Director: Terence Fisher
It’s night #3 of my series with blog friend Mike’s Take on the Movies as we count down to Halloween. Tonight’s theme is Hammer Films, so in honour of the late great Christopher Lee I picked one where he got to be the good guy, The Devil Rides Out (1968), released in the U.S. as The Devil’s Bride.
The Duc de Richleau (Lee) has promised a recently departed friend that he will act as guardian to his son Simon (Patrick Mower). That promise becomes a full-time job, since Simon has gotten mixed up with a satanic cult who practices black magic in his mansion and plans to baptize him and his friend Tanith (Nike Arrighi) into the Devil’s service on the upcoming major black sabbat.
The cult’s powerful and charismatic master Mocata (Charles Gray) will stop at nothing to ensure he nabs Simon’s and Tanith’s souls. In the ensuing battle, Mocata controls people’s actions, sends false spirits and apparitions, giant tarantulas and The Angel of Death, all of which the Duc counters with chants and spells, crucifix and protective circle, mercury, salts and holy water and sheer force of will. The Duc also enlists the help of a couple, Marie and Richard Eaton (Sarah Lawson and Paul Eddington), which makes their little girl Peggy a valuable target for Mocata. The Duc also has to fight the two skeptics in the group, Richard and Rex (Leon Greene), but once they witness Mocata’s evil power they realize the struggle to preserve good souls against the forces of darkness is much more than just a silly superstition.
Building dread, suspense and eerie sequences galore in this film. When a break in concentration foils Mocata’s attempts at mind control in the Eaton home, he warns that he will not be back but “something” will return to get the people he’s after. After seeing the cross-eyed Countess (Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies), the basket of sacrificial chickens, the demon in red loincloth who nearly entrances Rex, the Goat of Mendes aka the Devil himself overseeing the orgy in the woods, you don’t really want to find out what exactly Mocata means by “something.”
Lee urged Hammer to buy the rights to the Duke De Richleau novels by Dennis Wheatley, of which The Devil Rides Out, published in 1934, was the second. The Duke is as a stern, cultured man of adventure and noble background, having aquiline, determined features and eyes that flash with fierce brilliance. Lee does wonders with this kind of authoritative part, and plays his Duc as tenacious but not infallible. He shows fear, concern and frustration, and has to bark orders when friends refuse to heed his advice: don’t look into the demons’ eyes and faces, stay in this magic circle, don’t believe what you’re seeing, don’t storm into the coven, and so on. It’s a shame he hasn’t Mocata’s power to bend their wills just a bit, for safety’s sake. Very nice work from Lee and he’s a joy to watch here. It’s a shame Hammer didn’t develop more Wheatley for Lee, other than To the Devil a Daughter (1976).
As the Duc’s adversary, Gray chills with his mesmerizing ice blue glare. Confident in his mastery of the dark arts, Mocata commands his subjects to obey, arise, strangle themselves and kill others. He sneers at misconceptions of black magic, and shatters the security of genteel aristocratic luxury (speaking of which, one of the movie’s many highlights are those gorgeous vintage autos, long car chases and lavish estates). A victory for the good guys will depend on the innocent women and require difficult choices, since the Angel of Death since summoned, never returns empty-handed. Things are wrapped up a bit too neatly by explaining that time and space themselves have been conveniently reversed with the help of God, but it’s an important part and a welcome, if momentarily happy ending in this eternal battle. A fast, disturbing and highly entertaining picture with a fabulous role for Christopher Lee.
The Devil Rides Out was adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson and has a nice creepy score by James Bernard. Hammer’s The Lost Continent (1968) was another Wheatley adaptation.