Retro Review: ‘Curse of the Demon’
As a fan of atmospheric horror films and actor Dana Andrews, the 1957 British film Curse of the Demon is a movie which holds a special place in my heart. Producer Hal E. Chester may have bought the screenplay from Charles Bennett and had made the brilliant move to hire veteran Val Lewton director Jacques Tourneur, but his overbearing nature plagued the two creative collaborators. Though the behind-the-scenes turmoil has become the stuff of cinema fame, the end result was easily one of the best horror movies of the decade.
Shortly following the death of a scholar tied to occultist Julian Karswell, American psychology expert Dr. John Holden arrives in Britain. He seeks to expose Karswell as a charlatan taking advantage of gullible followers. On his journey he meets Joanna Harrington the niece of the dead man. She knows Karswell had something to do with her uncle’s murder even if it was by supernatural means. During his investigation, Holden experiences a number of strange events eventually learning that the Satan -worshipper has supposedly placed a curse on him giving the psychologist only a short amount of time before a demon claims his life.
As mentioned before the production of Curse of the Demon was one filled with strife, but somehow everything came together. One of the points of contention between the producer and director was the decision to ultimately show the demon onscreen. Jacques Tourneur and the screenwriter had the vision to keep the horror of the film purely psychological, leaving the audience to wonder if there truly is a curse. Ultimately the producer had the final say and the legacy of the film has proven that it was the right call. After an entire film full of suspense and atmosphere the reveal of the demon at the end was the perfect grand finale to an otherwise subtle film. Having held the director’s chair for a number of film noirs and the psychological horrors of Val Lewton has given Tourneur plenty of experience crafting suspenseful and moody thrillers. He puts these talents of full display in Curse of the Demon as the scares are largely subtle and get into the head of the viewer as they know demonic powers are afoot and helplessly watch its influence creep more and more into the film.
Legendary actor Dana Andrews proves to be the perfect leading man in this film. He struts into a world he is unfamiliar with and immediately starts espousing his skepticism. While he is steadfast and smug in his beliefs we see that he has a in increasingly difficult time keeping this facade up as the dread of a cruse creeps over him. By all accounts Andrews and Jacques Tourneur had a great collaboration with one another, the Best Years of Our Lives star even lobbied for the director to helm his next film when he returned to the United States.
Taking the classic scenario of man of science confronting the supernatural, Curse of the Demon has truly earned the status of classic it has attained. A dread-filled thriller that slowly but surely pushes the audience to the edge of their seats and keeps them there.