Curse of the Demon (1957)
Reviewed on 2011 May 13
This is an atmosphere-laden occult film directed by Jacques Tourneur, set in an England that showcases eccentric and downright sinister people instead of polished Londoners and salt-of-the-earth types. It’s not exactly scary in an age of The Exorcist and The Ring and The Shining, but it’s still a good yarn after all these years.
The film opens with a rattled man, Professor Carrington (Maurice Denham), trying very hard to persuade Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), a self-styled practitioner of black magic, to call off whatever hex Karswell invoked. Karswell apparently doesn’t take too kindly to people who doubt his powers or otherwise irritate him, and we don’t get the full details, but apparently Carrington irritated him very much.
Meanwhile, an American, whose hardcore skepticism makes the Carringtons of the world look gullible, is en route to Old Blighty for a paranormal psychology convention. Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) was the kind of kid who showed off by running under ladders and breaking mirrors, so he’s thrilled at a chance to poke holes in the Karswell mythos. Karswell has a bit of a following, so much so that the other experts want Holden to dial it down a bit. Neither Holden nor Carrington’s niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins), who wants to find out what really happened to her uncle, will back down.
There was a lot of angst in the studio about how much to show: Tourneur wanted to reveal nothing and got out-voted. As others noted, it’s to his credit that it really doesn’t lessen the impact of this thing, and I bet when it was released the audience screamed like banshees. Niall MacGinnis made Karswell someone who could seem charming if you didn’t know who and what he really was, and that makes the whole movie even more sinister. This man could pour you a drink and then turn on you in a heartbeat if you had something he wanted, and the scenes where Karswell and Holden spar are great.
Three chocolate morsels. It aged very nicely.