First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my debt to www.britishhorrorfilms.co.uk for alerting me to this film and many others. It’s a wonderful witty site that has provided me hours of entertainment, and is worth viewing. We are in agreement here, that whatever praise is heaped on this movie is insufficient.
Curse of the Demon is an adaptation of M.R. James story ‘Casting the Runes,’ which is a sign of good taste right there. Jacques Tourneur directs, which is another good omen.
Part of the reason the film works is the performance Niall MacGinnis as Julian Karswell, a magician and cult leader and the villain of the film. Not a lot is known about the cult, because people that investigate it tend to have convenient accidents, and people who leave don’t end up too well either.
Now he faces the skeptical Dr. John Holden who is determined to continue the investigation and also discover the secret of his predecessor’s death. What he doesn’t realize is that Karswell uses a spell, a spell centered on a rune that is drawn on a piece of parchment and then surreptitiously given to a victim. And at midnight, whoever possesses that rune dies in the most horrible way imaginable.
Karswell initially plays the character as inappropriately warm (he is introduced as the clown at a children’s garden party!), which is disarming, as later he becomes sinister demonstrating more and more of his power. But that’s what we expect of this sort of villain.
Where Curse of the Demon separates itself from the pack, is when we realize that Karswell is manipulating forces that he is terrified of as well, and that they are increasingly out of his control. We are used to our villains being at the top of the pecking order. Karswell is very aware of where he falls in that hierarchy…and it isn’t very high, which makes for a far more interesting character.
The movie ends as it must, with Karwell’s death by his own methods, but it never answers one question – was Karswell as powerful as he intimated, or someone with a couple cheap tricks? Like a true magician, we’ll never know.