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'The Devil Rides Out' is easily one of the most entertaining of Terence Fisher's Hammer movies. While best known for his Dracula and Frankenstein movies, this fascinating blend of adventure thriller and Satanic shocker is not to be overlooked. While technically a horror movie with strong supernatural elements, the movie's use of old fashioned thrills and Lee's dashing heroic character Duc de Richleau, gentleman and occult expert, give this one quite a unique flavour unlike most of the other Hammer classics. Lee is brilliant throughout, as is his nemesis the evil magician Mocata played by Charles Gray (Blofeld in 'Diamonds Are Forever'). The rest of the cast are also very effective. Leon Greene as Richleau's loyal friend Rex, Nike Arrighi as Tanith the mysterious girl rex becomes besotted with, and Patrick Mower as Simon, Richleau and Rex's young friend who foolishly dabbles with Satanism and soon finds himself under the control of Mocasta. The film is consistently interesting, with lots of excitement and some unpredictable plot twists. The Satanism is treated more seriously and realistically than many 1960s horror movies (and wait til you see "The Goat Of Mendes"!) , and this is a credit to Richard Matheson who adapted Dennis Wheatley's original novel. I am becoming increasingly aware of just how many movies I admire that Matheson had a hand in writing - many of Roger Corman's Poe series, 'The Legend Of Hell House' and 'The Last Man On Earth' to name a few. Matheson is one of the most talented and imaginative horror writers to ever work in Hollywood, and rarely gets the credit he deserves. 'The Devil Rides Out' is yet another fantastic movie from the Hammer studio, and highly recommended.
One of Terrence Fisher's greatest directorial efforts certainly is this stylish, witty, thrilling adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel. Richard Matheson did the screenwriting honors, ad like most of what he touches, it turns to gold. This film has a wonderful score throughout, some superior set pieces and some pretty novel special effects for its day. But behind all of this is the central, universal battle between the forces of good and evil, represented by the characters of Christopher Lee and Charles Gray. Both actors do an excellent job. This may indeed be Christopher Lee's finest performance, which is all the more surprising since he not only plays a good man but also is in a role that Peter Cushing would have devoured. Lee, from the very onset of the film, plays a man well-versed in knowledge of the occult and whose presence literally steals scene after scene. His counterpart, the malevolent Charles Gray, is just as good as Lee's antithesis. Gray is an underrated actor whose presence also illuminates and transcends the screen. The film boasts some great scenes including the much heralded Angel of Death scene, and there is a great scene between Gray and Lee's niece. A tremendous film in many respects and one of Lee's best, Fisher's best and Hammer's best!
Heading the great Hammer Horror Revival was Terence Fisher, the director
whose adaptations of the Universal horror classics, The Curse Of
Frankenstein (1957), The Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959)
sealed the studio's fate as the leading producer of British gothic horror
for almost 20 years. Throughout the 60s, while half of Hammer's output
rather silly adventure yarns (The Viking Queen, The Vengeance Of She) and
lazy exercises in generic conventions (Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb, The Old
Dark House), Fisher created more adult-oriented horror - psychological,
almost Freudian horror (The Gorgon, Frankenstein Created Woman), drawing
the sexual conflicts of the repressive English social climate starting to
fray at the seams. Fisher's final film, Frankenstein And The Monster From
Hell (1973) is British horror at its bleakest - a deeply disturbing and
amoral portrait of amorality in the figure of Fisher's greatest creation,
Baron Frankenstein as essayed by Hammer icon Peter Cushing. Over twenty
years after his death he is still regarded as Britain's greatest ever
Fisher began work on The Devil Rides Out, the first of three Dennis Wheatley adaptations, in the summer of 1967. From the opening credits, an indecipherable mass of occult symbols appearing out of a red mist punctuated with James Bernard's ominous orchestral score, screenwriter Richard Matheson (I Am Legend author and scriptwriter of Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe series) sharpens Crowley's prose to create a frighteningly real world of dark forces at work beneath the genteel surface of the English aristocracy. At a reunion of old friends at a country estate, occult expert the Duc de Richelieu (Christopher Lee) and his well-meaning but impulsive lantern-jawed sidekick Rex (Leon Greene) discover their young comrade Simon (Patrick Mower) has become involved in `astrological society', a thinly-veiled satanic cult lead by the charismatic Mocata (Charles Gray). Richelieu and Rex kidnap Simon to prevent his Devil's baptism, but he escapes. Mocata then uses Richelieu's friends Richard (Yes Minister's Paul Eddington) and his family, and Tanith (Nike Arrighi), a young French beauty also marked for baptism, as bait to lure Richelieu to his destruction.
