All posts in the Movies category

DAY 21 OF 31: THE OMEN (1976)

Published October 21, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Building upon an interest in all things Satanic set in motion by films such as ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, and drawing upon the biblical book of Revelations for inspiration, THE OMEN is a chronicle of the birth and early childhood of Damien Thorn.

He’s a chubby-cheeked tot, the doted-upon son of highly born parents, American Ambassador to the UK Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife, Katherine (Lee Remick). This child of privilege also happens to be the Anti-Christ.

Harvey Stephens as Damien, center, with Lee Remick and Gregory Peck.

Directed by Richard Donner, THE OMEN is slick, handsomely made, well-appointed with A-list stars and opulent sets. It’s most memorable for the shocking deaths that seem to be supernaturally visited upon anyone in the film who becomes too nosey about who Damien really is.

The story’s set in motion when Robert, wishing to spare Katherine sorrow because her pregnancy has resulted in a miscarriage, agrees to a deception suggested by a mysterious priest. A motherless baby will be substituted for the Thorns’ dead child, and Katherine will never be the wiser.

As the baby, Damien, grows into a seemingly happy and healthy child, bizarre deaths happen around him. Damien’s young nanny hangs herself during his fifth birthday party. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), mysteriously appears to take her place.

“I am here to protect thee, little one,” says Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw).

An acolyte of Satan, she’s there to protect Damien so he can grow up and fulfill his destiny, which is outlined neatly in this poem:

When the Jews return to Zion

And a comet rips the sky

And the Holy Roman Empire rises

Then You and I must die.

From the eternal sea he rises,

Creating armies on either shore

Turning man against his brother

‘Til man exists no more.

This poem is recited to Robert by another priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), who was in on the conspiracy of Damien’s birth. He has repented and wishes to warn Robert. Pretty soon, during a freak storm, a bolt of lightning causes a church spire to fall, impaling Brennan.

An untimely end for Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton).

Photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) also tries to warn Robert, and travels with him to Italy to ferret out the truth about Damien’s unnatural birth.  (Hint: a jackal was involved.)

Jennings succeeds in convincing Robert that Damien is the Antichrist and must be destroyed, but Jennings’ reward is to suffer a horrific death involving a sheet of plate glass that decapitates him.

Robert Thorn is helped in his search for the truth about Damien by Jennings (David Warner.)

Even Damien’s mom, frightened of Damien and unable to love him as her own, comes under attack by the unseen forces that protect the boy, especially when she becomes pregnant with an actual child of Robert and Katherine.

Robert comes into possession of the seven sacred daggers of Meggido, the only weapons that can extinguish the life of the Antichrist. Will he have the nerve to use them? Or will Damien kill him first?

THE OMEN is intriguingly structured as a mystery, as Robert works to discover the truth about his adopted son. The mystery element is lost in the subsequent films, each of which stands as a tableau of unfolding elaborately staged deaths.

For this reason as well as for others, the original installment of THE OMEN remains the best, and well worth discovering.



“I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.




Published October 20, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Attacked by many critics upon its release, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has grown in stature since 1974, partially based upon recognition that there is considerable artistry to the film’s seemingly chaotic mix of mayhem and madness. It has been hailed by Rex Reed among others as the most terrifying film ever made.

I recall reading a review that said that even the soap bubbles on the van windshield in an early scene came across as ominous. The film builds, with quiet passages, but the sense of dread is omnipresent.

The in-your-face, over-the-top title and the full-throttle action that takes over in the second half of the film distract from the fact that there is careful mood building and even restraint at work, not to mention doses of bizarre humor that almost take the film into the realm of the surreal.

Violence there is, and blood, too, but the film is not quite as gruesome as the title would have us think. The killings are shocking more from their suddenness and bizarre nature than from an overindulgence in actual gore.

Marilyn Burns as Sally.

Directed on a low budget by Tobe Hooper and featuring a mostly unknown but game cast, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE follows a group of young people including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain). They seek out the old Hardesty homestead but run out of gas along the way.

