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December 2012
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Posts Tagged ‘Night of the Demon’

Classic horror fans will no doubt be aware of Night Of The Demon, the 1957 movie adaptation of M.R. James’ spooky short story Casting The Runes which was originally published in More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911) but there have been a couple of other adaptations over the years.  The British fantasy anthology TV series Mystery & Imagination (1966 – 1970) produced a version during its third season which apart from a few scenes no longer exists but fortunately another television version, part of ITV Playhouse is still available for our viewing pleasure.

The ITV Playhouse adaptation of Casting The Runes was first aired in February 1979 and stars Jan Francis as TV producer Prudence Dunning, recipient of the cursed parchment which has already killed one man and now threatens to lead her to her doom. The only way she can save herself is by passing the parchment back to the evil Julian Karswell (Iain Cuthbertson) and thus revert the death curse back to him. This is a bleak, atmospheric play which makes the most of its snowy landscapes, depressing 1970′s architecture and interior decor, creating a claustrophobic feeling of dread throughout.

It is particularly interesting to compare this version of M.R. James’ story with Jacques Tourneur’s much lauded fifties film adaptation Night Of The Demon (also known as Curse Of The Demon) and the way in which it updates it for a (then) contemporary audience. Changing the sex of the main character from a man to a woman gives the tale a fresh slant and giving her a job in television also makes it seem more relevant to the modern viewer. Being only 50 minutes long, Casting The Runes is half the length of the movie version and dispenses with many of the sub plots including the children’s Halloween party and the more ongoing combative relationship between our hero (ine) and the villainous Karswell. Also missing is the giant demon monster which was controversially added to Night Of The Demon against its director’s better judgement although there is a frightening sequence involving a giant spider which was not in the film adaptation.

With its fairly taut script and a fine performance from Jan Francis, Casting The Runes makes a fine addition to the British television ghost story canon, alongside such classics as The Woman In Black (1989), The Signalman (1976) and Ghostwatch (1992).

Review by Richard Gladman

Useful Links:

Casting The Runes (ITV Playhouse)

Night Of The Demon

Mystery And Imagination

More Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary

Ghost Stories For Christmas


The Woman In Black


A rare screening of the 1957 horror classic with a talk by Tony Earnshaw – author of Beating the Devil: the Making of Night of the Demon.
This vintage chiller puts the ‘Cult’ into Culture at the Babylon gallery, Ely. This rare screening has been organized by cult film enthusiast, Kit  Lewis, and will include a talk by Tony Earnshaw, author of Beating the Devil – which tells the troubled story of how the movie was made, including getting past the British censors! Night of the Demon is based on an MR James story, Casting the Runes, and follows John Holden, a sceptical psychologist who falls foul of the leader of a sinister cult and finds he must race against time to cheat the curse put on him. Tony will be signing copies of his book afterwards.
Friday 17th February – 7:30pm  The Babylon Gallery, Ely.
You can buy tickets from WeGotTickets!
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