I always like a good satanic cult movie, and the cult’s power in this one seems much stronger than in The Seventh Victim. The movie as a whole isn’t as great as Seventh Victim – much more straightforward, less mysterious and with appalling special effects – but it’s also more audacious and intense.
Doomed professor Harrington (Maurice Denham, appropriately of Shout at the Devil) comes running over to see devil-bearded Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis, appropriately of The Devil’s Agent), asking him to take back some curse, but Karswell declines, and Harrington is chased by a giant demon into power lines. So dreamy Doctor Holden (Dana Andrews, appropriately of Hot Rods to Hell and The Devil’s Brigade) arrives in town to take over Harrington’s work, gets cozy with Harrington’s niece (Peggy Cummings, appropriately of Hell Drivers and Meet Mr. Lucifer) and ignores all this devil/curse nonsense – until it’s too late!
It seems Karswell is part of some demon cult and Harrington planned to publish a conference paper exposing the group, so K. passed H. a slip of paper with runes written on it, and after three days of spooky signs, the giant demon came for Harrington. K. asks Holden if he plans to continue his predecessor’s work, Holden says yes, gets the runes, is doomed – unless Karswell forgives him and breaks the spell, or Holden figures it out and passes them to someone else before they “escape” (are pulled by a clearly visible string) from his grasp.
Karswell’s pet cat morphs into a leopard, shown here mid-transformation.
Not shown: the leopard’s transformation into a stuffed toy, which “wrestles” comically with Holden.
Clearly the best scene is when our heroes show at Karswell’s house to speak with him and his mother (Athene Seyler, appropriately of Satan Never Sleeps) and K. is dressed as a clown, using his dark magic to entertain children. Challenged to prove his powers, he summons a hurricane and destroys his own party. His mom isn’t pleased, and starts helping the do-gooders behind her son’s back.
Clownswell with the grinning do-gooders:
There’s also some business about an ex-cult member, a farmer now in an insitution, who is hypnotized into revealing some plot points about the runes, before jumping to his death under Holden’s supervision – you’d think he’d be blamed for the poor guy’s death but nobody seems to care.
Holden and Ms. Harrington gradually become convinced of the dark powers, go to the police complaining of smoke following them through the woods and pages ripped out of books, and are rightly dismissed. So Holden fights witchcraft with witchcraft, manages to pass the runes back to Harrington who is immediately killed by the demon and/or a train.
A cool, noirish shot:
From what I’ve seen, it looks like Tourneur went from genre cheapies (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie) to great studio pictures (Out of the Past and Stars In My Crown) back to genre cheapies, maintaining unusually high quality throughout.
IMDB on Drag Me To Hell: “Raimi intended this to be a remake but could not secure the rights to the film. Instead, they kept many elements and rewrote the story. Elements kept: 3 day hex, the passing of an item to be rid the curse, the train station used for the ending.”