Seeking help at an isolated farmhouse which contains knick-knacks and furniture made of bones and human skin, the group ends up being attacked one by one by a family of psychopaths who used to be slaughterhouse workers until the old place went out of business. They now have to depend on passersby like the Hardestys to keep their old skills in practice.

Leatherface is an icon of 70s horror.

Most memorable of this crew of cannibalistic crazies is Leatherface, a heavy-built, seemingly retarded man who wears a face mask made of human skin.

Only Sally Hardesty survives the initial series of attacks, and the remainder of the film consists of Sally screaming, fighting, leaping out of windows, and doing everything possible to evade and elude her insane tormentors. She gives a remarkable performance, constantly on the edge of hysteria and sometimes beyond, in the tradition of the great Fay Wray of KING KONG fame.

Meet Leatherface, right, and his family, including comatose but not-completely-gone Grandpa at the head of the table.

Most bizarre is the family dinner scene, in which a seemingly mummified Grandpa is pulled out of mothballs, coming back to life as he is allowed to suck like some obscene infant on Sally’s bleeding finger. There is a kind of dark comedy at work, which only slightly relieves our unbridled horror at the depraved madness on display.

Sally earns our admiration as she continues to fight to survive. Incredibly, she gets away, but we’re left in doubt as to whether she has escaped with her sanity intact.

In an oddly poetic final image, Leatherface vents his frustration at her escape by twirling his chainsaw in the air in a defiant dance.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s a rewarding and unforgettable ride for committed horror fans and an absolute touchstone in 70s horror.


  • The opening narration informing us that the events we are about to see really happened is read by actor John Larroquette of 80s sitcom fame.
  • That narration is an effective mood-setting device but a lie. The events didn’t really happen as shown. The story takes some loose inspiration from the case of infamous Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, whose exploits also helped inspire PSYCHO and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
  • In 1982, Tobe Hooper directed the Steven Spielberg-produced POLTERGEIST.



“From the eternal sea he rises, creating armies on either shore,

turning man against his brother, ’til man exists no more.



DAY 18 OF 31: DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

Published October 18, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Venice, with its meandering, maze-like pathways, ancient canals and decadent palaces seems like a perfect backdrop for tales of the mysterious and macabre.

Adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier and directed by cutting-edge Australian director (of such films as WALKABOUT) Nicholas Roeg, DON’T LOOK NOW is an atmospheric tale mixing psychological horror and the occult against Venice’s exotic and romantic locale.

In a harrowing flashback, a beloved daughter drowns.

A couple played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are haunted by the loss of their daughter, recently drowned in an accident.

The husband takes work in Venice on a church restoration project. But why does he see glimpses of things that may be the future, or the past, including a tiny red-coated figure that may or may not be the specter of his lost daughter?

The couple become involved with a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom is blind and apparently psychic, who claims the couples’ daughter is trying to communicate with them. The husband has a vision of his wife with the two sisters on a funeral barge with a coffin.

Will these strange forces, and the force of their shared grief, threaten the couple’s marriage? Or their lives? And who is the figure in the red coat that seems to be drawing the husband on to some unforeseen fate?

With Roeg’s trademark fractured editing style and its detached, elliptical approach to storytelling, not to mention an in-your-face explicit lovemaking sequence that raised eyebrows at the time, DON’T LOOK NOW is a fascinating, sometimes challenging viewing experience, well worth checking out.



“Your mother’s in here, Karras. Would you like to

leave a message? I’ll see that she gets it.”

DAY 17 OF 31: THE OTHER (1972)

Published October 17, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Because of its rural, depression-era setting including a large extended family living under one roof, I often think of THE OTHER as being like “The Waltons,” if “The Waltons” had a horrifying murder taking place every 20 minutes.

My question for the day: Is THE OTHER the scariest film ever made?

Before I attempt to answer that, first a word of explanation about the choices I’ve made in picking my 31 films for this October challenge I set myself. And then a confession.