For a studio defined by its reworkings of Dracula and Frankenstein, Mocata is one of Hammer's most frightening monsters. Veteran Shakespearean actor Gray, best remembered these days as the Bond villain in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), conveys the palpable menace from his cold, unflinching steel-gray eyes and his carefully modulated voice, a master of hypnosis and mind control no doubt based on real-life characters from Wheatley's days in British Intelligence (some say Mocata is smoother version of the `Great Beast', occultist Alistair Crowley, whom Wheatley was acquainted with). Matheson's script changes the Mocata character from a swarthy European figure of Word War 2-era intrigue into an English `gentleman', more forcefully underpinning the tension between England's exterior pastoral elegance and class respectability, and its repressed bacchanalian urges. Wheatley, a British author best known for his black magic tales and costume adventure stories, was an avid collector of occult esoterica and was reportedly delighted with the film, as Matheson's script had expanded on his own research his Black Magic rituals with an eye for detail, drawing on Crowley's writings as well as Sumerian and Egyptian legends, occult and pagan texts.
Of course the film's focus is on the imposing figure of the six foot four Christopher Lee, by 1967 a genre superstar having played Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, Rasputin, even Sherlock Holmes. Lee had in fact pressed Hammer to purchase the rights for Wheatley's novel, and was delighted to play a character on the side of `good' after a decade typecast as Dracula.
Hammer films are characterized by relatively low budgets, compensated by taut direction and expert characterization, and a winning combination of tight studio sets and English country exteriors. The Devil Rides Out utilizes its stagebound scenario to chilling effect: Simon's cold gray observatory turns malevolent purely by adding scratching noises from a cupboard. The budget only lets the film down in its two major setpieces; both the final sacrificial ceremony at Mocata's mansion and the Grand Sabbat, supposedly a grand ritual orgy for Simon and Tanith's intended baptism, veer toward poorly-staged pantomime. When Mocata invokes Satan (`The Goat of Mendes - the Devil himself!') at the Sabbat, the sight of a rather wretched figure with pin-on horns and raccoon eyes tends to blunt the scene's horrific implications. Indeed the film's scariest scene is set in an empty room; Richelieu, Rex and the family take refuge inside a chalk circle and are confronted by a series of apparitions conjured by Mocata. Again the scene is only marred by the final ghastly figure: a horsebound Angel of Death, whose mask drops to reveal a cheap-looking grinning plastic skull.
The Devil Rides Out was an artistic triumph but not a commercial success. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar tone of the film, or the fact Christopher Lee had his fangs filed down; two further Duc de Richelieu adventures starring Lee, Strange Conflict and Gateway To Hell were abandoned. Hammer's next venture after The Devil Rides Out, The Lost Continent (an ambitious reworking of Wheatley's Jules Verne style adventure novel Uncharted Seas) went wildly overbudget and Wheatley was not impressed, citing a number of plot changes by director Michael Carreras. The third Wheatley adaptation, a grotesque updating of To The Devil A Daughter with Richard Widmark and an embarrassed Christopher Lee, was Hammer's horror swansong in 1976, and the company sank soon after. Maybe it was the curse of Dennis Wheatley after all - still, for us horror iconoclasts, we still have The Devil Rides Out, a film that remains after 35 years one the finest examples of the gone but never to be forgotten house of Hammer.
