December 23, 2018

Extra Special Holiday Message From Beyond the Time Barrier: Godzilla Edition

Happy Holidays!

Godzilla and King Kong fight over a Black Friday deal at Dollhouses R Us

King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1962

Godzilla has trouble putting up his Christmas lights

Godzilla, 1954

Rodan finds a great parking space on the last shopping day before Christmas

Rodan, 1956

Santa regrets replacing Rudolph with Ghidorah when he realizes that the heads can't agree on which direction to go

Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster, 1964

Godzilla, expecting a new iPhone, discovers that Santa brought him a train set instead

Godzilla, 1954

December 11, 2018

TV Ads for Aging Monsters: Hammer Films Edition

In my last post I admitted to being hooked on retro-TV channels like Me-TV and Decades. But watching those channels is also a humbling experience, as the ads uniformly remind you that you're not getting any younger, your body is breaking down, and you need a lot of stuff to keep going.

Being eternally curious, I wondered what these sorts of ad campaigns would look like if they were aimed at the old, classic monsters -- monsters, after all, have needs too. The Universal monsters obligingly helped with the fantasy campaigns. So, at the risk of overdoing an already lame exercise, I thought I would give Hammer Films equal time. Without further ado, and in living-dead technicolor, here are TV ads aimed at aging Hammer monsters.

MonsterCare Advantage Plans

Still from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969
Are you sure you're fully covered for your next brain transplant or other infernal procedure that goes against the laws of God and man? Our Advantage Plans cover many expenses that traditional MonsterCare does not, including body parts, sutures, electrode implants, cryogenic tanks, and much more! And with most plans, you get to keep your mad doctor!*
*Out-of-network mad doctors are under no obligation to treat plan members except in emergencies.

Touch of Grave Hair Color for Wolf Men

Curse of the Werewolf, 1961
It's a wolf eat dog world out there, and lycanthropes need every advantage they can get as they go marauding through the countryside. Feel 20 years younger with an application of Touch of Grave hair color, exclusively for werewolves. It takes out most of the dull wolf grey and leaves just a touch for that distinguished look as you stalk your prey.

Zombie Exploitation Class Action Lawsuit

The Plague of the Zombies, 1966
If diabolical, wealthy elites have turned you into a moldering zombie in order to put you to unpaid work, you may be entitled to significant compensation! The law firm of Keys, Gilling, Bryan and Ashton* has extensive experience in Zombie law and has recovered millions in compensation for victims just like you! Schedule an appointment today!
*Not licensed to practice in Cornwall, UK.

Join AARP* Today!

The Reptile, 1966
The *American Association for Reptilian People is the premier organization dedicated to improving the lives of aging reptilians everywhere. With a membership, you can get discounted tickets to major movies like Venom, save hundreds on Snake Oil and other potions, and download free guides to shedding your skin and looking years younger! Plus, we advocate for your interests with the Reptilian Overlords who run the world from Washington D.C. We speak with a forked tongue, just like they (and you) do!

Dr. Frankenstein's CruelSculpting® Way to Reduce Fat

Mashup: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974 and Curse of the Werewolf, 1961
Take pounds off your body and years off your appearance with Dr. Frankenstein's patented CruelSculpting® method. This miracle technology doesn't use diet pills, liposuction, or freezing -- just a good old-fashioned scalpel and the doctor's steady hand! Sign up today, and in no time you will be the envy of your dungeon mates!

November 19, 2018

TV Ads for Aging Monsters

The classic Universal monsters we all know and love are getting up there in age: Dracula and Frankenstein are 87, the Wolf Man is 77, and the youngest of the litter, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, almost qualifies for Medicare at 64.

Thanks to DVD, Blu-ray and retro shows like Me-TV’s Svengoolie, there’s some life in the old monsters yet. Speaking of retro TV, I’m fortunate to live in a large enough metro area that I pull in quite a few channels through the digital antenna (yes, I cut the cable cord a few years ago): Me-TV, Movies!, Grit, Decades, Comet, This-TV and several more. For someone of my age and tastes, it’s a cornucopia. The downside has been having to train myself not to DVR everything in sight. Even in retirement, there are just so many hours in the day, and old men cannot live by old movies alone.