As to my choices, I’ve received some intriguing suggestions on Facebook and elsewhere for films to include. Mostly though, I’ve stuck to the list I compiled before October started.

                      How scary is THE OTHER?

I’ve picked films I believe to be original and/or influential, and that demonstrate a certain degree of artistry. I’ve excluded remakes and sequels, which helps explain, for instance, why BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is absent, and why films produced by Britain’s Hammer studios are entirely missing from the list. The 1950s was a good decade for big bug scares and alien invasions, but not so good for thoughtful horror films, so only one film from that decade appears on my list.

Now here’s the confession:  I’ve included THE OTHER on my list even though I can’t claim it’s entirely original, since I believe its very fine source novel is influenced by PSYCHO and other psychological horror stories of the time. And since it’s a film that’s not widely remembered, it’s hard to call it influential. I think other horror films of the 70s would have rolled out much the same if THE OTHER had never existed.

So why include it? For one thing, it’s beautifully directed by Robert Mulligan, who directed TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and brings a similar sense of small-town authenticity to THE OTHER, seen this time through an ominous lens.

The acting work by Chris and Martin Udvarnoky as twin brothers Niles and Holland Perry is remarkable, as is, less surprisingly, the performance by celebrated actress and drama teacher Uta Hagen as the boys’ fiercely loving Russian grandmother, Ada.

Chris Udarnoky as Niles and Uta Hagen as Ada, his grandmother, playing “the game.”

But more than that, and this is purely personal, it’s the film that scared me more than any other. Which brings me back to the first question I raised at the beginning of this discussion.

Is THE OTHER the scariest film ever made? For me, yes, but probably not for you.

I happened to see THE OTHER on television when I was home alone, at about age 10. By that age, I was well versed in fog-bound Gothic horrors of the past. I’d seen Godzilla fight it out with King Kong, Frankenstein’s monster battle the Wolfman. But I had not yet seen PSYCHO or other horrors that explored twisted corners of the human mind.

I sat through THE OTHER and was deeply shaken to the point of almost feeling physically ill. After it was over, I wandered the house in a wretched state, waiting for my parents to get home, avoiding dark corners for fear I would glimpse Torrie’s missing baby hidden in the shadows. (More on that below.)

Yes, there’s a baby in THE OTHER, and things don’t end well. THE OTHER goes there, let’s just leave it at that.

As I mentioned, I was used to the cozy Gothic horrors of the films of the 30s and 40s. But like PSYCHO, THE OTHER is a story of human frailty and madness, madness brought on by an insular family environment and an excess of one of the most valued and celebrated human emotions. Love.

Yes, THE OTHER is about loving too much. In particular, if you’re Niles it’s about loving your suspicious, malicious-minded twin brother Holland too much.

Thomas Tryon’s novel was a huge success in the 1970s, a golden age for paperback horrors.

It’s hard to write about THE OTHER without giving away its vital twists and turns. I imagine sophisticated modern horror fans could guess the movie’s big reveal. As a naive kid, the revelation that comes at about the two thirds point hit me like a Mack truck. It was horrible. And yet I wish I could get back to that innocent state in which a well-made horror film could wallop me so effectively.

Like the novel by Thomas Tryon that it follows closely (Tryon also did the screenplay), the story is set in a farmhouse in rural Connecticut during the Great Depression. (Hence the “Waltons” vibe.)

Twins Niles and Holland run freely through the idyllic-seeming countryside, but the sweeter-natured Niles is always at pains to tamp down Holland’s darker impulses.

Holland resents their pampered cousin Russell, who soon jumps into a bale of hay only to be impaled upon a pitchfork someone has hidden there. Holland has no love for the crabby lady next door either, and she ends up dead too, terrorized by someone wielding a dead rat. The twins’ mother becomes too inquisitive about what’s going on, and she takes a ruinous tumble down a flight of steps, leaving her paralyzed, unable to speak.

