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The Devil’s Greatest Adversary Is….

Christopher Lee!!!!

Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out

by Tony Nash

(#2 of The Month of Hammer Horror)

(Mild Spoilers may be present)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

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The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride) (1968) PG-13 *****

Christopher Lee: Duc de Richleau

Charles Gray: Mocata

Leon Greene: Rex Van Ryn

Patrick Mower: Simon Aron

Nike Arrighi: Tanith Carlisle

Sarah Lawson: Marie Eaton

Gwen Ffrangcon Davies: The Countess

Paul Eddington: Richard Eaton

Rosalyn Landor: Peggy Eaton

Eddie Powell: The Goat of Mendes

Written by: Richard Matheson

Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley

Directed by: Terence Fisher

Synopsis: When Duc de Richleau and Rex Van Ryn prevent their deceased Army friend’s son Simon from becoming a member of a Satanic cult, the duo must rely on the Duke’s knowledge of the Occult to keep the group’s evil leader Mocata from taking revenge. Taking refuge at the Duke’s niece’s country château, the group spends the night fighting off the demons at Mocata’s command.

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Made at the insistence of star Christopher Lee, who was a fan of the novel, The Devil Rides Out was one of Hammer’s late period successes, before the studio began to turn towards erotica and heavier violence to keep audiences interested. What puts the film on the pantheon with the greats is that it was the first major film to deal directly with Satanism, a subject that was far too taboo, even for veteran Horror film icons of the day. Another big difference is that the film focuses more on tension than blood and violence, bordering on psychological Horror rather than conventional/traditional Horror. All the characters are three-dimensional, so they feel more like real people the audience can sympathize with or loathe, living out a real situation. The film feels very much like a play at times, as the majority of scenes take place indoors which help to reinforce the brooding sense of dread and paranoia the characters begin to experience while battling the evil forces out to get them. Some spiritual aspects come into the film, which helps the plot and action out well, seeing as how a religious subject is being talked about by the characters. This sense of true Spiritualism, not simply everyday things that could well explain many of the events that took place, really adds to the film as it lets the viewer know something very real was going on, not just in the frightened minds of most of the characters.

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What gives this film an extra leg up is the talents of screenwriter/author Richard Matheson, most known for his collaborations with Roger Corman. Having written several books himself, Matheson was the best choice to adapt Dennis Wheatley’s novel to the screen, appreciating what the author had already applied to paper. While Matheson’s time with Corman was well spent, this screenplay took the writer back to his roots as many of the Corman scripts tended to border on the Melodramatic and Fantastical, while this film is placed very much in the real world. There’s nothing funny about what happens here, everything is played as straight and for keeps. Matheson’s talents are very visible in the film, from the use of lighting and imagery, to symbolic and metaphorical motifs.

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Christopher Lee, most famous for his portrayals of Dracula, and several other movie monsters, gets to sink his teeth into a rare, but just as effective, good guy/hero role. Duc de Richleau is an aristocrat who has known the horrors of war, and knows many things about the Occult, which many dare not venture into. He’s not an overtly spiritual man, but he does take seriously the powers which the human mind has trouble comprehending. It’s never learned why or how Richleau studied about Occult arts, but Lee conveys meaning behind dialogue that this has saved Richleau, and others, in the past.  When the son of a friend whom he vowed to keep out of trouble gets mixed up with the dark forces, Richleau must rely on all his learning to save not only his ward, but his friends and family as well. Lee plays the role of Richleau with the dignity and grace of a Shakespearean actor, something Lee rarely got to showcase in his roles, reciting incantations with gusto and sincerity. Richleau is also a man of courage, and fear, as he never knows what will happen when he fights the demons of the beyond, which Lee conveys well. Lee adds that Richleau knows what’s happening even before the others have any vague sense of what they’re dealing with. Lee gives Richleau one weakness in that he can’t use a spell/prayer/incantation more than once, as consequences exist for using such words too much, but that Richleau never elaborates on. Lee proved to be just as good, if not better, at good guys as bad guys, but because he was so good at being menacing, Hammer and Amicus kept on using him as such, roles like that of Richleau being too far in between.

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Charles Gray, a British character actor, best known to US audiences as Blofeld in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and as Mycroft Holmes to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock in Granada’s Sherlock Holmes series, is both menacing and grand as Satanist Mocata. An interesting note is that Dennis Wheatley based the character on real life Occultist and Satanist Alistair Crowley, famous and infamous for his outspoken views on everything from religion to sexuality, and the coiner of the term “Magick”. Wheatley managed to have dinner with Crowley on a few occasions for insight into his personality, Crowley having apparently unaware he would be the basis for a novel antagonist. Surprisingly, Crowley never sued for libel and defamation. Little is known of the character, but from what Gray conveys on-screen he’s a man who both appreciates and desires the power that can be granted from the Devil himself. Mocata is shown as so dedicated to the Devil, he’ll do anything, even commit mass murder, to appease his master. Gray adds an ounce of arrogance to the character, as he’s shown as so certain he’ll come out the victor, he boldly tells Richleau’s niece there will be no escape for them. This trait is what will work against Mocata at a later point. A great villain role by an underrated character actor.

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More of a psychological Thriller rather than a Horror film, The Devil Rides Out has many great thrills and is very suspense filled. What it lacks in monsters and blood it makes up for in the uncertainty of what will happen to the characters and how things will play out. This way of telling the story and unfolding the events works well for the film as it shows how creative Hammer could be when they had the opportunity to be so, and not rely simply on make-up and special effects. What makes this all the more true is that something supernatural is definitely going on and that the forces people normally mock in Horror films exist in some fashion. The actors in the film are all good, and each gives his or her best at all times. The film also ranks as one of the few to get an adaptation of a novel right as their Dracula and Frankenstein films often highly differed from the original books to the point it was a wholly different story. This was also one of the rare times a stand alone Horror feature for Hammer, after Plague of the Zombies, did well at the box office, making money for the studio and cast/crew. Lee admittedly wished he could’ve played Richleau again as Wheatley did pen some sequels to his original, but was happy to have done something different for Hammer in 50 plus year career.

(This is my 2nd favorite Christopher Lee film, and my third favorite Hammer film. Again the pacing is done well, the performances are great, and the Suspense is tight enough that it’s not overwhelming. One of Hammer’s more underrated efforts, the film is not spoken of among more mainstream audiences as the studio’s Dracula or Frankenstein franchise, and it should be more known as it shows what you can do with the terror of the mind and soul, rather than just a monster that needs to be destroyed. The Australian and UK Blu Rays are both of excellent quality and audio, the Austrailian Blu Ray playable in Region 1 players.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more information (click the same name link for info on the source novel)

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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