And if you believe the commercials that air on those retro channels, it’s hard for old men (or women) to live at all -- at least not without a lot of help from vultures companies specializing in scams products and services aimed at the elderly. The profile of the average retro TV viewer is not a pretty one: (S)he is decrepit, arthritic, wears adult diapers, takes a variety of expensive meds, needs a scooter to go more than few yards, is contemplating a reverse mortgage, can’t get up once (s)he’s prone on the floor, and is constantly worried how loved ones will cover funeral expenses when (s)he goes.

This got me to thinking -- now that the classic monsters are firmly in this age category, what would ads aimed specifically at their needs look like? Here’s my take on the Mad Men’s ad campaigns for aging monsters.

New and Improved! Ultra-adjustable Laboratory Table!

No mad doctor's laboratory should be without one! With just one touch of your cold, dead finger, adjust your table from horizontal to 90o in seconds! Order today and get two tables for the price of one, complete with premium gold-buckled restraining straps!*
*Pay separate shipping and handling

Hair Club for Wolf-Men

There's nothing like a full head of hair to restore confidence and bring out a new, better you! We don't use implants, weaves or wigs -- just pure, natural moonlight. Make an appointment today and we'll cover your whole body with luxurious hair at no extra charge!

Imhotep's Age-Denying Skin Cream

Use this revolutionary new product and erase 3,000 years of fine lines and wrinkles in no time! Compare with creams costing hundreds of goat skins more! Try it today -- you're worth it!

Allstake's Supplemental Death Insurance

There are more zealots with wooden stakes out there than ever. If you should get staked, are you sure your hypnotized flunkies will have the means to bury you in unhallowed ground? Allstake's insurance plan costs mere pennies a day, there are no Dr. Van Helsing exams to go through, and your premiums will never go up. Enroll today for those poor lost souls who've done so much for you -- after all, you didn't pick them because they were rich!

Monster Alert is On Call 24/7

"Help! I'm being chased by a monster, I've fallen, and I can't get up!"TM There's nothing more frightening than being sprawled on the ground, ready to be scooped up by a slavering monster. Now, B-movie victims have only to touch their Monster Alert pendant button,* and one of our trained staff members will alert the authorities 24/7, 365 days a year.**
* Also comes in a handy keychain!
** Response times and quality of first responders may vary

October 31, 2018

Haunted Halloween Nights, Part 3: Modern vs. Medieval

Poster - Night of the Devils (1972)
Now Playing: Night of the Devils (La notte dei diavoli; 1972)

Pros: Adds a new twist or two to the visitor-stranded-in-an-old-dark-house cliché.
Cons: Inconsistent gore effects and day-for-night cinematography undercut the eerie atmosphere.

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
  ― Robert Frost

...Unless you are a ravening creature of the undead, a vourdalak, in which case you might want to do everyone a favor and find a nearby Super8 motel to park your rotting carcass. Unfortunately for the eastern European family in Night of the Devils, what is usually considered a strength -- family loyalty -- contributes to their dreadful undoing.

The film opens with a man stumbling out of the woods. With his torn coat and long, bloody scratches running down his face, he looks like he’s about to join the ranks of the undead (or maybe just the plain old dead). He collapses by a picturesque stream.

Cut to the local hospital where the doctors have hooked up the semi-comatose man to a science-fictiony brain-scanning device. Still in a state of shock, he sees disturbing visions including a maggot-infested skull, a woman’s head being blasted down to the bone, and an operation conducted by two spooky, skull-faced figures who cut the still-beating heart out of a body.

Neither the doctors or the police inspector can get anything out of him, except to note that his expensive clothes indicate that he is a wealthy foreigner (the locality being 1972-era Yugoslavia). The main physician also comments to the inspector that the patient becomes quite agitated when it gets dark, and that every night he stands at the window “looking into the darkness like a scared, cornered animal.”

