Movie of the Week: Curse of the Demon

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American psychologist John Holden, known for exposing frauds, travels to London to attend a convention on the topics of parapsychology and the supernatural.  In London, he is to meet a Professor Harrington.  The professor plans to expose the Dr. Julian Karswell, leader of a satanic cult, as a phony at the convention.

When Holden lands, Harrington isn’t there to meet him. The reason for that, he soon learns, is because Professor Harrington is dead. During the night, the professor’s car collided with utility poles and he was electrocuted by the downed powerlines. At least, that’s what the police have concluded from the evidence at the wreck site.

Harrington’s friends and associates, including his niece, Joanna, believe there was no accident. They are convinced Karswell placed a curse on the professor and summoned a demon to kill Harrington. Holden doesn’t believe the demon mumbo-jumbo. He thinks the cult leader either killed Harrington or ordered someone human to do it.

Sticking to the plan to expose Karswell as a charlatan, Holden continues with his research at the British Museum. A rare book of the occult he wants is missing, but a gentleman visiting the museum offers his copy to the American.

The helpful stranger is Karswell himself. He is there to encourage Dr. Holden to drop his agenda as Harrington had decided to before his death. Holden doesn’t back down. After Karswell’s departure, he discovers a parchment the cult leader secretly placed among the his papers. It has runes written on it which disappear.

The next day, at Karswell’s invitation to peruse the rare book, Holden and Joanna visit the cultist’s mansion, where he lives with his mom. The cult leader also hosts children’s parties and entertains as a clown. As a display of power, Karswell claims responsibility for a storm which suddenly erupts. The American calls BS and, offended, Karswell predicts Holden will die in three days.

Investigating his colleague’s death and the cult, Holden begins to see parallels between some of the things he is experiencing and things Harrington documented in his diary. Is a demon really to blame for Harrington’s death? Will one really come to claim the life of Dr. Holden in three days? As the time quickly passes, and more and more strange incidents and coincidences occur, Holden is not as confident as he was when he first got off the airplane.

Of course we, the audience, know the demon is real. We get to see it at the start when it comes for poor, doomed Professor Harrington. Holden doesn’t know it, though, and Curse of the Demon (also known as Night of the Demon) is a slow burn witness as doubt clouds the hero’s beliefs. The atmosphere is chilly from the start and the best scenes (under the direction of Jacques Tourneur, of Cat People fame) leave the majority of the terror to the imagination.

Tourneur, writer Charles Bennett and star Dana Andrews all objected to producer Hal Chester’s idea of actually showing the monster. Would the movie have worked better or worse for the titular demon to have never been seen? I don’t know, but it’s pretty perfect as is. After sixty-four years, the monster still looks decent and there’s something so unnerving about its crudeness that I can’t imagine the movie without the big guy.