Sense of Wonder: New Night for Branagh?

Director-Star of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein may end up casting the runes on a new version of Night of the Demon.

Fangoria’s Blood-Spattered Blog has anaudio interview with Kenneth Branagh saying that if he ever returns to the horror genre after his 1994 film MARY SHELLY’S FRANKENSTEIN, it would be to do a remake 1958’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON, one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Is this really a good idea? I’m ambivalent, to say the least.

I did not hate the Branagh-directed MARY SHELLY’S FRANKENSTEIN so much that I would not want to see him attempt another horror film; on the other hand I didn’t love the film so much that I want to see him get his hands on NIGHT OF THE DEMON, a subtle British classic, any remake of which would require expert handling. When a film is this good, any follow-up would have as much chance of matching the original as 2010: ODYSSEY TWO.

Is there a possible justification for a remake? Kenneth Branagh mentions one: Remarking on the differences between NIGHT OF THE DEMON and its source material, Branagh states that the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James convinced him there was potential to make a new film that would be distinct from the original.

This is a valid point, although Branagh undermines himself slightly by insisting that James’ tale is extremely short, only “five pages” or so, when in fact it runs over twenty. First published in 1911, “Casting the Runes” is very much in the tradition of the Victorian ghost story (a form at which James excelled). The basic outline and a few key incidents made it into the film, but the story was updated; much was added, and a few shuddery episodes were omitted (as when the protagonist puts his hand under his pillow one night and encounters “a mouth, with teeth and with hair about it, and…not the mouth of a human being”).

Insert closeup of the monster inserted at the insistence of the producer

Insert closeup of the monster inserted at the insistence of the producer

Filming a faithful version of the story, in a period setting, might be a worthwhile way of revisiting the material, but what would really get me on board would be if Branagh could stay true to the original intent of screenwriter Charles Bennett and director Jacques Tourneur, who favored an ambiguous approach for NIGHT OF THE DEMON, which would left the existence of the titular demon an open question. Unfortunately, as good as the 1958 film is, its final cut is marred by the intrusion of special efects inserted at the insistence of producer Hal Chester, which give away the demon’s existence in the opening scene. (The U.S. version of the film, retitled CURSE OF THE DEMON, is even more heavily re-edited, though still effective; both versions are available together on DVD.)

Branagh says nothing definite on this point, only indicating that this is a matter to be addressed if and when the project ever becomes reality. So, I cannot say I am dying for a remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMON, but I do have to admit that there is some room for improvement that might make a new version worth seeing.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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