Originally released as "Night Of The Demon," Jacques Tourneur's eerie occult horror thriller was re-titled and shortened for the 1958 American release, with several scenes in the second quarter shuffled about to quicken the pace and elicit a different momentum of shocks and pauses. Columbia's DVD presents both versions on this premiere disc, although why the original British version isn't given precedence - both in the disc's official title and in the main menu - over the "truncated" American cut is rather odd.
By the 1950s, Tourneur, a veteran director best known for the classic "Cat People," "I Walked With A Zombie" and "The Leopard Man" thrillers, made several films outside of the horror genre, but Charles Bennett's neat script (based on Montague R. James' "Casting The Runes") permitted Tourneur to exploit some of the mood and shock tricks he had honed over the decades. A case in point is Dana Andrews' midnight break-in of MacGinnis' immense mansion: creeping down the wall-wrapping stairs from the second floor into the ground-level study, Tourneur's masterly use of shadows, high-contrast lighting, a disembodied hand, and clever blocking heighten the suspense without over-bearing music or manic editing.
Columbia's transfer of these rich images is sharp and artifact-free, and though both prints show some wear and speckling over the main titles, the overall quality is excellent. Tourneur's extended attack sequences involving the demon reveal multiple shades of gray and eerily reflected lamp posts - angles and compositions which no doubt influenced Mario Bava to some degree - which are well-preserved on the DVD.
The mono soundtrack is well-balanced, and Clifton Parker's dynamic score adds just the right amount of tension between the film's brisk dialogue exchanges and chilling sound effects montages that precede the demon's appearances or hint of its looming presence.
The extras include two brief genre trailers in adequate condition, and the disc's colour inlay card displays indexed chapters for both versions, so viewers can compare the juggled scenes and examine how the studio tweaked a British film for the American market.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan