Halloween Every Day (for a Month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Day 31: Curse of the Demon (1957).
(The following contains SPOILERS. You might not want to read beyond this point if you have not seen Curse of the Demon or Drag Me to Hell.)
Every time I watch Curse of the Demon I am struck by the same two things. The first is the numerous unmistakable similarities between this film and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (2009), specifically in terms of story and structure. In both films the main character is cursed by someone who feels they’ve been wronged. In CotD, the main character is a world-renowned professor who is ultimately cursed by a Satanist who believes his reputation has been sullied by nonbelievers in the world of academia; while in DMtH our lead is a loan officer at a bank (her steady boyfriend is, not coincidentally, a professor) who is cursed by an elderly gypsy woman with a rotten set of chompers when she refuses the woman a mortgage extension. In both films, the actual curse consists of three days of psychological/supernatural torment, culminating in the victim’s death at the hands of an unstoppable demon. In both films, the victim unknowingly possesses a cursed object (a cursed parchment inscribed with a runic incantation in CotD; a cursed coat button in DMtH). Both films feature sequences in which the victims attend a séance intended to supernaturally ablate the curse … and in both films the séance fails, though for very different reasons. And, finally, both films execute their respective finales at train stations, where prominent characters are horrifically killed by a demon as a speeding train approaches—but here is also where the films differ. In CotD, our hero, Professor John Holden, escapes his horrible fate by returning the cursed parchment to the film’s satanic antagonist, who in turn suffers the demon’s wrath; however, Christine Brown, the bedeviled bank loan officer from DMtH is not so lucky. Her three days of torment conclude with her being literally dragged, kicking and screaming, to hell, right through the train tracks she believed would whisk her away to a better life, as her boyfriend looks on in abject horror.
While these two films are clearly ripe for comparison from a narrative standpoint, they couldn’t be less similar from a stylistic standpoint. It hardly needs to be stated that Sam Raimi’s film is the much more kinetic, visually daring, F/X-heavy cinematic experience, while Jacques Tourneur’s Curse is a moody, intentionally quiet film that distills many of its creepiest moments from its inherent stillness. In any case, watching these two distinctly different stylistic interpretations of basically the same material serves as proof that a good story, regardless of how it is told, is without question the foundation on which all successful movies are built.
Oh, yeah … The second thing that always strikes me when I watch Curse of the Demon is just how good Curse of the Demon really is. It’s not going to scare anyone into cardiac arrest or test the structural integrity of your Fruit of the Looms. And, okay, maybe some people will find the rubber demon suit a little hokey. But something about it just works. It’s a movie that feels like a campfire tale, like a nightmare projected in glorious black and white; it’s a movie that exists in a world of cobwebs and starless nights, where people conjure demons to do their bidding and no one’s soul is safe. So … rubber suit or not, Curse of the Demon feels like the perfect way for a film fan to end a Halloween night. It also feels like the perfect way to end my month-long exploration of the world of horror cinema.