May 30, 2007's in the trees...

Night of the Demon is a black and white horror film made in 1957, and based around the story "Casting the runes" by Montague Rhode James. The screenplay was by Charles Bennett (of Hitchcock fame), and the film was directed by Jacques Tourneur, famously known for his other horror film, 'Cat People'. It has gone on to pursue the claim that it is one of the best horror films in movie history (although The Haunting probably equals, if not outdoes, it).

The plot revolves around the eccentric and strangely powerful Julien Karswell, a man who, it is claimed, leads a devil-worshipping cult. The story opens with Dr. Harrington racing to Karswell's house, where he tries to get Karswell to "call off whatever it is he's started". In return, Harrington will publicly announce that he was wrong and that Karswell was right; a refute which Karswell turns down as well. Karswell does not want media attention. A simple letter would suffice. Harrington agrees and leaves, amicably and knowing he has just put off a monstrous death. However, it is too late. Harrington dies the horrible death he tried to avoid.

Enter Joanna Harrington, the niece of the Professor, who begins investigating her uncle's death at the same time as an American professor arrives on the scene, Dr John Holden, who is also investigating, although this time its Julien Karswell and his devil-worship cult.

The two end up together trying to solve the mysteries of the runic symbols found inscribed on a parchment that Karswell has slipped Holden, and why Holden's death is evidently going to happen very shortly.

As the film picks up its pace, its clear that something is haunting Holden. The pages in his diary are ripped out after a certain date - "when a witchdoctor curses his victim, he always let them know well in advance" as Holden puts it to Ms. Harrington. However, that doesn't explain the many oddities of events plaguing Holden.

In an attempt to sway fears, they both head down to Karswell's manor to obtain a book missing from the British Library, entitled "The True Discoveries of Witches And Demons".

It's here that the audience, and Holden, are properly introduced to Karswell, a character supposedly based on Aleister Crowley himself. Karswell and Holden talk about magic and about the human mind - and whether the two are entirely seperate entities.

The film has many wonderful scenes, revolving around the idea of witchcraft and that, perhaps science can't explain everything away.

If the film could have a tagline, it would that of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (which is also featured in the film):

"Like one along a lonesome road,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
Because he knows a frightful fiend,
doth close behind him tread."

I would heartily recommend this film for anyone wanting a fright. It doesn't have gore or screams but it does have plain old goosebumpy horror.


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