Last night I saw this film for the first time in 35 years. Time has been
kinder to it than it has to many Hammer films, but this one is less driven
by effects and make-up and more by dialog.
That's all for the better because once again, when need be, Hammer fails in the effects department. I had forgotten how the theater went wild in 1968 while looking at the cheap tarantula effect - was it growing or not, the perspective changed constantly.
Some of the effects are of the "stop the camera" variety, no more convincing here than on "Lost In Space." But still, it is the performances, situations and the dialog that engage us. Christopher Lee, who brought the project to Hammer, seems to be enjoying himself as the Duc de Richleau, finally getting to play a hero. His longtime friend Rex, played by Leon Greene (but voiced by Patrick Allen) is a real stalwart guy, given to punching out windshields when necessary, climbing into car trunks, and throwing a crucifix from a running board to eliminate the specter of the devil himself.
The best scene has Lee and company in a circle in which to protect themselves from the evils sent by Mocata, played by Charles Gray with a suaveness that matches the twinkle of his blue eyes. Mocata tries every trick in the book, including trying to make it appear that the daughter of the household is being threatened by the tarantula, as well as an Angel of Death on horseback (it is a large room). Meanwhile, outside, Rex has a potential female victim tied up for her own good, she later becomes a medium when the previously "threatened" little girl is kidnapped - to take the place of the medium on the sacrificial altar!
Nike Arrighi plays the "medium" - a young woman who was to have been re-baptized as a servant of the devil, but whose life now hangs in the balance between the black magic of Mocata, or the efforts of the Duc de Richleau, and she has more talent than most of the Hammer actresses of the period. The Duc's friend Rex falls for her, but is hard pressed to keep up with the spells of Mocata, who will stop at nothing to reclaim his servant.
What really helps the film is a great sense of period - somewhere midway between the two world wars. The props (especially the vehicles) and costumes are quite right, and the landscapes are far more diverse than the usual Bray Studios trappings. There's no doubt that the team sought to make this one special and shoot on some real locations - and it's perhaps here rather than in the effects that the budget was concentrated. All in all, despite some shortcomings, a very enjoyable Hammer film, a solid Richard Matheson script from a superior Dennis Wheatley novel makes for exciting viewing, far superior to the previous Satanic Hammer film "The Witches" (aka "The Devil's Bride") and equal to the later adaptation of Wheatley's own "To the Devil A Daughter" - the last Hammer film which may have its less than sterling reputation for that measure alone.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Is "The Devil Rides Out" the best Hammer film this notorious production
company ever brought forward?? Quite possibly so, as it is an almost
perfect mixture of allegorical melodrama, compelling thriller and
occult horror. The screenplay, adapted from a novel by horror cinema's
most talented writer Richard Matheson, is loaded with suspense and
atmospheric eeriness and contains an extended occult vocabulary that'll
make genre fans foam! Most of the time, it's even hard to believe that
you're actually watching a Hammer film since this film is more superior
on every level than any of their other productions. Don't get me wrong,
I instantly love every Hammer film I see but you can't but reckon that
most of their films usually are unsubtle shockers with superficial
characters and gratuitous gruesomeness. "The Devil Rides Out" is
completely different! Genuine frights are delivered through uncanny
settings and handlings, while the character drawing is simply sublime.
