Horror Battle: Night of the Demon (1957) vs Night of the Demon (1980)
In the Red Corner:
Night of the Demon (1980)
Director: James C. Wasson
Stars: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Tagline: An evil mutation embarks on a wave of brutal butchery.
In the Blue Corner:
Night of the Demon (1957)
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis
Tagline: Horror! The most terrifying story the screen has ever told.
Have you ever been talking about a film with someone, and it becomes clear that you are talking about a different film? Confusing everyone involved. It can sometimes be confusing when two films that have the same name. The most infamous of these was the two Jack Frost films, released within a year of each other. But one is a horror film, and one is a family film. However, it could be argued that Michael Keaton as a snowman is as terrifying as the snowman in the horror film. Sometimes, the same title happens to films in the same genre, and the battle can begin here. So, over a series of articles, I will look at two (or more) films with the same title but are different. This means I won’t be looking at remakes, sequels, prequels and requels. So there won’t be Halloween (1978) vs Rob Zombie’s Halloween vs Halloween (2018). So considering all that, here is the latest battle, Night of the Demon (1957) vs Night of the Demons (1980).
Night of the Demon (1957)
Night of the Demon opens with the terrible death of Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham) while researching an occult ritual. We see him racing in his car towards Dr Julian Karswell’s (Niall MacGinnis) home, hoping that a demonic curse can be lifted. Karswell had placed the curse on Harrington as he was about to expose Karswell’s satanic activities. Harrington’s colleague, American psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews) and niece Joanna Harrington (Peggy Cummins) decide to investigate his demise. The two meet amiable cult leader Karswell, and when John doubts Karswell’s paranormal abilities (only Andrews could pull off the line – “some of my best friends are ghosts), Karswell curses him by passing him a piece of cursed parchment. John does not believe he is condemned until his world becomes full of mischievousness. However, Joanne is much more observant and fights against the doomed clock, considering that the curse is real.
Interestingly, the audience, as well as John, needs persuasion. Although Karswell may have some mysterious powers, he performs them with all the giddiness of a child magician. This is highlighted when Karswell invokes a whirlwind at a child’s party while dressed as a clown. He is arrogant as the children run screaming, spoiling their party. While the scene has no blood or at least some harm to a child or two, it is still superb. The film is based on M. R. James’ Casting the Runes, adapted by Charles Bennett, who had previously worked with Alfred Hitchcock. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, German Expressionism influenced him by using lights and camera angles, giving the audience a sense of anxiety and unknown fear.
From the moment I saw Night of the Demon, I fell in love with it, and it is one of my all-time favourite films. Night of the Demon, also known as Curse of the Demon, is one of the ultimate horror films. The film understands that “less is more” regarding scares, as the filmmaking does all the heavy lifting. Let’s be honest; our minds can be more shocking than what is on the screen. And all good ghost stories make it ambiguous if a paranormal event occurs. Tourneur was known as a horror director who focused on psychological terror rather than special effects. However, producer Hal E. Chester disagreed with this philosophy. And this is why the appearance of the demon divides the audience.
The monster is a squirming, cruel-looking beast, complete with mysterious and strange shrieks, unsettling sounds, misty footprints, and puffs of smoke in front of the train, giving the moment an ingenious feel. And if you are curious, I am on the team “no demon should have been seen.” I would have loved the film to leave the curse ambiguous. Instead, we got an absurd demon that could not frighten a child. Even if they managed to give us a terrifying vision, it took away the ambiguity the film had given us. Thankfully, the demon’s presence is so short that it does not take away too much from the film’s impact. We will never know what we would have got without Chester’s insistence on the demon being shown.
The other element that does not quite work is the humour, often clashing with the scenes of magic. For example, the séance scene had the comical bad singing of the two women singing hymns, supposedly adding to the atmosphere. Night of the Demon is a remarkable film, with the fantastic play of light and dark in some extreme scenes. The film understands how to be clever with its horror. We have a film about an intelligent man being compelled to recognise that things may exist beyond their understanding.
Tourneur directs the daylight time scenes with a monotonous smoothness, but this is to calm the audience. Therefore, the film becomes moody when the nighttime scenes come, with the paranormal moments seen briefly and altered, signifying the character’s anxious sentiments. But the performance as Karswell is excellent and gives us a well-rounded villain. It is his performance that gives the film its strength. He plays the part simply and mundane; he loves his mother, hosts Halloween parties for the local children and performs black magic on a whim.
Although compared to passive John and introverted Joanne, it is no wonder that Karswell is the star of the piece. M.R James’ Casting the Runes was also turned into a TV movie in 1979. Despite the film’s reputation today, it did not do as well in the cinema as was hoped, but it is a classic today. It is inventive, intelligent, and creepy and should be seen. And when you do, you can decide about the demon. Is it the heart of the film or an addition that was not needed?
Night of the Demon (1980)
Night of the Demon is an indie horror film following a group of people being stalked by a silent killer who kills them in some imaginative ways. Some could argue it has a clever killer, as it is – ready for this – Bigfoot. There are about 55 Bigfoot-related films, ranging from comedic to outright horror. Night of the Demon is one of three Bigfoot films on the video nasty list, possibly the best-known one. This Bigfoot film had a low budget, terrible acting, perhaps an ad-libbed script, no direction, and no cinematography. This is the filmmaker’s only film unless they choose to change their name. I remember randomly stumbling upon this, pre-streaming, and thinking that the plot was unbelievable but a lot of fun. So, in the story, Carla Thomas’ (Shannon Cooper) father (Rick Fields) is cruelly slaughtered, has his arm ripped off and maimed on a fishing trip.
