The Devil Rides Out
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Richard Matheson
Often cited as the best film that Terence Fisher and Hammer ever made together, The Devil Rides Out has grown its cult status over the years. Christopher Lee stars as Nicholas, the Duc de Richleau, a nobleman who attempts to save the soul of Simon (Patrick Mower), the offspring of an old friend who before passing away, requested he watched over his son. Turns out Simon has become involved in a satanic cult, but lucky for him, Nicholas is proficient in black magic. Along with his pal Rex (Leon Greene), Nicholas kidnaps Simon and his girlfriend Tanith in hopes of saving their souls. Only the evil leader of the cult, a man named Mocata (Charles Day), summons the Angel of Death and the Goat of Mendes to help in his battle.
Released in the same year as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Devil Rides Out was one of a number of British films during the 60’s that touched upon occult matters. Unlike Polanski’s film, Fisher’s film leans more towards melodrama – but the film is so well made – it allows its melodramatic moments to transcend easily into allegory. Thus the film sustains an almost divine tone, warning of the dangers of black magic and dissolving into horrific full-scale symbolic vision of Good vs. Evil.
Terence Fisher was responsible for some of the best and most influential films in the early days of Hammer studios (most notably, The Curse of Frankenstein), until a falling out with the studio over their handling of his The Phantom of the Opera (1962). Thankfully, in the late 1960s, Fisher and Hammer set aside their differences and teamed up again, during which he would make his two best films, The Devil Rides Out and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). With Devil, Fisher directs with his usual style and flair and the pic excels with its fast pace –as not a moment is wasted and the plot never stalls even during a few extended conversations.
The Devil Rides Out is crammed with a half dozen or so memorable set pieces, and features a series of great scenes, including s a car chase that is interrupted by the use of black magic – and the rescue of a young couple who become victims to an outdoor Satanic orgy. There is also a superb scene in where Charles Gray’s Mocata comes to visit the house and uses hypnosis on Sarah Lawson’s Marie Eaton. With the tranquility of his voice, he puts her in a trance; meanwhile his influence is felt upstairs as he urges two sleeping victims to commit murder. This long sequence, wherein he gradually puts his victim under his spell, is superbly, acted and directed – culminating with the best line of the film:
“I won’t be returning – but something else will.”
Fisher gets the most mileage from his small budget, creating some wonderful scenes involving the powers of black magic and the occult. The finest sequence is the suspenseful extended climax, set around a protective pentacle drawn on the floor. In order to protect themselves, the group of friends must stay within the diagram throughout the entire night. Meanwhile, Mocata tries to break in by preying on them psychologically. The scene is pure cinematic gold as we watch Christopher Lee’s brave duke do battle with a coven of Satanists out to disrupt the balance between good and evil. Truthfully, the manifestations of evil are a bit dated, but the storytelling does a fine job of setting the stakes high, and Fisher has a lot of fun with this slice of black magic.
The Devil Rides Out was based on a 1935 novel by British writer Dennis Wheatley, who was a controversial figure at the time – yet a prolific writer who produced a number of works on the subject of Satanism, black magic and the occult. It is said that Wheatley not only studied it extensively, but actually believe in it, and has been rumoured to have practiced black magic himself. Whatever the case, his work provided Hammer Studios with some of their strongest material, thanks to his reputation for well-researched authenticity. The script was adapted by American horror novelist/screenwriter Richard Matheson, who still to this day writes several screenplays for Hollywood.
The Devil Rides Out isn’t necessarily a straight up message movie, but it does rely on excess dialogue to explain the convoluted twists and praises Jesus Christ. Still, the only truly unsatisfying scene is the happy ending, which has time reversed to bring people back from the dead. But with Fisher (arguably the best auteur of Hammer Studios), behind the camera, and Christopher Lee in front of it, the film is indeed essential viewing for fans of Horror. In his long career, Lee has appeared in over 300 films, but this is one of the few roles where he plays the good guy. It is a masterful performance and one of his best.
– Ricky D