Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Devil You Know Wears a Hairy Suit, the Devil You Don't Know Stays Off-Screen

What's scarier, a real demon or the possibility the demon you believe in isn't real? This was at the heart of the argument between director Jacques Tourneur and producer Hal E. Chester for 1957's Night of the Demon--Chester insisted the film show an actual, physical demon over Tourneur's objection. The movie is about psychologists investigating a Devil worshipping cult in England and much of the story is about the question of whether people are victims of a real demon or are killed mostly by psychological manipulation. Tourneur creates a film of beautiful, Expressionistic visuals and with a story that manages to stay unsettling despite a big hairy demon showing up.

Actually, I kind of like the demon, though on a different level from the rest of the film which is a subtler kind of horror. I do like how the demon appears at the end of a seeming corridor of night sky and trees, surrounded by smoke.

I like how the design looks like a mediaeval illustration.

Dana Andrews stars in the film as an American psychologist named John Holden who comes to England at the beginning of the film after his comrade in arms at exposing charlatans, Professor Harrington, is killed. Holden inadvertently has a meet-cute with Harrington's daughter Joanna (Peggy Cummins) on the flight over.

Cummins doesn't have as nice a role as the one she has in the other movie she's known for, Gun Crazy, but she gets to use her native English accent with that sort of growlly voice of hers which is sexy either way. She mainly just follows Holden around and worries about him.

I know Dana Andrews from the noir classic Laura, made 13 years before, in which he played the detective. His voice is a bit deeper in Night of the Demon but mostly he's merely adequate.

Tourneur's direction is the real star of the movie. He uses shadows and ripples and clouds to great effect.

I love this devil worshiper's house:

Those curly balusters, the chequered floor. I want to live there.

In my favourite scene, which recalls Tourneur's Cat People, Andrews breaks into the house to steal a book but runs afoul of the housecat set to guard it.

It turns into a leopard but it's kind of scarier before that, just from the startling way Tourneur inserts shots of it. You're already feeling tense because you know the protagonist is doing something wrong by breaking in.

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