She sought advice from Professor Nugent (Michael J. Cutt), researching Bigfoot sightings. Evidence shows a mysterious footprint taken at the murder site. However, when the negative vanished, the investigating deputy denied it existed. When the funding stops, Nugent decides to go to the woods to see if they can find Bigfoot, being himself, Carla, student Roy (Bob Collins), radio tech Pete and couple Gary (Ray Jarris) and Linda (Jody Lazarus). The film has many flashbacks, as Professor Nugent is laid up in a hospital, shockingly burned, as the only survivor of the excursion. The flashbacks include the arm being ripped off, blood flows and giant footprints. Night of the Demon is a cryptozoology horror, folk horror, and slasher with a scene of bestiality rape (thankfully, a sentence I do not have to type too often) and lots of gore. As a slasher, Bigfoot uses an axe, and when he finds himself unarmed, he disembowels someone and uses the intestines as a whip.
There is even a sleeping bag killed one year after it was in Prophecy and eight years before Friday the 13th. Part VII: The New Blood. This film is not Oscar-winning; it is one of those films made to go on the video nasty list. It was initially much tamer, but Jim L. Ball decides that more nastiness would give his work more infamy. The production looks like it was cut together in a hurry, often intrusive flashbacks, which have severe murders randomly jumping to different actors in different settings than the four mentioned above.
There are 16 kills, most of which are shown in detail. To confuse the audience further, there are times when a flashback happens in a flashback. This leaves the film feeling very messy. Night of the Demon would make a great double with Don’t Go in the Woods, which would also implant kills with people who do not appear in the film’s main thrust. Night of the Demon’s second unit filmed the flashback killings and the nudity as a couple in a van are assaulted by Bigfoot. The kills are slow mo, which means they are more comical than horrific. Highlighted more by the fact that the acting is played straight, Nugent describes the kills in gory details, including those that happened in the exact place where they decided to set up camp. Undoubtedly, Bigfoot is an exploitation film that pushes the boundaries of bad taste to the Nth degree.
We see in all its glory details of the kills that Bigfoot performs. Although Bigfoot is seen briefly for most of the film, in the climax, we see the splendid Bigfoot, sometimes in slow motion, and for reasons I do not understand, Bigfoot has a shaved chest and stomach. No joke. In flashbacks, we see Bigfoot rape a woman, leading to their child’s birth and ensuing death. The film adds spice with a sex cult, an accidental fire (started by our heroes and then could not be bothered to deal with it), a different actor (I think) playing the partially masked Professor in the wraparound story, to the one that is shown in the main thrust of the film. And a soundtrack that sounds like a synthesiser whose batteries are dying.
Winner: Night of the Demon (1957)
There is no doubt that despite some special effect issues, Night of the Demon (1957) is the better film. Do not let the demon put you off. Even with the debated monster, Night of the Demon is a solid intellectual piece with an ominous dread. You feel that you are on a path of disaster with no way to avoid it, and it could easily be a companion piece to many of Hitchcock’s works or other British occult films like Night of the Eagle and The Devil Rides Out. In fact, what better double feature than a “Night” one – Night of the Demon followed by Night of the Eagle? However, it is sometimes apparent that it is a short story that has been padded out to make it a feature-length film.
Night of the Demon (1980) does not have a straightforward narrative, all done in one take only, and a sense that the individuals behind the camera (and pretty much in front, to be fair) have no idea what they are doing. We get a film with cruelty that does not care about commercial success. The subplot of Bigfoot’s child and the sex cult that adores him goes so quickly that you can not help but think it was to pad the run time. Despite it all, the film is what you expect it to be and is enjoyed by those with a soft spot for trashy horror.
Therefore, Night of the Demon (1957) could be considered a pleasant date night meal of a steak with brandy peppercorn sauce, except the chips are not as crisp as you’d like. It’s annoying but not enough to ruin your meal. A sophisticated night with someone that you want to appear intelligent to. Night of the Demon (1980) is a greasy fast-food burger with little or no real meat, falling apart, but damn it, there are times you just want a dirty burger. Especially after a drink, or two or three or more, with friends. There is no doubt that steak is the better meal, even with flawed chips, but there is nothing wrong with the occasional messy burger; it is a guilty pleasure. I would recommend both Night of the Demon films.
Beverley Price is a writer from a small town in Carmarthenshire, Wales, a three-time winner of the title “Chief Poet Skald of Suffolk”, a local eisteddfod.
She has had a poem published in an E-book called “Poems from Beyond the Grave” and “Serial Killers – A Pizza Eaters book”. Beverley has her poetry books, “The Flowering of the Black Petal” and “By Ink, By Pen, by Paper: A Tribute to Black Petal” under the alias Stormy and two novels “Blood Bound” and “Blood Brother”.
Beverley is a feature writer for the London Horror Society, looking at “so bad, they’re good” films, Hammer Horror and banned films in the UK.
Beverley is always open for conversations about horror, and the weirder, the better @stormywriter2. Also, check out my website at The-Poet | Vampire Novel (blackpetal82.wixsite.com)