Christopher Lee stars as an eminent duke Duc de Richleau (what a
name!) - with an encyclopedic knowledge of black magic, whose acts are
distinguished and always well considered. Leon Greene plays Richleau's
lesser-gifted friend Rex but what he lacks in tact, he makes up in
loyalty and impulsiveness. Together they attempt to rescue another
friend Simon out of the hands of a satanic cult, led by the macabre
Mocata. Every detail of Richeleau's expertise on the subject is
required as Mocata is a worthy nemesis, even capable of summoning Satan
"The Devil Rides Out" is a downright terrific adventure, with non-stop excitement and efficient scary moments. Only, this is not simply reached through cheap images of terror, but through a constantly ominous atmosphere and an intelligent and carefully constructed screenplay. Another immediately follows one powerful sequence and it's nearly impossible to determine the absolute highlight of the film. Lee's and Greene's first encounter with a diabolical creature in the mansion's attic, the car chase through the countryside, the baptism-ritual in the woods, the séance with Richleau's niece All these are just examples of sheer horror brilliance that feature in this one film! And there are several more, mind you. If the wholesome isn't impressive enough, the ending contains a paradox-twist, truly stunning and very much ahead of its time. Perhaps the biggest trump of this still underrated gem of classic horror is that it feels disturbingly realistic and believable. The premise of a devil-worshiping cult often automatically provokes unintended laughs and cheesy situations but in this case you practically sense the devil breathing down your neck! Satan Himself makes an appearance (referred to as The Goat of Mendez) and it's the most convincing portrayal of the Master of all Evil I've ever seen. The professionalism of both cast and crew nearly bursts through the screen. Terence Fisher especially gained fame by his directorial achievements in the Dracula and Frankenstein cycles, but this surely is the most flawless film in his admirable career. From the trivia-pages of this marvelous website, I picked up that this is also Christopher Lee's favorite Hammer film (of ALL the movies he starred in, he considers "The Wicker Man" to be the best) and you can't but second his great taste. Lee's sympathy for this screenplay obviously reflects itself in his performance as he lifts up the film to an even higher quality level. Christopher plays the good guy, for a change, but the role definitely suits his persona and no other actor on this planet could have played it better. You get it by now, "The Devil Rides Out" is one of the greatest horror film ever made and a cinematic experience true fans can't afford to miss.
The Devil Rides Out (AKA: The Devil's Bride) is produced out of Hammer
Film Productions. It's based on the 1934 novel of the same name written
by Dennis Wheatley, with Richard Matheson adapting the screenplay.
Directed by Terence Fisher, it stars Christopher Lee, Charles Gray,
Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Sarah Lawson and Paul
Eddington. Filmed in Technicolor with Arthur Grant the cinematographer
and the music is scored by James Bernard.
1930's England and Duc de Ricleau (Lee) finds that his young friend Simon Aron has gotten himself involved with a Satanic cult led by the evil Mocata (Gray). As the Duc and his friends try to save Simon from the cult, Mocata and his followers summon the forces of evil to aid their cause.
It was meant to come out a bit earlier in the 60's, but Satanism, an always iffy subject, would have seen censorship strip Hammer's ideas for the film to the bone. So the studio waited a few more years and finally got the film out a couple of years shy of the 70's. It's a film that now, more than ever, is rightly viewed as not only one of the best film's to have come out of Hammer, but also as one of the best British horror movies ever released. There was much in the film's favour from the off, it had the studio's best director in the chair, the charismatic Christopher Lee in the lead and the talented Matheson (I Am Legend/The Shrinking Man/Hell House) writing the screenplay. The latter of which managing to streamline Wheatley's potent, but long, source material into a fast paced hour and a half movie. It's also, thanks to Wheatley, well researched, which when finding the story is set in more modern times, gives the film an authentic sheen as it rides on into the macabre.
On the surface the plot seems to be a standard good against evil battle, but it's not just a battle, this is a war on terror. Lee's determined, bastion of good, de Ricleau is not just fighting to save the soul of those he cares about, the film makes one feel that it's a battle he must win: for us all. Tho only blessed with the usual standard Hammer budget, the film has immense attention to detail, the power of black magic and the occult is painted vividly, with Fisher ensuring that nothing is hokey, this is serious stuff. The director, too, favouring atmospheric dread over short sharp shocks. What action there is is quality, sure the effects are hardly Oscar winning fare, but the impact is big. So too are the number of memorable scenes that puncture the story, the centrepiece of which is the night our "good" characters spend in floor drawn pentacle, fighting off the forces of darkness, some suggested trickery and terrifying manifestations testing their resolve, with the majestic Lee holding court with virtuous nobility.
