According to legend, Tourneur’s original cut of Night of the Demon never showed the title creature. The producers felt it wasn’t creepy enough, though, and inserted two scenes with a gruesome two-horned, fanged demonic creature created by Wally Veevers. Whether the tale is true or not, the decision to show the demon works to the film’s advantage. The creature’s rare appearances make quite an impact and Veevers’ work is quite impressive.
The real star of the film, though, is Niall McGinnis, who plays devil cult leader Dr. Julian Karswell. At the beginning of the film, Karswell receives a visit from Professor Harrington, who has been investigating the cult. A frightened Harrington tells Karswell that he will stop the investigation and pleads with Karswell to “call it off.” Karswell notes that “some things are more easily started than stopped.” Later that night, a hideous demon kills Harrington.
Holden: I see you practice white magic as well as black.
Karswell: I don’t think it would be too amusing for the youngsters if I conjured up a demon from Hell for them. Or for myself for that matter. As we’re not protected by the magic circle, we’d both of us be torn to shreds.
Holden: And you’d spoil the party.
Karswell: You’re so right…but how to make the point.
To do just that, Karswell summons up a wind storm (a medieval witch’s specialty, he explains later) that sends screaming children running inside the house—a scene that foreshadows a similar children’s party gone awry in Hitchcock's The Birds.
The film's most famous sequence, though, is probably Holden's late night trek through the woods. After an encounter at Karswell's country estate, Holden makes for a quick exit out the study door. Karswell politely advises him not to take the path through the woods, but the defiant Holden does just that--setting the stage for a chase very reminiscent of those in Lewton pictures like The Cat People.
|A creature worth showing!|
Indeed, the film’s only weakness may be that Karsell is so much more interesting than Holden. It doesn’t help that Dana Andrews gives a bland performance as the disbelieving hero and the talented Peggy Cummins has very little to do. The film's second best performance is given by screen veteran Athene Seyler, who plays Karswell's mother. Their mother-son relationship is straight out of Hitchcock (who seemed to have a soft spot for his villains' mothers).
Sadly, Night of the Demon would be the last significant film for director Jacques Tourneur. He worked mostly in television in the 1960s, directing episodes of shows like Bonanza, Twilight Zone, and T.H.E. Cat. Still, his final two films weren't without interest: War Gods of the Deep (1965) was a bizarre, entertaining adventure film about an underwater city and The Comedy of Terrors was an amusing trifle written by Richard Matheson and starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone.
As Tourneur's swansong in the horror genre, he couldn't have done better than Night of the Demon. I've often thought that if Hitch had made a horror film, it might have looked something like Night of the Demon. He probably would have wanted to avoid showing the title creature, too. I’d have to disagree, though, because, in close-up especially, that disagreeable demon is quite chillingly memorable.