And while Holland is clearly disturbed, Niles keeps terrible secrets hidden in a cigar tin: a family ring, an heirloom that belonged to the boys’ dead rather (another murder, seen in flashback). And there is something else, something unspeakable wrapped in blue paper that looks like a severed human finger.

And what role is played by the twins’ Russian grandmother, Ada, who teaches Niles “the game,” which allows him to project his feelings into animals and believe things that can’t be real? How responsible is she for the murders that keep taking place?

Oh, did I mention that Holland becomes jealous when older sister Torrie (Jenny Sullivan) gives birth to a beautiful healthy girl? Niles loves his baby niece, but Holland … I can say no more, except that the movie’s tag line, “Holland, where is the baby?” still haunts my dreams to this day.

Watch THE OTHER. You won’t be scared the way I was when I was a kid. Now that I know its tricks, I’m not so scared either, and can watch it in a calm and detached way.

But you might enjoy an artfully made film about how an excess of love between two brothers leads to madness, death and ruin for an entire family.




Published October 16, 2019 by Philip Ivory

There was a lot going on in 1968. Body bags coming home from Viet Nam. A new generation defying the conventions of the old. Assassinations. Demonstrations for racial equality. Neighborhoods and campuses erupting with the flames of civil unrest.

You can see echoes of all of these things in George Romero’s low-budget but hugely influential 1968 horror, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Or some of them, or none. Zombies are said to be a ready-made metaphor, adaptable for anything happening in the culture at a particular time.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD starts out with a brother teasing his sister at a cemetery. “They’re going to get you, Barbra!”

Judith O’Dea as Barbra.

But he isn’t laughing long. Turns out those shambling, seemingly drunken folks wandering the tombstones in the background are actually zombies, and Barbra’s brother is on the menu.

In terror, Barbra makes her way to an isolated house, where a group of strangers are making their stand against the unexplained mass resurrection of the recent, and hungry, dead.

There she finds Ben, who is resourceful and calm. He will turn out to be our hero, which is unusual for an American film of this time, since he’s played by African-American actor Duane Jones.

Duane Jones as Ben.

It’s hard not to feel race is relevant during a scene in which Ben butts heads with a white man who’s hiding his family in the basement, and thinks he should be calling the shots, not Ben. Director Romero claims, however, that Jones was cast simply because he was the best actor available.

The rest of the film plays out as a survivalist drama. Good decisions are made, as are bad ones. People cooperate, people argue.

What made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD so shocking was its unrelentingly grim tone and the fact that Romero was willing to “go there” in ways most other horror films hadn’t yet. Some of the zombies are nude. We are not spared gruesome closeup shots of flesh eating. And the creepiest, eeriest scene in the film may be the one in which a little girl becomes one of the undead, brutally attacking and killing her own mother.

And that’s not to mention the downbeat and cynical ending.

Critics were rough on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at the time, but now it’s considered a cult classic, a turning point in cinema horror that opened doors to new and more transgressive sights and sounds that spoke to darker aspects of our culture.

What’s most scary about the sad, shambling, poorly dressed zombies in Romero’s film is not just that they represent a horrifying “other.” Clearly, they represent “us,” as well.

One other interesting fact to ponder. While NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the granddaddy of modern zombie films, having spawned numerous sequels, parodies and offshoots and been hugely influential on THE WALKING DEAD’s multi-media empire, the word “zombie” is used in the film not once.



“Holland, where is the baby?”

DAY 15 OF 31: ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)

Published October 15, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Directed by Roman Polanski and adapted from a novel by Ira Levin, ROSEMARY’S BABY is a sophisticated, urbane horror fable for the modern age.

Dealing with paranoia, urban isolation and the schism between old world beliefs and the skeptical modern age, ROSEMARY’S BABY brought the devil back into horror films in a big way, a trend that would be followed in the 70s by such films as THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN.

By playing up on fears about pregnancy, the film may be the forerunner to the sub-genre known today as “body horror.”

Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) is pregnant, but with whose baby?