That night, an attractive young woman, Sdenka (Agostina Belli), shows up at the hospital claiming to know the mystery man. She identifies him as Nicola, a lumber importer. The doctor takes Sdenka to see him, but when Nicola catches sight of her, he tears himself away from the orderlies and flees in terror down the corridor.

Back in his bed and now wearing a straight-jacket, he starts to remember how he got into his predicament…

On a bright sunny day, Nicola (Gianni Garko) is driving along forlorn country back roads to his business appointment. In classic horror movie fashion, he becomes lost, takes a turn down an unpromising road, almost hits a mysterious woman in black, and disables his car running up an embankment. As he tramps through the lonely woods to find help, the sight of huge black boars rummaging through the brush and the sounds of strange cries and moans tells him he’s not in Kansas (or contemporary east Europe) anymore.

Gianni Garko as Nicola
Some days, it just doesn't pay to get lost in the
godforsaken wilderness of eastern Europe.
The help he manages to find is hardly reassuring. He discovers a ramshackle old house, home to the extended Ciuvelak clan, who are just coming back from burying the brother of the patriarch, Gorca Ciuvelak (William Vanders). When Nicola asks for a ride to the nearest village, the stern old man tells him it will have to wait until tomorrow, as night is approaching and the woods are not safe after dark.

Accepting Gorca’s offer to stay the night, Nicola finds himself in a kind of time warp, as the house, lit only by candles and gas lamps and heated by the fireplace, seems to be something out of the 19th century. And the family is definitely odd. They bar the doors and windows at night, yet insist that they’re the only people left in the god-forsaken place.

Gorca’s eldest son Jovan (Roberto Maldera) tells Nicola that he learned auto mechanics in the army, and that he can probably fix the car (although where he is going to get the parts is not made clear).

The next morning, as Jovan works on Nicola’s car, Gorca announces that he is setting out to hunt down and destroy the “living dead” witch who has seduced his brother, caused his death, and brought a curse down upon the family (and who incidentally caused Nicola to crash his car). Jovan solemnly informs his father that if he’s not back by sunset, he is “finished.”

Nicola becomes more unsettled as he learns from the little girl Irina, Gorca’s niece (Cinzia De Carolis), all about the witch’s doings and her uncle’s mission to destroy the woman, and the deadline that Jovan has set.

William Vanders as Gorca
"Why father, what a long face you have!"
Gorca arrives at the house just as the mantle clock finishes chiming 6 o’clock. There is doubt among the family members -- did he make the deadline or not? -- but it’s dispelled when he dumps the bloody hand of the witch he has killed on the table and announces that the curse has been lifted.

Later that night, Gorca’s lovely and innocent daughter Sdenka declares her love for Nicola, clearly hoping the handsome stranger will take her away from the mad household. He reciprocates her feelings and takes her to bed.

The respite from high strangeness doesn’t last very long, however, as within a few hours the family learns that Gorca has spirited his niece Irina away in the night, and turned her into a living dead revenant like himself. Nicola watches in horror as Jovan plunges a wooden stake through Gorka’s heart.

Little does he know that in short order, he will be battling a whole family of vourdalaks, and wondering if his beloved Sdenka has also become a monster.

Night of the Devils was the second film inspired by Aleksey Tolstoy’s novella The Family of the Vourdalak (1886), the first being the “I Wurdalak” segment of Mario Bava’s classic Black Sabbath (1963). Mario Bava’s version is set squarely in the 19th century, and not only features a truly creepy atmosphere decorated, lit and shot by a master film craftsman, but also boasts one of Boris Karloff’s most chilling performances.

Night is a longer treatment, and takes a different approach in framing the story of the doomed Ciuvelak clan with the very contemporary scenes of the hospital. Nicola becomes a man lost in space and time, an ordinary modern businessman encountering near-medieval strangeness. The framing/flashback device serves to accentuate the film’s dreamlike aspects.