The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, with stand outs being Gray, excelling at silky villainy, even tho he's not on screen a great deal, and Eddington, who neatly plays it deadpan opposed to Lee's serious attempt to drive home the seriousness of what is going on. Noteworthy, too, that it's one of those rare occasions to see Lee playing the good guy. Grant (The Plague of the Zombies) makes wonderful use of the Technicolor, his lensing for the fire and brimstone finale is particularly memorable, and Bernard's score is eerie for the build up sequences and demonically boisterous for the critical moments: one of the best scores to accompany a Hammer film. It's not high cinematic art, and certainly not an overtly horrific film; in that you wouldn't recommend it to the boo-jump thrill seeker, but it's troublingly scary, adult and dripping with cold dread. A picture that closes in on you and challenges the myths and nightmares that lurk in the dark.
Up alongside The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General as one of the true greats of British horror. 9.5/10
1930s England and Rex Van Ryn departs from a plane to be met by his
friend Duc De Richleau . If his name sounds strange then that's nothing
compared to his personality . Within a very short space of time
Richleau is harping on about the black arts and he's not talking 50
Cent and Snoop Dog . If Rex had any sense he'd go straight back to the
airstrip and depart never to return again but he can't do that because
he's an all too obvious plot device where Duc De Richleau needs a
companion present so he can explain everything about the Occult since
the audience aren't too clued up about the subject
This is considered to be one of the very best horror movies Hammer produced . I know what you're thinking something along the lines of " That's not saying much Theo " but deserves to be rated on its own merits rather than winning by default against films where impossibly beautiful maidens get their cleavage out and pop round to Dracula's Castle . Having acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson doing the script helps greatly as does having Terence Fisher as director . Fisher was never in danger of winning an Oscar but is almost certainly the best director of the Hammer horrors
The story itself is utter nonsense featuring a Satanic cult wanting to get the souls of a young man and woman and featuring a cameo of some bloke with the head of a goat but everything is done in such a serious dead pan manner that you can't help being caught up in it . As soon as someone mentions something vaguely important to the plot a crescendo of music blasts over the soundtrack and nothing unimportant happens , not for a second . As soon as anyone has the temerity to say " You can't believe that " a reply of " I've never been more serious in all my life " then the band plays up again . In fact no one ever has been as serious as Richleau and one wonders if Rex isn't to blame . After all if he hadn't wandered in to the film Richleau wouldn't have had anyone to talk to and the band wouldn't have got paid
I often thought the only time Christopher Lee was impressive was when he was in LORD OF THE RINGS but he does carry the film to a large extent as the charismatic good guy and if we had Peter Cushing as Richleau we'd have a different and rather inferior film . I'm not implying that THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is some forgotten masterpiece ready for reevaluation but as pulp horror produced as mass entertainment it is very enjoyable and engaging
This film sets itself apart from most of the rest of Christopher Lee's
career as, for a change, he plays the good guy! In fact, he does a
rather good job and the character, although a hero, definitely suits
his persona. Lee's character is a pronounced expert on the occult and
Lee does a great job in portraying him. He brings with him a sense of
worldliness that few actors can match and that is perfect for his role
here. However, I'm sorry to say that Christopher Lee's performance is
practically the best thing about this film. Don't get me wrong, it
certainly isn't bad; there's some lovely moments of horror and the film
remains interesting throughout, but it's far too serious and the
innocent, tongue in cheek edge is one of the things I like best about
Hammer. Some of the trademarks are still there; campy acting and over
the top sequences been the best of them, but overall this seems like it
could have been released by another studio. And that isn't something I
want when I'm watching a Hammer film.
