Night of the Demon Blu-ray Review
Rightly deserves its place as a horror icon
Night of the Demon Blu-ray Review
It's in the trees! It's coming!Night of the Demon is a 1957 horror film from auteur Jacques Tourneur and is one of the most involving, thought provoking and downright terrifying pictures ever made. And all this from out of a tortured production that saw huge studio interference and a completion of the film without the consent or involvement of the director! It is a testament to Tourneur’s pure talent that what was promoted and shown as a pulp ‘B’ horror flick, is actually terribly unnerving and edge of the seat viewing, especially at the climax.
The story is about the haunting of a psychic investigator drawn into the affairs of a cult believed to have ‘actual powers’ and who have resorted to murder to get their way. Star of the piece is Dana Andrews, he plays John Holden, the investigator brought in to expose the cult; but he doesn't reckon with Doctor Karswell, its leader, whose diabolical power and sheer menace is palpable. Played with understated relish by character actor Niall MacGinnis, Karswell’s ambition knows no bounds; not only a believer in the Dark Arts, he also practices them and it is his hexes that are the cause of so much consternation. We watch as Holden, a staunch sceptic become ever more embroiled as his rational explanations to the events that occur to him become ever more unrealistic and eventually he comes to accept his fate – he will die in three days!
A combination of Tourneur’s extraordinary talent with light/shadow and inference, as well as a dynamite script and acting talent playing everything straight, secures Night of the Demon as a true horror classic; still genuinely terrifying after all this time.
I’ve examined the film in detail in the article Examining the Runes back in 2014 for the French Blu-ray release and discuss, amongst other things, whether or not the demon should ever have been seen.
Night of the Demon Blu-ray Picture QualityNight of the Demon was shot on film and for a movie over sixty years old, it certainly doesn’t look its age. The discs hold six presentations of the film: four are theatrically correct at widescreen 1.66:1, while two are the BFI restorations (2K scan and clean-up) at widescreen 1.75:1; all are 1080p using the AVG MPEG-4 codec and the discs are Region Free.
I looked through all the different versions, but am reviewing the best of them, the original pre-release version with the BFI restoration.
Detail is excellent, especially close-ups which demonstrate skin texture, clothing weaves, loose hair etc, check out the clown makeup or the rock surface texture of ‘Stonehenge’. Of course, it can also be detrimental, the demon looks horribly plastic, and the wire used to tow the runic paper is now more visible than ever, but, to be fair, these were always issues. Background detail is very strong and holds edges extremely well, check out the blowing trees during the windstorm, the leaves as they blow around, or the overgrown ‘farm’ with its thick grass and hedges or inside Karswell’s gothic mansion with its many elaborate and ornate statues.
Contrast and brightness, of paramount importance in a monochromatic picture, are set extremely well giving, for the most part, a very dynamic grey scale. The picture seldom reaches pitch, always preferring the deepest grey, but it still adds plenty of punch to the picture. The framing often details clear fore, middle and background and the picture shows some very decent three dimensionality which helps draw you into the picture. There are occasional brightness fluctuations, most evident in the beginning night scenes, although they do occur throughout, but the frame is always steady.
When you get ‘nose to the screen’ any real issues with the image in the form of original print damage become quite apparent in the form of nicks, scratches and lines – but at normal viewing distances, this is greatly reduced, even if a few do slip past. There is firm grain throughout, stock footage, rear projection and night shots show the most, but it adds much to the feel of the piece. The picture is bright, strong and remains detailed throughout and knocks the French Blu-ray, with its over processed look, out of the park!
Night of the Demon Blu-ray Sound QualityTouted as including the original mono sound track, there is much to admire, even if it’s technically a basic track. The opening narration is firm and deep, indeed dialogue is always clear and precise, sounds natural and never misses a beat. The score is well layered and can, as is the case, be quite loud and dominating, especially during the demon attacks. Effects are piercing and ecstatic, especially the chimes. There is little bass to speak of, it’s simply not in the track, but it never sounds ‘tinny’ or thin. There are, unfortunately, occasions of hiss when the volume is increased close to reference, but this means the track is natural sounding (unlike the French release which was doctored to remove it at the expense of the high end), and, at least, there are no pops, cracks or drop outs. All told, the perfect track for the film.