The story is simple. Struggling actor Guy Woodhouse and his wife, Rosemary, movie into a handsome Gothic edifice on Central Park West, the Bramford. (Manhattan landmark the Dakota, home to such luminaries as Boris Karloff and John Lennon, was used for exterior shots.)

John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow as Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse want to raise a family in their new home in the Bramford.

Some weirdo neighbors, fronted by busy-body Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon), befriend the young couple. Turns out Minnie and her husband Roman (Sydney Blackmer), are part of a ring of Satanists, who quickly enlist Guy into their ranks by promising to help with his acting career.

Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castavet wants to come in and give you some chocolate mousse.

The price for this help? Rosemary is drugged one night and seemingly raped by a demonic figure as her husband and his new satanic buddies look on.

Rosemary has suffered the ultimate violation, since even her body is no longer her own.

It’s not hard to figure out who the baby daddy really is. When Rosemary is shown her newborn son, she recoils in horror, saying: “What have you done to its eyes?”

Roman Castavet replies: “He has his father’s eyes.”

“What have you done to its eyes?”

If you’re looking for gore and senseless violence, this film is not for you.

Instead ROSEMARY’S BABY is an elegant horror film, offering sincere performances in a realistic setting, slowly ratcheting up the sense of unease and paranoia as we come to realize Rosemary has been betrayed even by her husband and is trapped in a nightmare with no one to turn to. (Even the earnest young doctor played by Charles Grodin turns out to be no help.)

In the final shot, as Rosemary gazes at the thing she has given birth to, we’re left with the question: Can maternal love overcome moral revulsion? The smile playing on Rosemary’s lips would seem to give us our answer.



“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”


DAY 14 OF 31: THE HAUNTING (1963)

Published October 14, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Forget the effects laden 1999 monstrosity with Liam Neeson. (I saw it once and have mercifully succeeded in wiping it from my recollection.) Forget also last year’s stylish and promising Netflix version, which started strong but ended up making weak new age pablum of the classic story.

For a first rate, reasonably authentic and genuinely chilling screen telling of Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel, The Haunting of Hill House, look no further than the 1963 version with the trimmed down title THE HAUNTING,  starring Julie Harris and directed by Robert Wise.

The haunted house, par excellence: Hill House.

As in the novel and many other classic ghost stories, a careful balance is maintained, making us unsure at any point whether the dark forces at work in Hill House are really troublesome spirits or the forces within a disturbed mind.

Julie Harris in THE HAUNTING.

The most likely disturbed mind is that of Eleanor Lance (Vance in the novel), a sensitive with psychic ability who’s a victim of a traumatic past. She’s joined by Professor Markway (Richard Johnson), Theodora, another psychic (Claire Bloom),  and a relative of the house’s owners, Luke (Russ Tamblyn).

Julie Harris in center, flanked by (left to right) Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Richard Johnson.

THE HAUNTING is another heir to the Val Lewton school of suggested rather than seen horror. In fact, director Robert Wise cut his teeth directing such Lewton-produced chillers as THE BODY SNATCHER and CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE.

An example of the kind of understated horror offered up by THE HAUNTING occurs in a scene in which Eleanor and Theodora, sharing a room, endure a seige of banging and moaning sounds. In the dark, Eleanor feels a comforting hand holding hers, but when the lights come on, she realizes Theodora is on the other side of the room.

“Whose hand was I holding?” Eleanor cries.

Wise masterfully orchestrates the chills, and the black and white cinematography is crisp and gorgeous.

THE HAUNTING lacks the blood and violence horror fans are accustomed to today. Nonetheless, it’s a first class supernatural thriller that delivered real scares to audiences of the time. Not to mention it’s the only film version to do justice to its magnificent source novel.


“He has his father’s eyes.”

DAY 13 OF 31: PSYCHO (1960)

Published October 13, 2019 by Philip Ivory

First, a personal remembrance.

When I was in high school, they used to show movies in the auditorium on Friday nights. Once my best friend and I went to see PSYCHO there. I’d seen it before but he hadn’t, and I wanted to vicariously relive the shock and surprise through his viewing experience.