Roberto Maldera as Jovan
There's nothing better than a good stake after
a hard day of vourdalak hunting.
Where the film excels is not so much the bloody action scenes but rather the quieter interludes between the blood and gore: Nicola’s first walk through the woods accompanied by strange cries and moans; the alarmed forest animals fleeing in the wake of the witch as she roams about; the menacing grimace of patriarch Gorca as he returns from his witch hunt; Nicola slowly backing away in fright and confusion from the lovely Sdenka, whom he now believes to be a vourdalak.

Typical of eurohorror of the period, there is the requisite blood and gore. Some of it works, some doesn’t. The camera lingers too long on Jovan’s staking of Gorca through the chest. Similarly, each time a vourdalak is dispatched, seconds tick by as we’re treated to an excruciating close-up of the creature’s face as blood pours from the eyes and its flesh dissolves.

One of the gorier scenes is the most effective. Upon returning to the house and finding that the entire clan has been turned into slavering vampires, Nicola tries to flee in his car. Irina’s mother Elena (Teresa Gimpera), now a hungry monster, grabs the driver’s side door before he can shut it. They play a desperate game of tug of war before Nicola manages to slam the door on her hand, severing most of her fingers. Undaunted, the vampire woman laughs maniacally as she stabs the car window repeatedly with the bloody stump of her hand.

The effects were the work of Carlo Rambaldi, who would later become famous for creating the far gentler E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982). Manuel Berenguer’s cinematography is generally competent, especially with the interior scenes, where he manages to create a creepy, shadowy atmosphere in the candle-lit old house. However, in many of the exterior scenes, the obvious day-for-night photography undercuts the supernatural ambience.

Teresa Gimpera as Elena
Elena is out for a late night snack

Director Giorgio Ferroni had done horror before, contributing something of a minor classic, the creepy and atmospheric Mill of the Stone Women (1960), to the Eurohorror canon. However, he was better known for the spate of sword and sandal and spaghetti western pictures he made in between the horror films. Similarly, up to that time Gianni Garko’s experience was in westerns and costume epics, with an occasional spy thriller thrown in the mix. Agostina Belli was a little more experienced in the horror genre, having recently appeared in Scream of the Demon Lover (1970) and the giallo The Fifth Cord (1971) leading up to her gig in Night of the Devils.

In Jonathan Rigby’s comprehensive treatment of European horror films, Euro Gothic: Classics of Continental Horror Cinema (Signum Books, 2016), the author offers a fairly lengthy analysis of Night of the Devils, and wraps it up with a compliment:
“Ferroni’s crescendo of paranoid horror is splendidly sustained, and the film itself -- bolstered by Giorgio Gaslini’s excellent score and Manuel Berenguer’s delicate Scope photography -- is ripe for reappraisal as a small classic of Italian horror.” (p.248)
Where to find it: Rent or buy from Amazon. It's also available through Kanopy - check your local library for availability.

October 25, 2018

Haunted Halloween Nights, Part 2: Reason vs. Ritual

Poster - Burn Witch Burn, aka Night of the Eagle (1962)
Now Playing: Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn; 1962)

Pros: Establishes a very spooky atmosphere of escalating menace.
Cons: Wraps the story up too abruptly and neatly.

Amidst all the sound and fury and scandal of American public life these days, a quiet revolution is brewing. Millennials are becoming increasingly skeptical of established institutions, especially organized religion, and are turning to alternative lifestyles and philosophies in droves.

One huge beneficiary of this sea change is the Wicca religion (or if you prefer, Pagan Witchcraft). Surveys indicate that Wicca membership has exploded from around 8,000 in 1990 to over a million today.

One of the aims of Wicca is to dispel the negative connotations that surround the word “witchcraft.” Another is to promote a better balance between humanity and nature that has been lost with the cult of technology. According to,
“Witchcraft in ancient history was known as ‘The Craft of the Wise’ because most who followed the path were in tune with the forces of nature, had a knowledge of Herbs and medicines, gave council and were valuable parts of the village and community as Shamanic healers and leaders. They understood that mankind is not superior to nature, the earth and its creatures but instead we are simply one of the many parts, both seen and unseen that combine to make the whole.”
The Witches' Sabbath - Francisco Goya
I don't think this is the kind of image
the Wiccans are going for...

