Chosen ….Singled out to die, Victim of his Imagination or Victim of a Demon.
Night of the Demon is without a doubt one of the most accomplished, scary and superb horror films that deals with the occult. Seeing as it made in 1957 it stands the test of time well and still holds the attention of even the most disconcerting audience. It has been a regular to late night TV screenings for a number of years now, but in recent times these screenings have become less, which is a shame seeing as there is so much for want of a better word rubbish on the TV these days.
Director Jacques Tourneur who also was responsible for films such as Cat People and The Leopard Man, originally wanted to make a movie that emphasised the more psychological elements of the storyline, in other words he did not feel that the actual demon should appear in the flesh as it were, but more should be confined to the mind of the person who thinks that they are being hunted by it.
I think it would have been an interesting movie if the director had been allowed to continue with his original concept, but the studio executives were nervous and of the opinion that audiences at that time would not be able to envisage such a scenario, executives thought the demon had to be shown to create the horror and also purvey the panic and sheer fear of its victim. If there was nothing on the screen and the victim went into a blind panic would the audience get it? Probably not!
The movie is certainly a classic, but thinking about it maybe by not showing the demon so early on in the proceedings it could arguably been more tense? The storyline focuses upon an American scientist, Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) who travels to Gt Britain to disprove the beliefs of many that a Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall McGinnis) claims of having black magic powers are totally fabricated. Holden’s partner in Europe suddenly dies and this along with warnings from close friends and colleague’ s is not enough to dissuade the good doctor to stop investigating Karswell.
He is determined to expose him and let everyone know what a fraud he is. Karswell, is of course incensed at Holden’s accusations and places a curse upon him, a terrible curse that becomes ever more mysterious, fearful and increasingly dangerous as Holden refuses to stop his exposure of Karswell, it is the curse of the demon. The movie is such an atmospheric viewing experience, well-acted and wonderfully directed with special effects that are not awful (remember this was 1957). It is a movie that I consider to be one of the top 10 horror films of all time, in short a virulent, tense and unsettling piece of cinema that deserves the title of Masterpiece.
The movie is an intense and bizarre journey into the dark and foreboding world of the occult and black magic. With various sequences within the movie showing Holden being pursued by a force that is more than evil, these sequences are helmed magnificently and effectively by the director and conveyed convincingly by Andrews.
Filmed in black and white it also has some great sets and set pieces that add dimension and become alluring and convincing for the watching audience. I think if you did not believe in the occult or black magic before seeing this movie you might change your mind after watching it. The movie was based on the original story by M. R James entitled Casting the Runes, an edited version of the movie was released in the United States but is inferior to the original UK release.
The musical score was the work of British composer Clifton Parker who provided the film with a tense and dark sounding score, and also a theme that has become as iconic as the movie itself.
The original score has never been released, and because of the age of the film I am of the opinion it will never see the light of day, however, there are re-recordings of the theme and sections of the score available, most notably of the Silva Screen compilation Horror, and also the Chandos CD release entitled The Film Music of Clifton Parker, which includes a three minute section from the score.
Plus the opening music and narration from the movie is on digital platforms on a compilation entitled Scary Movie Soundtrack Music. The Night of the Demon, or The Curse of the Demon to give the film its the American title, is arguably one of the composer’s best known main themes and effective scores. It contains all the qualities and ingredients of a good horror movie soundtrack being dramatic, eerie, attention-grabbing and thrilling.
Parker was one of the driving forces behind British film music during the 1940s through to the late 1960s. Like fellow composer/conductor Muir Mathieson, Parker was involved on many projects and was responsible for being an innovator in the style of music that was to be utilized in British movies for decades to come. The son of a bank manager, Clifton Parker followed his two elder brothers into the commercial profession but studied music in private. After obtaining an A.R.C.M diploma in piano teaching at the Royal College of Music in 1926, he continued in commerce for a while before obtaining employment as a music copyist. Several of his own classical pieces began to get published, and these eventually attracted the attention of film music conductor Muir Mathieson. Much admired for his lively symphonic style, Parker scored more than fifty feature films over a twenty one-year period, plus he worked on numerous documentary shorts, radio and television scores, and music for ballet and the Old Vic theatre.
His second wife Yoma Sasburg was principal dancer in several ballet productions. In 1963, Parker was one of three composers who quit film scoring in protest at the exorbitant percentage of royalties being raked off by the publishers. Parker continued to write scores for R.A.D.A. and the Hampstead Theatre Club. Sadly, Clifton Parker was inactive for the final 13 years of his life owing to ulcers and emphysema. His death in 1989, at the age of 84, for many brought to an end an era that we can proudly call the Golden Age of British film music.