A Horror Plague Is Upon Us! --- Part One
1958 must surely be the year when horror and science-fiction really caught fire. Never had there been so many monsters on parade. They were all over television as well as theatres, thanks to Screen Gems' issuance of fifty-two oldies Universal owned, a package they simply called Shock. Interest in these led to magazines (like Famous Monsters Of Filmland as of February 1958) serving as base command for followers still active as of 2010. Was all this good for an industry's public image? The Motion Picture Herald didn't think so. The alarming rate of horror's output moved editor Martin Quigley to recommend producers take a careful look and a long thought before over-committing themselves to this type of picture. Quigley's stance reflected old guard concerns (he was 41 that year), with the star community's Gary Cooper calling horror pics a fad that soon will pass. Quigley agreed the cycle would run its course, speculating as to whether this type of fare is not of potential danger to the young people who seem to be the most avid fans. Monsters were not unlike rock and roll for getting under an establishment's collective skin. Old hand at shlock-selling Arthur Mayer (he of NYC's famed Rialto Theatre) encouraged calm: We are playing to the so-called "beat generation" which rejects the established code of ethics and the mores of our daily life, though he was quick to add that their money folded as well as anyone's. With trade counts of twenty-four horrors and seventeen sci-fi's on '58 release schedules through October, who was surprised when widely read The Saturday Evening Post and others like it turned lasers on the horror plague, as some exhibitors were now calling it?
Even producers most responsible for the glut knew things were getting out of hand. William Castle said frankly that the public is fed up with horror films now and wants to see "real ghost stories." Bill's forthcoming (and spook laden) House On Haunted Hill doubtlessly inspired said outburst, but what planet was American-International's Jim Nicholson on when he knocked cheap-o chillers done for even less coin than he and partner Sam Arkoff's own penny-pinchers? It didn't seem likely anyone would take horror films seriously against carny background the Castles and Nicholson/Arkoffs had built around them, chillers being so debased as to be offered in matched pairs, their audience a lot of trogs whose money you'd want to fumigate before depositing. Into this marketplace came Curse of The Demon and Revenge Of Frankenstein, the first a rare class chiller no one (least of all Columbia) knew quite how to market, and the second a hoped-for repeat of sock business its inspiration, Curse Of Frankenstein, had done the year before. How these two were domestic handled reveals much about what happened when so much of a faddish thing overwhelmed its public and left casualties on a Summer 1958 battlefield too crowded for anyone's profit or good.
Columbia took receipt of The Haunted (eventually Curse of The Demon) in late 1957. Evidence suggests there were two negatives delivered. One ran 95 minutes, the other 82. Either way, it was a scare picture thinking folk could love, but who needed that? Columbia had ordered, and supplied financing for, a monster show they could pour into yet another of their cyclers built for two (the company that made the exploitation combo what it is today ..., boasted trade ads). They could have maintained its original title and released 95 minutes to the carriage trade, but where was recent precedent suggesting this would work? We jump too easy to conclusion that Columbia execs were dumb as rocks, and that they hesitated not one moment in defiling a thriller now called classic, but I wonder if consideration, however brief, was given to releasing Curse complete and as a single. The property had been recognized for something special even before cameras rolled. Charles Bennett's spec script roused interest among leading men not otherwise disposed toward horror projects. Dick Powell, Robert Taylor, and Robert Cummings were said to have read The Haunted and been impressed. Bennett claimed later that it was nearly a go with Taylor. Attention from these names and ultimate getting of Dana Andrews was no small feat, as shocker themes were radioactive to a mainstream industry and would remain so for years longer. Columbia's decision to go ahead and dump Curse Of The Demon was unfortunate, if slowly arrived at. Stills initially carried Night of The Demon as the film's title, then were sniped over (1957 copyrighted exchange photos even referred to it on back captions as The Haunted), while Curse Of The Demon's pressbook (a mere four pages) indicates 95 minutes of running time. Perplexing too for American audiences was fact that Curse's theatrical trailer included a portion from the longer version they'd not see.
Most histories for Curse/Night Of The Demon claimed British theatres got all those 95 minutes. It was historian Scott MacQueen who revealed the fallacy of that assumption in a lengthy article he wrote for Photon # 26 in 1975 (republished in SPFX # 10 in 2002). According to Scott, Night/Curse/The Haunted was prepared at 95 minutes in Great Britain, as indicated on the title page of the British Cutting Continuity, but in a different font below is typed the phrase "UK RELEASE VERSION" -- the 82 minute length. Bill Everson confirmed for MacQueen that UK audiences indeed saw the 82 minute cut in 1957-58, not a 95 minute one. Scott adds, however, that some Continental prints were of the longer version (specifically in Italy). For the American and UK public, there wouldn't be access to those 95 minutes until rediscovery of a single 35mm fine grain master in the late seventies. Certainly it was 82 minutes reviewers evaluated when Columbia brought Curse Of the Demon before the trade in early 1958. Variety and The Motion Picture Herald filed positive notices after February screenings, the Herald emphasizing that the name of Dana Andrews on the marquee of a theatre offering this attraction is indication and assurance that it is a mystery of higher grade than its title and the general level of contemporary fright films might suggest. Still, Curse was tied to exploitation tracks, and had to be sold accordingly. Columbia announced a March release and ran a trade ad pairing the film with a drug expose titled The True Story Of Lynn Stuart. The Shock-To-Shock Double Thrill Bill was an uneasy one ... within a few weeks, Curse Of The Demon
Curse Of The Demon's proposed combination with The True Story Of Lynn Stuart was the only time I've ever seen it positioned on the top half of a bill. Unlike a Touch Of Evil of doubtful lower berth placement, this one really was relegated to second position (sometimes fourth, as in the all-night "Yellow Coward Show" shown above) behind chillers we remember less well today. Demon's most frequent dates were in company of The Revenge Of Frankenstein, Columbia's well-touted sequel to the Warner handled Franken-smash of 1957. Curse Of The Demon got not a fraction of the push Revenge was accorded, the latter enjoying a trade blitz promising Billion-Jolt business for a July release Columbia announced as part of its Block-Busting Super 7 (trade ad above). Curse Of The Demon's arrival had been postponed to selfsame July date, its placement distinctly not among Super 7's, fellow also-rans including Hammer imports The Camp On Blood Island and The Snorkel, both in black-and-white, but in the case of Blood Island at least, still a better revenue bet than Curse Of The Demon (and recipient of greater trade support). Columbia meanwhile needed the horror title to pair with Revenge Of Frankenstein. A then-prevailing business model called for top-tiered color shockers to be buttressed by monochromatic cousins assuring patron money's worth. Universal was currently burning up woods on technicolor-ed Horror Of Dracula with bargain rack B/W The Thing That Couldn't Die, produced cheaply to give the vampire king a date to proms. Fox had done much the same with The Fly's erstwhile companion, Space Master X-7, a who-dat? no one would pay specifically to see. These were B sides to hit records, the kind you'd watch silent from rear of a pick-up or barely hear from horizontal position in back seats (indoor customers might split altogether after seeing color headliners they came for). What chance did Curse Of The Demon have in the face of realities like these?
Many thanks to Scott MacQueen for much info and data on the various versions of Curse/Night Of The Demon. His was the first in-depth coverage on the film (way back in '75!), and has remained a valuable resource for all that's been written since.