I think part of the appeal is that Wicca is proactive, asserting that adherents have the power to change things for the better here-and-now, as opposed to waiting for their reward in an afterlife.

Assuming the surveys are accurate, a million believers is nothing to sneeze at. If there’s anything at all to the new white witchcraft, then I say more power to them -- a better balance between soulless technocracy and life-affirming spirituality is just what the witch doctor ordered. On the other hand, people being what they are, you can be damned sure that not all practitioners are of the positive, tree-hugging type.

A long time ago in the forgotten America of the mid-twentieth century, author Fritz Leiber anticipated the rise of Wicca with his story Conjure Wife. First published in 1943 in the pulp magazine Unknown Worlds, Conjure Wife conjures up a world in which women are secret witches, manipulating daily life with spells and incantations while the clueless men putter about, thinking that they are somehow masters of their own fate.

Over the years, Conjure Wife has gained a reputation as one of the better pieces of 20th century fantasy fiction. Its theme of secret, behind-the-scenes witchcraft in contemporary society has been taken up many times, most recently in the third and current seasons of the anthology TV series American Horror Story, featuring powerful witches.

The first film adaptation, Weird Woman (1944), was part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series, and starred Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Gwynne and perennial Universal scream queen Evelyn Ankers. Witches Brew (1980), featuring Richard Benjamin, Terri Garr and Lana Turner, apparently took the material and made it much more whimsical and light-hearted. By all accounts, Night of the Eagle is the best adaptation of the lot. Filmed in the UK, Night combines scenes of comfortable, prosaic middle-class life with a creeping atmosphere of dark, unseen menace.

Night of the Eagle features yet another champion of science and reason, psychology professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde). The film opens with Taylor lecturing his class on the roots of superstition. On the blackboard he has written “I do not believe” -- words that he asserts can vanquish such forces as the supernatural, witchcraft, superstition, and psychic phenomena. Taylor sees such beliefs as futile attempts to “control one’s environment and the forces of nature.”

Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) lecturing on the supernatural
"Excuse me professor, is this going to be on the test?"
Taylor is secure in his pompous rationality -- so much so, that even though he hasn’t been at the college long, rumor has it that he is the favorite to nab a coveted department chair position. He is young, dynamic, and life is clearly going very well for him. However, Taylor’s beautiful wife Tansy (Janet Blair) hasn’t gotten the memo, especially the part about witchcraft being “futile.”

It seems that while the couple were on sabbatical in Jamaica, Tansy had learned all about the powers of “conjure magic” from a local shaman. She senses that behind the humdrum facade of college life evil lurks, waiting to strike. She has placed all kinds of charms and talismans around the house in order to protect her oblivious husband.

When the good professor accidentally discovers the extent to which Tansy has larded the house with magical items, in a fit of self-righteous rationality he forces her to destroy them. Which is a big mistake. Suddenly, his once charmed life takes a big turn for the worse. A female student accuses him of sexual assault. Her boyfriend pulls a gun on him at his office. Worse yet, he’s no longer on the fast track to the department chair gig.

Janet Blair as Tansy Taylor
"Omigod, I forgot the bats' wings and eyes
of newt in my grocery order!"
Tansy is beside herself with dread at what her husband has inadvertently unleashed. Things go from bad to worse as elemental forces besiege their humble home with sudden windstorms and raging fire. It seems someone who also has intimate knowledge of witchcraft is willing to go to any length to prevent the couple from settling into a comfortable, successful life. And before the night is out, Tansy will offer herself as a sacrifice to stem the evil tide, and Taylor will be dragged kicking and screaming into unmitigated belief in the supernatural.

