Plot: What’s it about?
Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) is an American psychologist who has a keen eye for frauds, usually involving cultists or those who claim to have supernatural connections. He has been called to London by Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham), who wants him to help expose a cult of devil worshippers as fakes. The main issue to be addressed at Harrington’s paranormal meetings is Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), the leader of the Satanic cult and a man who states he is able to draw upon the power of demons. When Holden arrives, he learns that Harrington has been killed in an odd accident, one that some believe was caused by Karswell’s summoning of black magic and demons. Holden refuses to believe that however and with Harrington’s niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins), he pushes forward to learn what he can about Karswell’s cult. A meeting with Karswell seems uneventful, but soon afterwards, Holden has some horrific visions, while Joanna starts to think Karswell does have some powers in the realm of the supernatural. But can Holden get to the bottom of this demonic case before he suffers the same fate as Harrington, or will he be the next victim of Karswell’s evil ways?
An intelligent, highly effective horror picture, Curse of the Demon is a must see for fans of supernatural cinema, no doubt about it. The writing is great, with some top notch character work and attention to detail, which makes the moments of horror much more effective. The terror unfolds at a slow, but well crafted pace, building toward a more than satisfying conclusion. Although it has a definite 1950s sense to it, it has aged well and remains powerful, especially to those with an interest in genre pictures from that time period. Add in director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie) and his penchant for stylish visuals & atmosphere, and we’ve got one hell of a great horror movie, potent from start to finish. While Curse of the Demon is cut by about twelve minutes, its British companion Night of the Demon restores those minutes and proves to be a superior rendition. This disc from Columbia includes the extended British version and the trimmed American cut, making it an excellent resource for comparison, as well as letting us choose for ourselves which edition we’d like to experience. I highly recommend this release to all those interested and of course, I commend Columbia for giving us both versions.
In a movie that involves a cult of any kind, whoever plays the leader has to be good, or else the film will suffer as a result. In this case, Niall MacGinnis suits up to tackle the role of cult leader and he is terrific, simply an excellent performance. Then again, the character of Karswell is well written & developed, so MacGinnis has an edge from the start, but I think he adds a lot also, especially in terms of inner emotional turns. The scenes between Karswell and Holden are top drawer & really drive home the material’s full potential, but even when he goes solo, MacGinnis gives Karswell such depth and complexities. As I mentioned, the movie would have been much less effective without MacGinnis’ wonderful effort, so he more than deserves the extra attention here. Other films with MacGinnis include Jason and the Argonauts, Kidnapped, The Viking Queen, Island of Terror, and Krakatoa East of Java. The cast also includes Dana Andrews (Sword in the Desert, The Ox-Bow Incident), Peggy Cummins (Deadly Is the Female, Meet Mr. Lucifer), and Maurice Denham (The Day of the Jackal, 84 Charing Cross Road).
Video: How does it look?
Curse of the Demon is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, as is Night of the Demon, the British version of the picture. The print included for Night of the Demon is cleaner and we’re given a more pleasant overall experience, but both editions look better than expected, without question. I was pleased to see how sharp and refined the visuals were, as time has done little to soften or dull the picture here, very impressive indeed. The black & white images stream across the screen in terrific form, with spot on black levels that never become muddled, so the visuals always shine here. As I mentioned, Night of the Demon sports a cleaner, better overall treatment, but both look great, so no worries.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio is acceptable and never dips too low, but this is a 1950s mono option, so we have to be realistic in our expectations. I heard minimal age related flaws, as the materials have only minor instances of harshness and hiss is never an issue. The elements do seem a little thin at times, but still more than solid and given the age & nature of the material, I’m pleased it has held up as well as it has. I found dialogue to be clean and consistent also, no worries in terms of vocals in the least with this track. This disc also includes subtitles in English, French, and Japanese, should you need those to enhance the experience.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Aside from the inclusion of both versions of the feature itself, this disc includes no bonus materials.