NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Columbia Pictures, UK, 1957. Columbia Pictures, US, 1958; released as Curse of the Demon and shortened by 13 minutes. Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Maurice Denham, Athene Seyler. Based on the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James. Cinematography by Edward Scaife. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   The plot may be hopelessly incoherent, but the photography is amazing. Now, amazing isn’t usually a word that I would use when discussing cinematography. But it fits. With director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past) at the helm and cinematographer Ted Scaife (Khartoum, The Dirty Dozen) behind the camera, Night of the Demon is elevated from what would have been a mediocre B- horror movie into a visually stunning work of horror cinema, albeit one that is not well served by its, confusing and disjointed story line.

   Psychologist and professional skeptic Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) arrives in England for an academic conference wherein he hopes to disprove the existence of the supernatural and the theories of occult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Unfortunately, just prior to Holden’s arrival, the viewer learns that the world of black magic is all-too-real — at least in this movie.

   Rather than hinting at the possibility of the occult, or teasing the audience a bit, the filmmakers behind Night of the Demon evidently decided to show the audience the fire monster within the first ten minutes of the movie. The problem with this, of course, is that it takes away a great deal of suspense and makes Holden’s incessant arguments with his late colleague’s niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins), about why witchcraft is all just a bunch of hokum even more tedious. And believe me, it’s not merely once or twice than Holden segues into a monologue why he is not superstitious.

   But lest you think I didn’t enjoy the movie at all, I assure you that, in many ways I did. There’s something cinematically magical about black-and-white horror movies like Night of the Demon. It’s in the way in which they create a whole universe all its own. An off-kilter world, a land of shadows and madness, the England that Dr. Holden finds himself in is a land that harks back to its pre-Christian past.

   England may be modern, but there’s an Anglo-Saxon past just underneath the surface. After all, the people who wrote cryptic manuscripts in runes had their own ways of thinking well before scientists like our protagonist Dr. Holden came along.