Night of the Eagle very effectively takes the primeval/gothic horror elements of witchcraft, curses and talismans and relocates them to the most pedestrian of settings, a sleepy 20th century college community. The atmosphere of menace builds slowly at first. At a bridge party that Taylor and Tansy hold for their fellow faculty members and spouses, the conversation turns to campus politics and the open department chair position. Jealousies are revealed that, rather than petty, may be quite serious.

After Taylor pigheadedly strips himself and Tansy of their protections, the dark magic assaults begin in earnest. Fittingly, the secret malefactor uses the devices of the rational, technological age -- Taylor’s phone and tape recorder, and at the climax, the college’s PA system -- to try to destroy the haughty professor.

In one very effective night scene at the Taylor house, the professor is listening to a tape recording of one of his lectures when a curious eerie trilling sound issues from the machine. Tansy realizes that it is something unnatural and evil, and switches off the recorder to Taylor’s consternation. No sooner has she dealt with recorder, than the phone rings. Panicked, she yells at her husband not to pick it up. He brushes her away and then frowns in confusion as the sound emanates even more loudly from the receiver.

Tansy (Janet Blair) and Norman (Peter Wyngarde) look at the phone apprehensively
"Whatever you do, DON'T ANSWER IT! It's AT&T trying
to sell us their internet and home security bundle!"
The lights go out, and at the same time something very large, making frightful sounds, seems to be right outside the front door. She just manages to pull the plug on the phone before her clueless husband can open the door onto the horror that is waiting outside. With the cessation of the eerie trilling, all the manifestations disappear.

The eldritch assault using the technology of supposed science and reason crescendos at the climax, as the auditory black magic summoning is piped over the college’s PA system. This (apparently) animates the very medieval-looking stone eagles that are placed around the grounds and the buildings. One chases the now-terrified Taylor into his classroom, where, ironically, “I do not believe” is still seen on the blackboard.

Night of the Eagle is a very well-constructed, spooky ride up to this point, but there are a couple of knocks on it. First, the shadowy evil-doer is pretty obvious from the get-go. Secondly, the villain’s comeuppance is very abrupt, and the way it comes about is too blatantly ironic. (Another possible objection, if you won’t make allowances for the era in which the film was made, is the absurdity of women with magic powers deciding to use them exclusively for the benefit of their blundering men.)

Still, it’s a very decent entry in the familiar science vs. superstition meme. Film historian William K. Everson, in his enjoyable horror film survey Classics of the Horror Film (Citadel Press, 1974), called out some of the film’s weaknesses, but also praised it for “several chilling sequences,” and especially for Janet Blair’s acting. He also hilariously used the film as a cautionary case study in reading too much into directorial decisions:
"The occasionally somewhat erratic editing was at least partially attributable to the hero’s [Peter Wyngarde’s] insistence on wearing indelicately tight trousers, forcing the director to shoot him in extreme long shot or extreme closeup much of the time! (This trivia information is recorded only to prevent future auteurists from discovering a definite pattern to the photographic style, and determining that medium shots for the wife and none for the hero are metaphors symbolizing a lack of communication between the two!)" (p. 239)
Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) runs in terror from dark forces
Peter Wyngarde threatens to bust out of his skinny jeans
as he runs in terror from a stone eagle.
Oh the horror, the horror!

Where to find it: If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream Night of the Eagle right now, for free.

October 16, 2018

Haunted Halloween Nights, Part 1: Science vs. Sorcery

After a lengthy hiatus, I thought it would be appropriate to revive Films From Beyond for the Halloween season. Leading up to All Hallow’s Eve, I will post on some of my favorite horror films to stream or pop into the DVD player on these cold October nights. See also the FFB Facebook page and Twitter feed for additional content.

Poster - Night of the Demon (1957)
Now Playing: Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon; 1957)

Pros: Great cinematography by Edward Scaife establishes an eerie night world; Niall MacGinnis plays the part of an urbane warlock with understated perfection.
Cons: Shots of the monster-demon inserted at the producer's insistence spoil director Jacques Tourneur’s carefully crafted atmosphere of unseen menace.