That being said, some of the imagery in the film is fantastic. We've got the angel of death, a giant tarantula, several scenes of devil worship and - wait for it - Satan himself makes an appearance! And, get this, he doesn't look ridiculous either! The plot follows Christopher Lee as he discovers that one of his best friends has turned to devil worship, don't you just hate it when that happens? Anyway, Lee doesn't take this sort of thing lying down and decides to dedicate all his free time to saving his friend's soul. Because that's what friends are for, right? The film builds it's atmosphere by way of several sacrifices and other assorted devil worship and a great score. The great score doesn't exactly hinder the film's atmosphere either, and helps to build up a malicious sense of dread throughout. Despite it being more serious than usual, the film is still a lot of fun and it's hard to really call a film that sees Christopher Lee running around trying to stop a devil worshipping cult 'serious' anyway...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hammer studios scores a knock-out with this superb supernatural horror
flick starring Christopher Lee as Duc de Richleau who finds a battle on
his hands with a Satanic cult, led by Mocata(Charles Gray;played the
villain Blofeld in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER). Richleau had a war pal who
died and so he took over fatherly duties for the man's son,
Simon(Patrick Mower), who is being pursued by the cult to become a
follower of Satan. Richeau, a devout man who understands the methods of
the dark magic, must stop them from taking Simon. Mocata has a powerful
gift and that is of controlling weak minds. The key to the evil forces'
power is direct eye-contact..you, in a sense, give over yourself when
that form of contact is connected. Things get even more complicated
when Richleau's other war pal, Rex(Leon Greene)finds that another has
yet to have been "re-baptized" in the Satanic cult named Tanith(Nike
Arrighi)for whom he falls in love. Mocata uses Tanith as his medium and
can control her from a long distance. Tanith doesn't wish to harm
anyone, but the evil commanding inside her is too strong to control.
The Eatons have a home nearby where the Satanic cult hold a place of
worship. Richard Eaton(Paul Eddington)thinks all that Richleau tells
him is gibberish and is skeptical. His wife Marie(Sarah Lawson)is
Richleau's niece and she does, albeit reluctantly, believe what her
uncle speaks regarding the cult. But, it's only through action where
Marie and Richard begin to understand what Richleau and they are up
against. There are quite a few moments of peril for Richleau and Rex as
they must somehow keep Simon and Tanith away from the clutches of
Mocata and his group. It's proved in ritual that Mocata has the ability
to summon Satan.
If this flick were in anyone else's hands, it might turn out as a silly, campy horror film. But, in the capable hands of Terence Fisher with Lee leading the way FINALLY having an opportunity to be a heroic figure, this flick is played seriously with optimum effect. Charles Gray was well cast as the chief villain for he has a foreboding, yet sophisticated, presence that works well. At hindsight he might even look like a gentleman..it's when he's able to practice his devil worship that we see his pure evil.
Squeezing every ounce of tension at their disposal, our heroes will have to remain in a "circle of safety" as they are tempted to move out via fake manipulation showing them images that are not really there playing on the inner fear of each individual. Adding the final scary piece is when Mocata kidnaps the Eatons' little girl for a sacrifice to their Lord.
Watching this on DVD after gap of a couple of years, more or less immersed in the horror of Italian giallo and the product of Japan, I am surprised at just how good this is. Has to be hot candidate for the best Hammer and one of the best Christopher Lee performances. He actually seemed to enjoy this role as an upper class Brit struggling to pit himself against the powers of evil. This reminded me a little of Night of the Demon and certainly shares with that film the 'ordinariness' of the chums struggling against the devil himself and the believable power of that 'dark side'. For me this just fails to get 100% due to what I reckon is the only disappointment; Leon Greene and it is a bit unfair because its probably more the way his part is written. This very English tradition of having a bumbling Dr Watson type character to help the lead to explain what's happening to the audience and also to show how very clever he is. Still, it's a minor gripe when this is such a glorious, non-stop, thrill of an adventure which I should also mention includes a most effective and key performance from Nike Arrighi who is most convincing as 'the possessed'. Excellent.
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