Night of the Demon Blu-ray ExtrasDISC ONE
Night of the Demon – the original full-length pre-release version (96 mins)
Curse of the Demon – the US reissue version (96 mins)
Night of the Demon – the original full-length pre-release version: 2K BFI restoration presentation at 1.75:1 (96 mins)
Curse of the Demon – the US reissue version: 2K BFI restoration presentation at 1.75:1 (96 mins)
Audio commentary - With film historian Tony Earnshaw, author of Beating the Devil: The Making of 'Night of the Demon'
Night of the Demon – the original UK theatrical cut (82 mins)
Curse of the Demon – the original US theatrical cut (82 mins)
Cloven in Two (2018, 23 mins) - Video essay exploring the different versions, more than you think.
The Devil’s in the Detail (2018, 36 mins) - Christopher Frayling discusses the look of the film and production designer Ken Adam.
Horrors Unseen (2018, 27 mins) - Interview with Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall.
Sinister Signs (2018, 21 mins) - An analysis of the film and themes by Kim Newman, author of Nightmare Movies.
Under the Spell (2018, 19 mins) - A personal appreciation by horror writer Ramsey Campbell.
The Devil Gets His Due (2018, 23 mins) - Scott MacQueen details the film’s release history.
The Truth of Alchemy (2018, 22 mins) - A discussion of M R James by author Roger Clarke.
The Devil in Music (2018, 11 mins) - David Huckvale on composer Clifton Parker.
A Note of Fear (2018, 10 mins) - Scott MacQueen discusses aspects of the film’s score.
Speak of the Devil: The Making of 'Night of the Demon' (2007, 20 mins) - Documentary featuring actor Peggy Cummins and production designer Ken Adam.
Hal E Chester at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (1996, 51 mins) - Rare archival video interview with the producer.
Dana Andrews on 'Night of the Demon' (1972, 10 mins) - Rare audio interview with the actor conducted by film historian and preservationist Scott MacQueen.
Casting the Runes (1984, 53 mins) - Audio recording of Michael Hordern reading M R James’ original story.
Escape: 'Casting the Runes' (1947, 30 mins) - Radio adaptation of the story.
Super 8 version (7 mins) - Original cut-down home cinema presentation.
Isolated Music and Effects track
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery - promotional and production material
Limited Edition exclusive 80-page book - Containing a new essay by Kat Ellinger, M R James on ghost stories, extensive writing on the film and its history, archival materials, and film credits
Limited Edition double-sided poster
Limited Edition box set - Of 10,000 numbered copies - (mine is #3765)
Night of the Demon Blu-ray VerdictNight of the Demon is a true horror classic; it grabs you from the first frame and drags you through the wringer in a terrifying ride that simply will not let up. You may come to the film a sceptic, like its main protagonist Dr John Holden but, like him, you will be caught up in the mystery, unable to escape your destiny, the runes have been cast and your destiny is set! There is a clear inevitability to the film, director Jacques Tourneur is a master at light and shadow, eking the story out but at pace, relentlessly drawing you towards a terrifying conclusion that even now, over sixty years since its release, still manages to be edge of the seat viewing. With a strong script, serious and dedicated performances from its cast and, despite studio interference regarding the monster, Night of the Demon remains compelling viewing.
Finally, the UK gets a Blu-ray of the film, and what a package it is! The set from Powerhouse Films is magnificent; the BFI restored version of the film is awash with detail, with perfect greyscale and is the best of all versions of the film to watch. But, not only are there all 4 versions, there is a wealth of extras, both new and old, plus limited edition packaging, posters and a booklet. The UK may have had to wait a long time to get the film on these shores, but it’s been worth it – this is the only set worth investing in.
The film rightly deserves its place as a horror icon; it's a masterwork in tension and terror
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.