Night Of The Demon

Recently featuring in the BFI’s Gothic season, this 1957 UK horror directed by Jacques Tourneur, and starring Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins, had a detailed journey through the BBFC, starting two years before the film was released.

In January 1955 the BBFC received a copy of a screenplay entitled The Bewitched, from Marcel Hellman Productions, requesting advice about the likely certificate for a film based on the script. The overall reaction from the examining team was that a film made from that script would almost certainly have to receive an X. One examiner comments, “the first page … describes this as a ‘light-heartedly dramatic excursion into what might or might be the supernatural’; this definitely does not accurately describe what is found in the script itself.”

Whilst several scenes could sit below the X category -“golf matches etc.” – the basic story would not be acceptable at any other category as the “story is essentially a powerful study in the uncanny and macabre, the terror that walks by night.” It is noted that the story ”could not, in our view, fail to be terrifying to children, and such scenes of light relief as the script affords are purely incidental to the main horrific theme.” One aspect of the script that could not have remained even under an X certificate was noted – “we could not allow any pictures of, or references to, the Black Mass.”

Over one year later, in September 1956, a new version of the script – still entitled The Bewitched – was sent in by Sabre Films for further advice. The ‘light relief’ and golf-playing were no longer present, and “the horror is laid on as thick as possible in all ‘horrific’ sequences.”

A letter sent to Sabre Films following the script reading is published here, and details the BBFC’s observations about possible classification issues for a film made of the script. Concern about references to black magic remain, and the Board strongly emphasises that restraint will be required, even at X – “a good deal will depend upon the sound, including screams, which can become excessive even for the ‘X’ category.”

Sabre sent in a further amended script in October 1956, with a new title – The Haunted. The issues for the BBFC remained the same, and the BBFC reiterated the warning about keeping the ‘horrific’ sequences in check.

It is interesting to note from the examiners comments throughout the period of script advice that the initial Bewitched scripts submitted to the BBFC featured an ending in which Karswell, having discovered the Runes in his pocket, throws himself from a train screaming “It’s after me – it’s here”, and into the path of an oncoming express train. The later script submission - with the title changed to The Haunted – describes an ending in which Karswell again throws himself from a train, but the comments go on to refer to a “shot of the creature’s flaming claws encircling Karswell”, which is the spectacular ending which was eventually shown to audiences.

The completed film was submitted for classification in June 1957, under the more familiar title Night Of The Demon. Given the multiple script readings the film was familiar territory for the BBFC. An X certificate was recommended, with one cut, as detailed in the cuts list also published here.