A good horror film, like a Trump tweet, subverts our sense of what’s normal, turns everyday things upside down, and takes us well out of our comfort zones. Night predominates, people and objects take on sinister aspects, and paranoia breeds in the shadows. Science and reason retreat against the powerful forces of darkness.

Scientists and intellectuals have never been treated particularly well in popular culture, but the horror genre in particular specializes in laying them low. At worst, they’re done in by their own hubris or madness. At best, they hang on by a thread, stubbornly unable to apprehend the unnatural forces that beset them.

The protagonist in Night of the Demon, psychologist John Holden (played by stolid American actor Dana Andrews) is a veritable poster boy for the hapless horror movie egghead. For all his education and knowledge, he is particularly ill-equipped for his encounters with the dark side. He keeps trying to apply reason to things that are aggressively unreasonable. In the end, he will have to learn a whole new set of rules in order to survive.

Dr. Holden has traveled to London to attend an international conference on paranormal psychology. Upon arriving, he’s distressed to learn that a colleague, Prof. Harrington (Maurice Denham), has died in a horrible accident, his body mangled beyond recognition.

Harrington had been set to expose Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), the notorious leader of a local devil-worshipping cult, at the conference. At Harrington’s funeral, Holden runs into a young woman who had ridden over on the plane with him, and learns that she is Joanna Harrington (Peggy Cummins), the professor’s niece. Joanna shares her uncle’s diary with Holden, which chronicles Prof. Harrington’s growing dread as he realizes that Karswell has cursed him, and that the cult leader’s powers seem to be very real.

Holden is troubled that Joanna and several of his academic colleagues seem to think that there is something to this supernatural business. After he discovers that Karswell has secretly passed a piece of parchment with strange writing onto him, his skepticism wavers as disturbing things start happening. The parchment seems to have a mind of its own, tearing itself out of his hands in a gust of wind to throw itself on the fireplace (the fireplace screen prevents it from being incinerated).

Joanna and Holden examine the mysterious pacrchment
"It's just an old piece of paper with odd writing on it. How important could it be?"

After a surreptitious night time visit to Karswell’s estate in search of an occult book that might shed light on the mystery, Holden is pursued through the darkened woods by an uncanny, luminous cloud seemingly bent on his destruction.

Holden finally appreciates the gravity of his situation when he hypnotizes a former Karswell cult member, Rand Hobart (Brian Wilde), bringing him out of his catatonic state (interestingly, he does this before an audience of fellow psychologists). The terror-stricken man reveals that he had been marked for death by his own brother who passed him the parchment, but he had managed to pass it back -- and condemn the man to a horrible death. After finishing his bizarre tale, Hobart leaps up, runs madly about, and then kills himself by crashing through a window.

A thoroughly humbled Holden now knows what he has to do -- but can he pull it off?

On the basis of the final product, which has gained a reputation as a minor classic over the years, the choice of no-nonsense, all-American actor Dana Andrews as Dr. Holden was a good one. His sheer American-ness further establishes Holden as a stranger in a strange land, one that seems eternally shrouded in gloom and night, and where the supernatural is very much at home.

However, according to some members of the production crew, Andrews was almost as difficult to work with as Karswell’s demon. Over a decade earlier, Andrews’ career peaked with appearances in such hugely popular films as Laura (1944) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946; winner of 7 Oscars including Best Picture). By the mid-fifties, Andrews was struggling with alcoholism, and the A picture offers had dried up.

According to Andrews biographer Carl Rollyson, the actor's arrival in England to do the film was less than auspicious when, disembarking from the plane, he took a header down some steps. Producer Hal Chester wasn’t all that keen on Andrews in the first place, and Andrews seemed to go out of his way to confirm the lack of faith. At one point, the boozy actor punched out a performer at a local nightclub, forcing Chester to bribe the local authorities so his leading man could continue filming. (Rollyson, Carl E. Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012, pp. 252-253.)

