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Curse of the Demon

Curse of the Demon (1957) starring Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis

Psychologist John Holden’s colleague, Harrington, is mysteriously murdered. Holden refuses to believe that it’s the work of the devil… Until he becomes the next target of the Curse of the Demon.

Review

Curse of the Demon is a very atmospheric, frightening horror film. In many ways, it’s a cat-and-mouse story. First, the protagonist is marked for death with a cursed piece of paper. Then he keeps trying to give it back to the Satanic cultist who’s cursed him for death. The story’s told slowly, introducing the characters and the back stories. But it’s never boring.

It’s suspenseful, and builds to a climax. It makes sure to engage the audience along the way. And have us care about the various characters. And the only negative is the “demon” that is seen — thankfully briefly. It’s simply an obvious movie prop. Had it remained on screen for any length of time, it would have spoiled the illusion. And pulled the audience out of the suspension of belief. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Cast of characters

  • Dana Andrews (Laura) as Dr. John Holden. The American skeptic who arrives in Britain. He’s planning to attend a convention hosted by his friend Harrington. Harrington had planned to expose Karswell’s cult as a fraud. But, he died first. And now our protagonist is investigating …
  • Peggy Cummins as Joanna Harrington. The dead man’s niece. She helps Holden in his investigations. And then she becomes his love interest. Unlike Holden, she actually believes in Karswell’s supernatural powers. And fears them.
  • Niall MacGinnis as Dr. Julian Karswell. Evil wears a facade of politeness here. Karswell is murderous, manipulative, and has no compunctions against supernatural murder. He murders people who commit the smallest slight against him. While he puts on a smiling, polite air …
  • Athene Seyler (Make Mine Mink) as Mrs. Karswell. Julian’s mother, who holds a seance. Supposedly to contact Harrington’s spirit. Who, supposedly, wants to help Holden. But … supposedly.
  • Maurice Denham (The Alphabet Murders) as Professor Harrington. Holden’s friend. At first, he begs Karswell to rescind the curse placed on him. But Karswell refuses, and Harrington’s killed shortly after. The audience sees that a demon is involved. But the authorities attribute it to electrocution. Since the man’s car did run into power lines, after all.
  • Brian Wilde (Ice Princess) as Rand Hobart. One of the cult members, chosen to die supernaturally. But, he managed to pass the ‘mark of death’ to someone else. And survived. Giving Holden a desperately-needed clue on how to survive.

Editorial review of Curse of the Demon courtesy of Amazon.com

After establishing his signature style with such moody classics as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, Jacques Tourneur returned to peak form with the first-rate supernatural thriller Curse of the Demon. It’s a horror-noir set in England, adapted from the M.R. James story “Casting the Runes” and built around the ominous notion that black arts–particularly the use of ancient runic symbols–can summon a deadly beast from hell.

Dana Andrews is the stubborn American skeptic, determined to debunk a genteel occultist (Niall MacGinnis) whose evil powers are ultimately incontestable. The briefly seen demon may be cheesy by latter-day standards, but its nightmarish appearance–and Tourneur’s masterful use of subtle suggestion, threatening atmosphere, and eerie special effects–make Curse of the Demon one of the best horror films of the 1950s. This splendid DVD offers the longer British version Night of the Demon for film-buff comparison; it’s essentially the same film with a few extended scenes. Both are highly recommended. –Jeff Shannon

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