Well, after much praise for the 1957 movie Night of the Demon on horror message boards, I decided it was time to pick up a copy and watch it (and no, it has nothing to do with the 1988 classic Night of the Demons). I must say, it’s a pretty entertaining film…and everything else I read about it on the message boards is true as well.
Let’s begin with the money shot. Most often, older movies actually keep the image of the monster hidden until the very end. Only in recent decades have audiences begun expecting visual stimulation in the first ten minutes of the film (and at least every 15 minutes after that). Well, fans of this film have said that the first close-up of the demon comes way too soon, so I went in expecting him within like the first half hour or so. Instead, he appears in the first eight minutes!!! Of course, he’s spoiled on the cover art for the DVD, so I guess it doesn’t matter much, but I was really surprised to see a close-up so soon—and as many have said, the first appearance of the demon in the distance in the woods is very effective, but within moments, some guy in a goofy demon mask is in our face and waving his fake arms at us. What happens for about the next hour after that is even more surprising—we don’t see the demon at all!
The other comments I’ve seen on message boards about this movie is that it’s the same plot as Drag Me to Hell. Wow, for a change, the anonymous masses on the internet are right! This movie really is just like Drag Me to Hell—with elements of The Ring and Stephen Kings Thinner thrown in. The plot has a scientific protagonist trying to discredit a devil worshipping man named Karswell. Our protagonist is ‘cursed’ by Karswell as a result of Karswell slipping a piece of parchment into one of his books. After a whole lot of investigating, our protagonist discovers the way to remove the curse before it’s too late (there are a very specific number of days until his death at the hands of the demon). He simply has to hand the parchment off to someone else to pass the curse on. Add to this a séance and a denouement at a train station, and it really does seem like this was the inspiration for Drag Me to Hell.
So Night of the Demon becomes more like a suspense-thriller with just a miniscule amount of demon action book-ending it, but there are still some enjoyable moments. While our protagonist is discussing the devil cult leader with some peers, Karswell calls him, to which the protagonist quips “Speak of the devil.” Awesome. And while the movie isn’t a Halloween themed film, there’s actually reference to it being Halloween day when Karswell, dressed like a clown, is throwing a party for the local village children in his backyard. But he’s not even the scary clown. There’s actually a clown scare that totally caught me off guard, and I couldn’t help but wonder—did teenagers in the 1950s scream in the theaters at this jump scare?
Karswell also makes reference to a board game the kids are playing called Snakes and Ladders. It turns out this is actually the same game as Chutes and Ladders (thanks wikipedia)! Snakes and Ladders was the original U.K. name for this game before it was marketed in the U.S. (this movie is a British film).The séance is a rather comic moment—I’m assuming it was meant to be, but I’m not sure. But the best eerie moment in the film is when our protagonist decides to break into Karswell’s mansion at night to do some snooping. Wow. This is an incredibly effective scene, with fantastic camera angles, creepy imagery, and mounting suspense. Unfortunately, by the time we see the demon one last time, he isn’t all that frightful (it also looks like much of the same footage used in his earlier appearance), so I can’t say that this film still holds up as any kind of horror classic. But it’s definitely a worthwhile curiosity for fans of the genre.