Hollywood Gothique
The Vault

Friday Cat Blogging: Curse of the Demon

One of my favorite fright movie felines shows up briefly in CURSE OF THE DEMON (originally know in England as NIGHT OF THE DEMON). Although being only a sideshow, not the main attraction, he gets only minimal screen time, this cat makes a memorable impression.

With this thoughtful horror film, director Jacques Tourneur made an excellent attempt at recreating the shadowy suggestiveness of his 1940s collaborations with producer Val Lewton (Cat People, The Leopard Man). Based on the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James, the screenplay by Charles Bennett and producer Hal E. Chester offers a tale of a psychiatrist, Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews), debunking the supernatural, in the form of self-proclaimed sorcerer Dr. Julian Carswell (Niall MacGinnis).

The original script was obviously carefully constructed so that neither the scientific nor the supernatural explanation would ever be conclusively proven, leaving interpretation open to the audience. Producer Chester, however, insisted that at least some horrors be shown, including a giant demon that appears to strike down victims in the opening and closing sequences.

Another visible horror occurs when Dr. Holden breaks into Carswell’s home looking for clues. He encounters a small house cat that, in a simple lap-over dissolve, appears to transform into a lethal leopard. In a scene that recreates the ambiguous ambience of the fatal confrontation between Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) and Irena (Simone Simone) in Cat People, Holden grapples with the enlarged feline, which is glimpsed fleetingly in the shadows, making it hard to see whether Holden’s fight is with a real animal or only with his imagination. (At least, that was the intention: one or two shots linger long enough to reveal the beast as a stuffed animal, marring an otherwise fine sequence.) The fight abruptly terminates when Carswell enters and turns on the lights, revealing only a harmless house cat: “His name is Grimalkin – very fashionable name for an English Cat in the Middle Ages. They were used in Witchcraft, you know.”