Editors Note: This is the second installment of Phil Anselmo’s Horror Report on Bloody Disgusting, where he discusses some of his favorite and recently watched horror films. You can check out the first entry in this monthly series here.
Curse of the Demon (1957)
Ok folks, for those of you already familiar with this awesome flick, bear with me because I’m pretty fucking sure you’ll understand why I’m giving it props in this months installment. UNHOLY SHIT!!! I love this flick… I saw it for the first time one early morning as a mere 4-year old on a local New Orleans TV show called “The Sunday Morning Movie”.
It came on directly after the “Popeye and Pals” show, which incidentally, came on after hours of religious programming. 30+ years later, I’m sitting here thinking how much of an absolute bird finger got tossed at all those howling white-gowned, “Jeeezziiiisss!” peddlers when this jewel-of–a movie popped up on the 9am time slot! The programmer at the time must’ve been in cahoots with occult show-off Anton LaVey!
All right, seriously, for any TRUE fan of occult films out there, this one’s mandatory for your collection. Figuring it was made in 1957, I’d say this movie was quite ahead of its time, especially when it comes to this particular style Sort of reminiscent of 1958’s “I Bury the Living”, 1962’s “Burn Witch Burn”; 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby”, and maybe even 1973’s “The Wicker Man” to an extent, “Curse of The Demon” attacks disbelievers of “Magik” and/or the “Black Arts” relentlessly with a top-notch story line, fantastically eerie atmosphere and great acting. And the fact that “Curse” came out before any of the aforementioned films is only a stronger testament to how absolutelymotherfucking genius (!) and brilliantly influential it is. In my book, it’s gotta be one of the greatest accomplishments in film history as far as approaching the subject of black magic and making it really seem foreboding and well, down-right suffocating. As far as visual special effects go, for a film made when my parents were kids, it pays off… and to be honest, “The Demon” itself haunted my kidhood thoughts on and off for years…
Our great disbeliever/hero/victim, psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews) meets in a head-on collision with the even greater believer/antagonist, Dr. Julian Karlswell (Nial MacGinnis!!!) in an unnerving game of curse casting and dodging so intense it’s visage is unavoidable. Holden, an American, travels to England for a conference hell bent on proving witchcraft is horseshit. However, on his arrival, he learns one of his main colleagues, Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham) has been killed by what the cops say look like a wild animal. Upon further investigation, Holden finds out his Professor bud had a previous run-in with well-known, outspoken warlock Julian Karswell. Karswell makes no bones about taking responsibility for the Prof’s death. In fact, he boldly states it was a curse he’d put on Harrington that’d caused his death—”The Curse of The Demon”! Harrington’s niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins) becomes involved when Holden has a brief, unassuming meeting with Karswell in a library. You see, Joanna is a full on believer in Karswell’s curses after her uncle’s demise, and Holden, who refuses to give up his investigation into his colleagues death at the request of Karswell is now cursed himself.
The way Karswell enables these curses, or “runes”, is by passing a parchment with runic symbols on it unknowingly to an intended victim. The victim in turn has only a marked number of days to live, but if they pass the parchment on to another unknowing victim, then the curse is now that person’s problem to deal with.
Sure enough, as tame as their first encounter may’ve seemed, Karswell had passed a parchment on to the still disbelieving Holden in the library. Joanna desperately tries to warn Holden that his life is in danger, and when strange hallucinations and unexplainable phenomenon actually begin to bedevil our hero, they go to the cops. Of course the law laughs the both of ‘em out of the building, leaving Holden feeling a fool. Holden holds firm to his belief of disbelief for as long as possible before he decides Karswell is telling the truth, so he sets up a plan to tell the warlock face-to-face that he’s halting the investigation and that he “believes” in Black Magic. But it’s too late; once a person’s cursed, it cannot be taken back, only passed on. Holden’s plan culminates at the end of the film and the ultimate double-crossing takes place on a train, then spills out onto the train tracks, and then “The Demon” cometh for it’s final victim.
Think you’ve heard this synopsis before? Well, maybe. But to be blunt, there’s no way in heck I’m going to give away the finer points of this movie, nor the actuality of it’s ending either. The story is clever, and even when I watch it these days it retains a freshness, which is another way of reiterating its originality. The Karswell character is probably my favorite and rotund Nial MacGinnis couldn’t have been a better selection for the part. He’s complex, but simple. His wrath and temper are not to be toyed with, yet he’s as calm and cool as a dozing Burmese python. His first appearance in the film, where he and Holden meet, comes off almost apologetic with a clumsy kind of charm. Later in the film he’s playing the part of a clown entertaining a group of kids on Halloween. He even shows off a little white magic to Holden in a scene where he slightly overdoes the balance of nature as an example of his power. However, underneath this semi-playful character lies Karswell’s true nature; a dark-hearted, selfish, mother-controlling, demon-conjuring sociopath with a lust for ascendancy over those who fear him!
Ok, my description of this film can’t do it justice, so check it out for yourselves! For all the kids born into this generation of CGI worship, take the special FX with a grain of malt liquor; without films like “Curse of The Demon”, FX as we know them and see them wouldn’t be where they’re at today… but this film isn’t about it’s special effects. It’s a psychological mind-fuck that leads the viewer into a world where witchcraft is real, and disbelievers perish.