The Script, the Séance and the Censor: Writing night of the Demon (1957)

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JournalHistorical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
DateAccepted/In press - 8 Feb 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 3 Apr 2017
DatePublished (current) - 2018
Issue number1
Volume38
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)73-94
Early online date3/04/17
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In his memoirs, screenwriter Charles Bennett reflects upon writing the British horror film Night of the Demon (1957, Jacques Tourneur). He reveals his lack of fondness for the film’s executive producer, commenting ‘Hal Chester, if he walked up my driveway right now, I’d shoot him dead’. Chester rewrote elements of Bennett’s script to focus attention on the fire demon, and arranged additional filming after Tourneur had completed directing duties. This much of Night of the Demon’s production history is well documented. However, drawing upon extensive research at BFI Special Collections and the BBFC, this article offers an alternative reading of the film. Focusing on creative process, I utilize draft screenplays, reader reports and letters to piece together how the original writer envisaged Night of the Demon and how various institutional pressures impacted upon the final script. Crucially, by examining the séance-the act two midpoint-I provide a revisionist account of the film, one that draws away from the now-standard discussion of whether Bennett and Tourneur knew the fire demon would be shown at the film’s beginning and end. Instead, this article is a consideration of the power of storytelling to generate fear.

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