Gwen Ffrangcon Davies
Trivia This film was made on Christopher Lee's insistence that Hammer do a film based on a Wheatley fantasy novel.
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The Devil Rides Out (1968)
6th Jun 12
Christopher Lee in hero mode takes on a pack of posh Satanists and gives us one of the best 90 minutes imaginable.
Terence Fisher’s The Devil Rides Out is a movie worthy of that old cliché “they don’t make them like they used to”. A dark, exciting adventure set against a stunning British countryside without a poor person in sight, it satisfies on almost every level like a proper fun blockbuster for adults. Despite its non iconic status amongst the studios output it stands as one of Hammer’s best films.
Duc de Richleau (Lee) and Rex (Greene) find out their old friend Simon (tightly mop-topped Mower) has been dabbling in black magic and fallen under the spell of Satanist cult leader Mocata (Gray) and to prevent the bringing to earth of the great horned one. It may sound simple but it’s action packed, sublimely played and one heck of a pacy yarn.
The first half has the ruddy cheek to play as if it’s own full movie; the heroes come to realise their friend is in danger, rescue him from the cult and do a belter to safety for deprogramming, are thwarted when the cultists take him back whereupon they must return, save him again, survive an encounter with a very creepy hypnotic dwarf demon, befriend a pretty girl (Arrighi), get betrayed by her then witness a highly attended sacrifice in the woods with a climactic guest appearance by the prince of darkness himself followed by a bloody good punch up the cult.
Any film geek worth their acne would be more than satisfied and it’s easy to suspect The Devil might out ride his welcome. Don’t worry, Fisher slows things down a tad but delivers a second half that feels like you’re watching the weirder, more character driven but extra intense sequel to the boys own adventure meets cult horror offered by the first half. This film’s its own double bill!
The Devil Rides Out is one of those classics in the horror cannon where everything just works in spite of how incredibly silly and hammy it could all be. Fisher had earlier established himself as the daddy of Hammer directors with their first (and never bettered) incarnations of Frankenstein and Dracula, but he’s on the game of his life here keeping things creepy but joyful and making sure not an inch of screen is wasted. It ain’t an overly complicated plot and the good vs. evil theme doesn’t go wild with subtext, Arrighi’s periodical violent freak-outs notwithstanding, but legendary author Richard Matheson’s adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel is full of great set pieces, punchily civilised dialogue and brilliantly drawn characters.
Christopher Lee’s performance is as good if not better than his more iconic villain roles. His Rochleau is cool, charming, bossy, and driven making him the perfect hero for an oh so British horror caper like this. Greene makes a likable sidekick and also steps up as the stories romantic lead since messing about with girls is probably not worthy of Rochleau’s time. Mower chooses to play the brain-washed Simon as an upper class drug addict who’s actually really a good guy and remarkably pulls it off. The superbly named Arrighi (on paper she’s the perfect scream queen) does a fine job jumping from romantic interest to bride of Dracula mode and the deadly eyed Gray gives a great dry run for his future Bond villain. Sarah Lawson and Paul Eddington offer strong support as a likeable rich couple who end up giving the film its emotional core.
Mixing black magic and rollicking adventure far more successfully than anyone has any right to expect, the entertainment value of The Devil Rides Out has not dated one jot (ok, the giant spider effect appears feeble now). It also features the half goat type incarnation of Satan, which - despite the red variety often adorning rock album covers - is totally the most metal.