Saturday, October 23, 2010

Horrorthon 2: Day Twenty-Two: Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) -- B-

Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon is well plotted and paced, but a bit sillier and less visually sophisticated than his great films Out of the Past and The Leopard Man. That step down in visual style and theme hurts the film by comparison, opting for narrative hokum concerning a science vs. faith debate that glibly sides with faith. Gone is Tourneur's darker sensibilities, though the arrival of the titular demon is rather awesome, especially as it grasps a victim during the climax and shakes him to death. It is also clear from the film that Sam Raimi wholly ripped it off for his own Drag Me to Hell, an even less sophisticated effort that amped Tourneur's already elevated levels of playfullness to distastefully epic proportion.

Psychiatrist John Holden (Dana Andrews) arrives in London to refute cult lunatic Julian Karswell (Nial MacGinnis), only to discover colleague Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham) has been murdered. Harrington's niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) joins Holden to try and discover what happened to her uncle, leading them to discover the black magic of Karswell, who can curse a victim by passing a parchment along to an unsuspecting victim. Naturally, Holden, because of his scintific rationality, accepts the script and starts to experience strange events. The narrative beats in the film are fine, but the investigation of supernatural belief remains curiously superficial, especially in lines like Joanna saying: "We tell children what they see in the dark isn't there. Maybe it is we who could learn something from them." A later seance scene proves the film's highlight (in what supernatural horror film isn't it?), a medium speaking in tongues, different voices, and going batshit crazy during possession. These elements are welcome, but it is a wholly different sort of sensibility than the great director's best films. Not that his decision to play things lighter is inherently lesser, but if there's nothing to really ponder beyond the simply written statements and imperatives, the humor can only go so far.

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