Why Finally? I’ve known for a while that Dana Andrews, an excellent actor who played the
guy standing next to Vincent Price hero in the classic noir Laura, starred in an adaptation of M.R. James’s story “Casting the Runes.” While it isn’t my favorite James story , it’s pretty close.
Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon, which I believe are the UK and US versions respectively, are available on one DVD.
The Premise (original story): When Mr. Dunning gives Mr. Karswell’s alchemy book a bad review, he has no idea the author already tried out all the spells; he soon finds himself under a death curse. Dunning must join forces with the bereaved brother of a previous scathing reviewer, Harrington, in order to return Karswell’s all-too-practical magic to sender.
The Premise (movie version): American John Holden (Andrews in an updated version of the Dunning role) arrives at a convention in time to learn of the death of Harrington, who played a part in bringing down sorcerer Karswell’s notorious cult. When he crosses paths with Karswell and begins to feel strangely hunted, Holden teams up with Harrington’s niece to defeat this oddly jolly evil wizard who lives with his mother.
Also, if anybody saw Laura and wanted a shower scene, this movie has you covered.
Night/Curse of the Demon was directed by master of film mood Jacques Tourneur, and it shows in the spooky landscapes and shadows that seem alive as Karswell’s curse draws closer to fruition. The real treat, as far as I’m concerned, is the character of Karswell: he lurks on the fringes of the James story, but here he’s front and center, with a tantalizing library and an engaging habit of doing magic shows for the children of the village while in clown makeup, all while plotting your death.
Like most older horror films, Night/Curse of the Demon does suffer a bit in the effects department, in a way I found very rewarding. (SPOILER: the titular monster appears in the second shot below, so if you don’t want to see it, scroll quickly after the leopard attack.)
The Verdict: From the portentous prologue against a shot of Stonehenge to the final demon action, I really enjoyed Night of the Demon. Though it’s by no means a slavish adaptation. Night/Curse of the Demon uses a more nuanced, pervasive Karswell and his cult (which is not in the James story) to create a tense, updated variation on “Casting the Runes.” Very worth watching.
(The trailer gives too much away, as usual.)
Might go well with: Comfort food, a glass of port, and the double episode of A Podcast to the Curious dedicated to the original story, which is where I first found out about Night of the Demon.
Next time: We finish up “The Dreadful Doll” so the Quest family can move on to something with an even more embarrassing title.