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Night Of The Demon

Directed by Jacques Tourneur

UK, 1957

HOME, 30 December 2016

Night Of The Demon

Dana Andrews, the femme fatale-blighted detective of Laura, is an American parapsychologist called Holden in this classic British horror flick.

He comes to London a decade after the Blitz for a conference on the occult; dirty and damp grey atmospherics still yet a young woman can drive around in an open-top sports car. At one point we see Holden stepping from a taxi and walking through the gates of the British Museum, enroute to research some esoteric grimoires. While there, he comes into conflict with Karswell, Niall MacGinnis’s plumby-voiced, extravagantly goateed magician.

There is a curse placed on Holden and it places both his and Karswell’s life at risk. At first Holden is skeptical about its effects: he is a scientist and has no truck with occult mumbo-jumbo. But his subjective experience leaves residual feelings of dread that cannot be entirely explained away by reference to auto-suggestion and the like. They leave him troubled and, in the end, he acts ‘as-if’ the curse were real: without in any way succumbing to credulity, certainly not. So he takes prudent steps to protect himself, seeking out Karswell on a train bound for the coast, and finds a devious way (using sleight of hand and misdirection, the magician’s friend) to reverse the curse.

The final scene is telling: the scientist chooses not to know what he has unleashed. Curiosity, that great scientific virtue (wonder is another), is absent. His ploy has worked, that’s the important thing. Any danger that might have arisen has passed and Holden’s existential journey, from naïve realist to nuanced pragmatist, is at an end.

A minor masterpiece.