Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Recasting Night of the Demon

I haven't participated in The League of Extraordinary Bloggers much lately, not because I've lost interest, but just from lack of time. I really appreciate the ready-made topics, but they still require planning and thought that I haven't been able to give them lately. It's my loss. I'm glad I'm able to squeeze this week's assignment in though, because I'm probably going to make a regular feature out of it.

Remake one of your favorite movies with a cast of current Hollywood stars.

The reason I dig this is because I already do it all the time in my head. I watch a lot of old genre movies and some of them have really great stories. I'd love to share these movies with people, but I know that for some of my friends (and a large percentage of the general public) the dated - if not outright crappy - special effects are an obstacle. Heck, for a lot of people, just their being in black-and-white is off-putting. So I re-imagine the movies in my head with modern effects and a current cast of Hollywood's best. After this one, I'm already thinking about how to recast The Cyclops and Beast from Haunted Cave.

I've talked at length before about my love for Jacques Tourneur's 1957 classic, Night of the Demon. It's a thrilling, ambiguously supernatural mystery that deserves to be enjoyed by modern audiences. I'll describe some of the plot below, but not the ending, so minor spoiler alert. Here's how I'd recast it.

Professor Henry Harrington (John Hurt)

The first character to appear in the film is Professor Harrington, a former skeptic about the supernatural who's now afraid for his life. John Hurt has the perfect demeanor to play an English academic who's scared out of his wits.

Dr. Julian Karswell (Alan Rickman)

Harrington goes to the estate of Dr. Karswell, a self-professed warlock who presides over a cult of followers. Unfortunately, Karswell tells Harrington that his repentance is too late to stop the forces that Karswell has put into motion.

In the original film, Karswell is a portly fellow whose tissue-thin jolliness masks a deep menace. He's the key to whether or not the movie works, so we need a top-notch actor like Rickman who can alternate between charm and threat in varying degrees. We need to be afraid of him, but also like and empathize with him.

Mrs. Karswell (Judi Dench)

Karswell lives with his mother, a kindly, seemingly clueless woman who doesn't ask too many questions about where her son's wealth comes from. There's some ambiguity about how much she understands and whether she supports her son out of love or fear. Dench could do a lot with that.

Joanna Harrington (Kelly Macdonald)

After the death of Harrington, his niece returns from the United States to take care of his affairs. She knows about her uncle's investigation of Karswell's cult and suspects foul play.

I cast Macdonald mostly because I just really like her. Joanna isn't much of a character - she's mostly there to build tension by worrying out loud about the protagonist - but Macdonald has a ton of personality that could flesh Joanna out nicely.

Dr. John Holden (Don Cheadle)

Joanna shares the plane ride from the U.S. with Holden, an occult debunker on his way to London for a conference on the supernatural. There, he intends to pick up Harrington's crusade against Karswell. He and Joanna have a meet-cute where they don't get along at first, but when they re-meet in London, they join forces to bring down Karswell. Holden doesn't believe there's anything supernatural going on, but Joanna's not so sure.

Cheadle's easy to like, which is important in a leading man, but he's also great at looking irritated. That would serve him well playing Holden, who can't believe so many people are buying into Karswell's schtick.

Professor Mark O'Brien (Denis Lawson)

O'Brien is Holden's closest colleague at the conference that's investigating Karswell. He's also a skeptic, but isn't as serious or as irritated by believers as Holden. The character's mostly there as a sounding board.

Denis Lawson is best known to geeks as Wedge Antilles from the original Star Wars trilogy, but I picked him based on his performance in the BBC's 2005 production of Bleak House. He was able to play the troubled, but caring John Jarndyce with a lot of warmth and gentle humor. He'd make a great companion for the very serious Holden.

Professor K.T. Kumar (Irrfan Khan)

Another of Holden's colleagues at the conference. Kumar is also a skeptic, but not a complete unbeliever. One of the things that I really appreciate about his character is that he's not just there to predict supernatural doom; that's more Joanna's job. Kumar is extremely intelligent; he just admits that there may be things going on that none of these scientists can explain. He's agnostic about the supernatural; not prejudiced against it.

Mr. Meeks (Rowan Atkinson)

Meeks is only in one scene, but it's an important one. He's a medium that the well-meaning Mrs. Karswell hires to communicate with Professor Harrington to learn how he died. She invites Holden and Joanna to the seance, but the results can be interpreted multiple ways depending on the prejudices of the witnesses.

Meeks seems to fully believe in his gifts, but he's a comical fellow who adopts the voices of the spirits he's channelling. Rowan Atkinson knows a thing or two about silly voices as well as earnest acting. He'd be a great choice to introduce a tiny bit of levity to the otherwise serious case.

Rand Hobart (Jamie Bell)

Hobart is a farmer and a former member of Karswell's cult. He's also the only enemy of the group who's ever managed to survive. He's been driven mad - almost catatonic - from the experience though, and that makes questioning him a challenge.

Jamie Bell has a great, rustic look to him and is a talented enough actor to pull off Hobart's craziness without going over the top. Hobart's only in one scene of the original movie, so the thing about casting Bell would be that I'd want to fill out his story a little more. Maybe through flashbacks or a prologue or something. Even in the original, the character feels a little under-used. He's the key to unlocking the mystery, so some more time building that up might be good.


Derek Ash said...

Sweet! I've never seen the original, but your reboot sounds like just the kind of movie that would grab my attention and keep it. Love your cast by the way, and John Hurt was my second choice for the Emerald Seer in the Krull reboot I did for my league entry.

Unknown said...

This is really weird - I was actually considering Night of the Demon for my piece. I'm glad I didn't, as I would never have come up with a cast as brilliant as yours!

Michael May said...

You should! I'd love to see it. Always nice to find another fan of the movie.

Kal said...

What a unique choice for recasting. I think it was on your recommendation that I watched that movie late night on the You Tubes a few years back. I was totally into it. I think it I saw this one in a theatre as a kid that I would have been a much more fearful kid than I turned out to be. This one will stick with me all my life. I appreciate the thought that went into your recasting. Why doesn't someone remake NIGHT OF THE DEMON instead of the forgettable Total Recall reboot that I saw yesterday and can barely remember.

Michael May said...

Yeah. I'll probably see Total Recall tomorrow, but I'm going in with lowered expectations thanks to your review and others. It's too bad, because I don't have any special fondness for the Schwarzenegger version and thought that a remake of it was a pretty good idea.

DeadSpiderEye said...

I think Holden is a bit more complex, than your character sketch, that's the sense I get from the film anyway. He's a firm sceptic but he's close to the edge, that's why he's so diligent with his rationalisations. He needs to keep his world ordered, he daren't let his irrational self come to the surface so he's suppressing his instinct rather acting through it.

Michael May said...

No doubt. Well said. :)


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