I remember that during the screening we sat behind a wise guy who kept leaning over to his girlfriend and saying: “See, this guy’s really …. blah, blah, blah … and his mother’s really … blah, blah, bah.”

Well, he didn’t really say “blah, blah, blah.” Instead, he gave away all the movie’s secrets, which is something I don’t want to do on this blog even today, on the small chance that someone’s reading this who has never seen PSYCHO and would rather not have one of the greatest films of all time ruined for them.

Don’t let that guy ruin PSYCHO for you.

I pulled my friend away so we could go sit in another row, but the wise guy noticed us, calling after us: “Hey, sorry if I spoiled the movie for ya!”

No, you weren’t sorry, you movie-spoiling jackal.

There’s a special place in movie hell for guys like this, along with a different guy at school who ran up to me before I’d had a chance to see THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK to make sure I knew who Luke’s dad was. That was a surprise stolen from me that I could never get back.

Janet Leigh as Marion Crane is driving toward a world of trouble at the Bates Motel.

So PSYCHO was and is a movie full of surprises. One is that a major character that you assume might survive for the whole movie …. might not. Say no more. And also, that guy living in the house with his mother … hey, I said I wouldn’t spoil it so I won’t.

Even though it came out before I was born, I feel that PSYCHO is the birth of the modern horror film. It might have a toe still in the Gothic traditions of the past. After all, Norman Bates’ spidery mansion is a California cousin to Dracula’s castle. But with its shocking, sudden violence and its moderately frank approach to sexuality, along with its dollop of pathological psychology, it’s clearly taking us somewhere new. And nasty.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is on the run, her purse bulging with funds embezzled from her employer. Staying at a rundown motel on a neglected  stretch of highway, she has a change of heart, planning to return the funds and face the music.

But this is not a movie about embezzling, and the Bates Motel has other plans for her. Soon, Marion is missing, and so is a detective hired to find her. There are two scenes of shocking violence in the film, shocking more from their suddenness and the consummate skill with which they are staged than for their graphic content.

Norman Bates wouldn’t harm a fly, or would he?

At the center of the mystery is mild-mannered though twitchy motel manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and his sickly mother, who is only glimpsed in the bedroom window of the old house up on the hill.

But the person really at the center of this tale of madness is suspense master Alfred Hitchcock, working in black and white and on a TV budget but absolutely and exquisitely playing at the top of his form.

Alfred Hitchcock directs Janet Leigh in the celebrated shower scene.

The celebrated rapid cut shower sequence has been studied and dissected, but there are many other tour de force scenes in PSYCHO that bring us back for repeated viewings, including the detective’s fate as he climbs the staircase (even Hitchcock’s choice of camera shots — switching unexpectedly to an overhead perspective — is startling here.) Even the early scenes in the film, long before we’ve arrived at the Bates Motel, are taut with suspense, such as the sequence in which a suspicious motorcycle cop shadows Marion as she flees her old life.

Post 1960, it’s hard to watch any horror film without acknowledging a debt to Hitchcock’s smashingly innovative thriller. The Bates Motel is worth a revisit any time. Just don’t stay in room Number One.


“I couldn’t do that. Who’d look after her? She’d be alone up there. The fire would go out. It’d be cold and damp like a grave. If you love someone, you don’t do that to them – even if you hate them. You understand that I don’t hate her. I hate what she’s become. I hate the illness.” — Norman Bate, asked about leaving his mother

“Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, ‘Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly.'” — Mother



“It ought to be burned down, and the ground sowed with salt.”


Published October 12, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Directed by CAT PEOPLE’s Jacques Tourneur, CURSE OF THE DEMON (also known by its original British title, NIGHT OF THE DEMON), seems to be a spiritual descendant of CAT PEOPLE and other 1940s films produced by the Val Lewton unit at RKO. These were films of shadow, suggestion and mood, rather than ones that served up outright boogeymen.