By some accounts, producer Hal E. Chester didn’t acquit himself very well either. Rollyson quotes another cast member as saying the producer “was a nasty little bit of work… he was a very bumptious little bugger, rather full of himself.” (Ibid.)

Holden is chased through the woods by an eerie ball of light
The smoky ball of light that pursues Holden through the woods
was part of Tourneur's original vision.
Chester’s insistence that an actual monster be shown in the film has been written about many times, and is a classic example of the pragmatic, money-minded executive clashing with the cultured filmmaker wishing to protect his/her artistic vision. Without the participation of the director, Jacques Tourneur, Chester had additional shots of a puppet demon done and inserted them into the beginning and end of the film, presumably to effect a more eye-catching marketing campaign and goose ticket sales.

Tourneur and screenwriter Charles Bennett were angry with Chester over the changes, which compromised the subtler atmosphere they were trying to achieve. In Tourneur’s earlier work with producer Val Lewton (Cat People, 1942; I Walked with a Zombie, 1942; The Leopard Man, 1943), the director had masterfully translated Lewton’s less-is-more, what-you-don’t-see-can-be-scarier-than-what-you-do-see philosophy into classic screen chills. (To his credit, Andrews came to the defense of Tourneur, lambasting Chester during the production for his cheapness and later on deriding the inserted monster shots that took the finished film down a notch or two.)

The film’s saving grace turns out to be the character of the crafty and cultivated devil cult leader Julian Karswell, played by Niall MacGinnis. MacGinnis’ Karswell is the perfect complement to Andrew’s down-to-earth American skeptic. He is calm, measured and sophisticated -- and very much a believer.

In a lesser film, such a character might be played with arched eyebrows and sinister scowls. Karswell, on the other hand, is self-contained and scrupulously polite. He even seems a bit delicate and nerdish, living with his somewhat befuddled mother on a palatial country estate.

But just beneath the surface is simmering menace. At the beginning of the film, Harrington, panicked by what he has seen, begs Karswell to call off the entity that has been sicced on him. Karswell asks the professor if he still has the parchment. When Harrington responds that it was destroyed, Karswell calmly tells him that he will “do everything I can,” -- which is exactly nothing -- and sends the man back out into the night to his doom.

Karswell demonstrates his devilish playfulness yet again when Holden and Joanna visit him at his estate. They find him in clown makeup hosting a lavish Halloween party for the local children, playing the part of magnanimous country squire to the hilt. When Joanna goes off to help Karswell’s mother with the festivities and Karswell has Holden alone, he drops his pretense.

Determined to put the fear of the Devil in Holden, Karswell holds his head in his hands momentarily and then announces simply, “it’s done.” A furious windstorm suddenly swells up, sending the partygoers scrambling for cover while Holden nervously looks around in disbelief. The shot of the self-satisfied Karswell in clown-face grinning while elemental chaos swirls around him is a high point of the film.

Karswell (MacGinnis) in creepy clown makeup
Karswell takes the creepy clown act to the next demonic level.

MacGinnis was an extremely versatile character actor who started out doing Shakespeare at London’s Old Vic theater, then over the course of the next five decades appeared in over 75 films and TV shows. He appeared in almost every genre, from historical dramas to war films to spy thrillers to horror and science fiction. In addition to Night of the Demon, his horror/sci-fi credits include Jason and the Argonauts (1963; playing Zeus); Island of Terror (1966; with Peter Cushing), and the anthology horror film Torture Garden (1967).

Typical of most meaty villain roles, MacGinnis/Karswell gets most of Night’s good lines. In response to Holden’s dismissal of the supernatural as the product of gullible imagination, Karswell responds:
"But where does imagination end and reality begin? What is this twilight, this half world of the mind that you profess to know so much about? How can we differentiate between the powers of darkness and the powers of the mind?"
Something to think about on a cold, dark night, when your imagination is most susceptible to playing tricks on you.

Where to find it: The Sony Pictures DVD includes both the original UK 95 minute Night of the Demon, and the 82 minute U.S. release, retitled Curse of the Demon.