A scientist's reason battles superstition, his life as fragile as parchment, his rock solid skepticism soon broken like the jagged teeth of Stonehenge. Jacques Tourneur deftly directs this demonic dramaturgy where the supernatural coincides with the Thomas theorem.
In the thrilling prologue, a nervous professor is apologetic to an austere Dr. Karswell, promising to end an investigation because the professor now believes in the mysterious Power. But it’s too late for the good professor as his fate lurches from the bubbling mist in the form of a fiery Balrog descending from the trees, his former obloquy now and formal obituary. Enter: an American scientist Dr. John Holden as he falls in love with the victim’s niece Joanna Harrington, and together they must race against devilish time to investigate her uncle’s violent death while attempting to decipher an ancient tome of forbidden and forgotten knowledge.
Tourneur utilizes shadows and tense pacing as the film races towards it finale, their fate laid down like train tracks in the cold hard earth, as unchanging and hardened as steel, as tasteless as fear. Karswell is presented as a reasonable fellow and not some satanic nut, lending an unsettling credibility to the story. Each coincidence can be explained psychologically, as Holden rationalizes, or considered preternaturally, as the film supposes.
Though the winged demon is revealed in the first act and it can be argued that fear of the unknown is the greater fear, there is an anxious shadowy satisfaction to awaiting the creature’s return...and guessing who it shall feast upon. The denouement is a rush of clacking wheels on steel tracks, where modernity meets druidic orthodoxy.
Final Grade: (B)