Keep Watching The Skies Volume 2". McFarland & Co., Inc. ISBN 0-89950-170-2. Page 774
  10. Earnshaw 2004, p. 118
  11. Earnshaw 2004, p. 119
  12. Powerhouse Films
  13. "Curse of the Demon (1958) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixer. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  14. "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  15. CC. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  16. Scorsese, Martin (28 October 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  17. "Kate Bush's Hounds of Love - Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  • Bansak, Edward G. Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career. McFarland, 1995. ISBN 0-7864-1709-9.
  • Earnshaw, Tony. Beating the Devil: The Making of Night of the Demon. Tomahawk Press, 2004. ISBN 0-9531926-1-X
  • Fujiwara, Chris. Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall. McFarland, 1998. ISBN 0-7864-0491-4.
  • Peary, Danny. Cult Movies 2: Fifty More of the Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, and the Wonderful. Dell, 1989. ISBN 0-385-29753-X.
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