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Old 06-18-2004, 08:27 AM   #27
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Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Montréal
Posts: 453
I think "Night of the Demon" is among the best horror films of the 1950s and one of the best of the horror genre. I take back what I said earlier: I agree with dwatts that both versions are equally as good. They both deserve to be screened and analyzed. However, I think the shorter version may have better pacing – but I’m not sold on this, since I haven’t watched "Curse" in a while.

MaxRenn is absolutely right about Tourneur not wanting the opening scene to play out the way it does. It appears like Hal E. Chester, the producer, annoyed lots of folks on this production, including the great writer Charles Bennett. Apparently, Chester, re-wrote the script without Bennett’s approval (the film is credited to both of them). BTW, name a great pre-WWII Hitchcock film and you’ll find Bennett attached to the project. He adapted "The 39 Steps" (1935) and wrote "Sabotage" (1936), and "Secret Agent" (1936)… and many more.

Tourneur said this to a French magazine about the opening scene: "The scenes in which you really see the demon were shot without me. All except one. I shot the sequence in the woods where Dana Andrews is chased by this sort of cloud. This technique should have been used for the other sequences…"

Understandably, most film critics have condemned the demon in the film. However, more recently, critics have approached the film with a little more complexity. I think the demon belongs wholeheartedly to the film and I also think the film is much better because of it. In a way, the imposition of the demon from outside of Tourneur’s own structure has rendered his play with perspective much more complex. I wonder if he was aware of this while the film was being edited – maybe not. However, notwithstanding the intentions of an artist, this film succeeds in going places it probably would never have gone if the demon had not invaded the diegetic structure of the film (that is, the created world of the film).

"Night of the Demon" is one of the most fascinating horror films to come along in the 1950s, precisely because the presence of the demon puts the attentive viewer in the uncomfortable position of a) thinking that s/he knows that the demon exists in spite of Holden’s (Dana Andrews) skepticism, but also b) thinking that s/he knows the demon exists even though Tourneur is forever throwing scenes at the viewer that make him/her hesitate about the reality of the creature. Because of this split structure, the viewer, like Andrews, is also in a constant state of hesitation (even though the demon appears on the screen and seems to confirm its own reality).

The film needs to be seen repeatedly to really begin to notice what Tourneur is doing with diegetic perspective and viewer perspective. I want to direct you to the scene where Holden breaks into Karswell’s house at night and slowly makes his way down the stairs. Watch that scene again and you may notice something strange with how viewer/character perspectives are being drawn out – split, if you like. What Tourneur is after here is not the kind of ambiguity found in Robert Wise’s "The Haunting," were viewer and characters experience hesitation and uncertainty – diegetically. Tourneur is after an in-between space where the diegetic reality and another reality intersect. This promotes discomfort. Many people have complained that this film is awkward and slow, but part it this discomfort comes form Tourneur’s play with perspective.

The film becomes much more ambiguous when you begin to see the splitting of perspectives in the film. And I think the film is far more brilliantly conceived than Wise’s film, which works only on one level. What can I say: I love this film!
"Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan."
Job 3: 7-8

Last edited by marioscido; 06-21-2004 at 05:14 AM.
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