Night of the Demon (1957)

Back in the mid to late 90s I used to see this for sale on VHS at the old little video shop at Eastgardens, and I remember back then thinking I should buy it… even then I knew from the books I read at university (the UNSW library had books from the 60s and 70 by Carlos Clarens, Bill Everson, etc, which I’d go through to supplement the stuff I was supposed to read) that it was considered a genre classic. But, being me, it was just one of x number of things I never did until the digital age; happily on belated examination it just about survived years of expectation. As with Cat People, Jacques Tourneur found himself outvoted by the producer when it came to actually depicting the monster on screen; but, as Bill Everson says, at least it’s a pretty amazing monster when it does show up, and you could argue that suggesting the demon actually might’ve been less effective than showing it outright (when you see it early on, you’re waiting for it to return, because unlike Dana Andrews’ character you know this demon shit is a far better trick that Andrews will concede). But who were Sabre Film Production, who made this quite remarkable film in the same year Hammer scandalised critics with The Curse of Frankenstein? Why did they never do anything like it again? It’s a subtle thing, this, when the monster is off-screen, without quite the same sensationalist drive as the Hammer film; it clearly had aspirations to being taken more seriously, and though M.R James might only have just recognised his story “Casting the Runes” in the film it still felt like Sabre respected at least the spirit of his work more than Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker were respected by Hammer (or Universal, for that matter). In an alternate universe Sabre actually went on making films like this and were worthy competition for Hammer; in this one Hammer had no real rivals until Amicus and Sabre vanished after just two more films (according to IMDB anyway). Shame. The DVD includes the cut American version (which ironically toured on a double bill under Hammer’s Revenge of Frankenstein), which I suppose is nice but I’d have preferred a commentary or something. Whatever, though, people who prefer their horror old-fashioned and not awash in gore should use this as an argument for their position, cos it’s one of the best examples of it they’ll find…

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