And so CURSE OF THE DEMON was meant to be, until interference by the producer, over objections of Tourneur and others, resulted in tampering that included inserting special effect shots of a fearsome, King Kong-scale demon, an entity whose malevolence was part of the fabric of the story, but only meant to be hinted at, not literally seen.

Horror aficionados will debate until doomsday whether the demon’s visible presence in the opening and closing scenes enhances or diminishes the story. (I’ll admit I think he’s pretty groovy, in a horrible, medieval demon kind of way.)

This occult tale plays out as a contest of wills between Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews), a professional skeptic from America who doesn’t believe in the supernatural, and Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), the film’s real villain and a master of evil occult forces, presumably modeled upon famous British occultist Aleister Crowley. (See my essay on 1934’s THE BLACK CAT, which has Boris Karloff playing another Crowley variation. Crowley would also influence 1973’s THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.)

Niall MacGinnis’s master of black arts, left, is a worthy opponent for the skeptical Dana Andrews in CURSE OF THE DEMON.

Holden, investigating the death of a professor who had been looking into Karswell’s satanic cult, suspects the professor didn’t die a natural death. (In fact, Karswell passed him a cursed parchment, which brought that demon attack seen in the film’s opening.)

Meanwhile, Holden begins to fall for the professor’s niece, Joanna, played by Peggy Cummins.

Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins.

Let’s just say that Holden will do fine in the romance department, but his long-held skepticism about the occult will take a beating. His open defiance of Karswell will result in the magician slipping Holden one of those demon-summoning parchments. But who will really get gobbled by the demon in the film’s finale?

It’s great to see that the 1950s era of big-bug horrors like THEM and alien invasion frights like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE could still make room for an elegant, occult throwback with literary antecedents like CURSE OF THE DEMON.



“We all go a little mad sometimes.”


DAY 11 OF 31: DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)

Published October 11, 2019 by Philip Ivory


These are all horror anthologies, but they stand in the shadow of the granddaddy of them all, DEAD OF NIGHT, produced by England’s Ealing Studios in 1945.

As with many horror anthologies, DEAD OF NIGHT includes a wraparound story. Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a country house, realizing it is the house he’s been seeing in a recurring nightmare that ends with him strangling someone.

Mervyn Johns, center, visits a country house in which everyone has a scary story to tell.

Craig has a sense of deja vu about the house and its guests and residents, who are amused by Craig’s eerie premonitions and begin to share their own stories of the supernatural.

These include a touchingly eerie ghost sighting at a children’s Christmas party; a marriage troubled by the husband’s obsession with an antique mirror that enthralls him with images of murder; a racing car driver who receives a warning in a dream from an ominous hearse driver (“Just room for one inside, sir.”); and a comic relief ghost tale involving the friendship between two golfers.

“Just room for one inside, sir.”

But the final, standout story involves an unbalanced ventriloquist, Max Frere (Michael Redgrave), who seems to be increasingly psychologically dominated by his dummy, Hugo.

If you’ve ever wondered where the notion came from that ventriloquist dummies are as scary as hell, well then, meet Hugo!

Meet Hugo. Sweet dreams!

Hugo begins to mock and demean Max during their act, resulting in a shocking moment in which Max slaps the dummy in front of his alarmed audience. Hugo even makes overtures to another ventriloquist, expressing his wish to abandon Max.

Is Hugo thinking of abandoning his partner and leaving the act?

Max further unravels, until it’s time for a fatal showdown between the two, which leaves Max in an insane asylum with a fractured psyche controlled by … guess who?

Is this a story of multiple personalities, an ancestor of such upcoming classics as PSYCHO? Or is Hugo truly an independent entity in his own right, a doll possessed by a demon, maybe a great uncle of ANNABELLE?

DEAD OF NIGHT has been underappreciated and seen in inferior prints for decades, but recently received blu ray treatment.

The film ends with a whirring nightmare montage that ties the wraparound story together with all the individual tales, including a jarring temporal loop finale that brings us back to the beginning.

Which is a good place to be if you’ve never had the pleasure of watching DEAD OF NIGHT before.