Year: 1957

Rick Shaw can’t read, so, not being able to journey through Cult Film Freak for background into, has personally enjoyed a few movies, like LAURA and BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, starring his landlord’s favorite actor, Dana Andrews, but was curious about one of Dana’s better known b-movies that seemed a sort of demotion of cinematic value for such a serious, squared-jawed presence…

What was the science fiction horror British production, CURSE OF THE DEMON, for  Dana Andrews’ career?

A very wonderful thing. But who knows if he felt that way at the time, when he’d veered from the A-list into B-movie status. Obviously he was happy enough with the results since he wanted the director, Jacques Tourneur, back to do THE FEARMAKERS the very next year. Then again, Andrews and Tourneur had worked before, a decade earlier. CANYON PASSAGE was Dana’s greatest Western. And by the way, something to discuss later… Every Western he starred in had to do with a man who goes to the gallows, or is in threat of being hung by some kind of lynch mob or kangaroo court: he or someone else… But this isn’t about cowboys hanging cowboys, sorry…

Well it is about Dana and Jacques… What do you think of Dana’s performance in CURSE OF THE DEMON?

First off, CURSE OF THE DEMON is also known as NIGHT OF THE DEMON. That’s the British version, a longer cut, and those scenes aren’t really necessary, so the movie that’s more widely available, titled with the CURSE, is better: gets to the point at hand, centering on a replacement for a slain English scientist who was about to expose a… what he considers a phony cult of demonologists following one Doctor Karswell, played brilliantly by Niall McGinnis. So the film’s best moments have this elegant, rotund and surprisingly subtle and polite character showing Dana he’s for real and not a trickster or sham, but without fully proving it. There’s a  wonderfully lavish scene where the Bad Doctor conjures up a windstorm during his own mansion daytime party wherein he’s performing tricks for children. When everyone runs inside it is very reminiscent of a film that hadn’t yet been made: Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS… And hey, wait, your initial question wasn’t even answered, was it?


Insert Art

We’ll get back to it… About what you said: Is there an overall Alfred Hitchock vibe? It sounds like it would given the plot…

Yes and no. Mostly it’s a forerunner to a string of ongoing movies that would become extremely popular the following decade: concerning gadgets and espionage. It’s been mentioned already on Cult Film Freak and Karswell is very much like a stock villain in that franchise. But what can be disclosed here, and isn’t over there, follows up on the Yes to your Hitchcock question. There is a Demon, and we get to see him, all of him, right up front within the first ten minutes, which the director felt was deleting the suspense for the rest of the movie. This would have been much more in the Hitchcock vein had the creature been hidden till at least what we call the King Kong 45-Minute Mark. What remains is a sort of dark comedy blended into the investigative nature of Dana Andrews and ingenue Peggy Cummins’s entertaining and breezy rollercoaster ride that Karswell puts them on. Plus there’s a Film Noir vibe on how Tourneur, who epitomized the genre with OUT OF THE PAST, plays with alley night shadows and the ambiguous nature of the film’s lead and villain. The girl is the only person up front about everything. Her uncle was the scientist killed in the beginning, and while Dana’s in it for his job and eventually, his life… when Karswell gives him the curse so that the Demon will visit in a week’s time… she’s got revenge on the mind.


Didn’t Rune Dana’s Career

Okay, back to basics: How do you rate this for Dana Andrews as far as performance goes?

It’s his best horror flick. Given some of the junk he’d be thrown into later, in the sixties, takes away from the fact that CURSE OF THE DEMON is an incredible movie with just about everything… And it’s got to be said, even from the biggest of fans, Dana’s acting isn’t perfect here. A lot of times it feels like he’s sailing his way through the dialogue, using that perfect voice as a crutch, and when facing immense danger, if you put a glass of sherrie in his hand it’d probably stay filled. But then again… this provides his character a sort of unflinching quality that makes everything else stand out as having to absorb the residual intensity. While Dana isn’t the only person who could have played the part, like in LAURA and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, his comfortable performance neatly fits within his noted minimalist style: He doesn’t try to take away from what the picture’s really about. In this case, a formidable monster that was actually, arguably, better off experienced at the beginning so that the audience wasn’t depending on that and that alone for closure. What’s important here is the “landing strip” the beast lays out before it rams straight at its victim. While Dana’s non-believing gentleman hero knows nothing of what’s to come, we know everything, and our fears lie on not what will kill him, or how, but where… For in CURSE OF THE DEMON, Where means everything.


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