Curse of the Demon

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The modesty of means and of goals is much overcome by the passionateness of creative effort in this B-grade British horror film. The story pits an arrogant diabolist named Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) against a pooh-poohing American rationalist (Dana Andrews), who has a stiff drink in hand at every convenience. The source for the story is the scholarly M.R. James's "Casting of the Runes," and thence comes some (not all) of the movie's lofty, literary tone and its wealth of information on the subject of demonology. But its finest quality is visual, and for that the man most responsible is Jacques Tourneur, one of Val Lewton's cadre of directors in the early Forties. He is afforded here the same scrupulous production work as on the Lewton films (his art director is Ken Adam of the James Bond series), but is not restricted to a studio backlot. He gets terrifically creepy effects with the Stonehenge ruins, the British Museum reading room, an unremarkable hotel corridor, a palacial country house watchdogged after dark by a fearsome black cat, and some sudden gusts of wind. (The night photography around the country house, especially, raises suspicions that Georges Franju may have looked at this before making his Eyes Without a Face.) The movie is arranged as a series of set pieces, each of the pieces fitted securely alongside the next, and all of them cemented together with a general atmosphere of inclemency -- a neat job. The tall-as-an-oak monster who puts in appearances at either end of the movie has been subject to complaints from horror purists and from Tourneur himself; but it is technically well done, as such creatures go, and it wreaks less damage than the complainers have made out. (1957) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated NR | 1 hour, 35 minutes
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