Within the opening minutes we race along with Harrington, the doomed predecessor to Holden, as he frantically tries to undo the curse brought about by the passing of a slip of paper to him, written with Runic symbols, marking him for gruesome death. We are introduced to the power Karswell wields and, in no uncertain terms, the reality of the fire demon summoned by his command. To Harrington's horror, it first appears as twinkling lights, then emerges from an eerie unfolding cloud of smoke among the trees to become a poorly executed puppet that looks like it's pedaling a bicycle toward him (but is actually pulled on a dolly). Composer Clifton Parker's otherwise effective scoring is compromised here by a rapidly repeating screech, sounding much like squeaking bicycle wheels going round and round (similar to the sound the giant ants make in Them!), unintentionally reinforcing the demon-on-a-bike impression. But it's the building tension in Tourneur's deft direction that surmounts this less than stellar physical effect, while the jarring rough cut close-up of the demon's ghastly face (added when Tourneur wasn't looking, I'm sure), creates the defining monster image that lingers in the mind long afterwards.
Based on M.R. James's short story, Casting the Runes, screenwriters Charles Bennett, Cy Endfield, and Hal E. Chester (co-producer of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms), expand the story using the "magic 3 + R" of scriptwriting; nasty powerful villain, naive male and smart female, add dash of unlikely romance between them. It was Chester who insisted on showing the monster much more than Tourneur intended, in hopes of attracting an American audience. While Tourneur wanted to create a psychological thriller similar to his Cat People, Chester wanted no doubt in the audience's mind. Between the two, the story becomes a supernatural version of 1949's noir D.O.A; although here it's dead-man-walking Holden's growing realization he's been marked for death propelling the story forward. By eliminating any doubt the threat is real, we know Holden is in danger: but will he realize it? Will his growing suspicion that sometimes a monster is just a monster, and not a figment of a superstitious imagination or autosuggestion, galvanize him to action? In this respect, Chester's Night is truer to James's story than Tourneur would have made it.
Karswell is not all that nasty, either. In James's story, Karswell is evil through and through, but in Night, Karswell has his softer side (he gives a children's magic show each Halloween). He is also secretly fearful. In a revealing speech, unwisely cut from the American version, he chastises his kindly mother for not realizing the predicament he's in: