The Devil Rides Out
The Devil Rides Out – 1968 | 96 mins | Horror | Colour
When it came to writing stories about the occult, no one was more successful at it than Dennis Wheatley. However, owing to their subject matter and the nature of film censorship at the time of their writing, few of these books made it to the screen. By 1967 censorship had relaxed considerably and a full-blooded version of Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out now seemed viable, especially given the author’s continued success in the world market. Similarly, given their own success with the horror genre, there seemed no one better qualified to bring the novel to the screen than Hammer.
Christopher Lee – who had met Wheatley at a lecture in the mid-fifties and read all his books -suggested to Hammer that they approach the author about filming one of his works. Hammer were quick to see the viability of such a film and a contract was subsequently negotiated, with The Devil Rides Out agreed upon as the first subject. It quickly became apparent that The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride) would be one of Hammer’s top-flight productions when Terence Fisher was signed to direct it and Arthur Grant to photograph it. To adapt Wheatley’s rambling narrative, Richard Matheson was brought in, the result of his efforts being ready to film at Elstree and on location in Hertfordshire in August 1967.
Set in the mid-1920s, the film is a classic struggle of good against evil and follows the attempts by The Duc de Richeleau (Christopher Lee) and his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) to rescue their protege Simon Aaron (Patrick Mower). Simon has fallen in with a group of Satanists, led by a charismatic and powerful figure simply known as Mocata (Charles Gray). The Duc and Rex are fighting for nothing less than Simon’s soul, along with that of a mysterious young girl called Tanith (Nike Arrighi), all of which becomes apparent when they encounter The Goat of Mendes, the Devil himself (Eddie Powell), during a secret initiation ceremony. One of the rare occasions, in which Christopher Lee was allowed to play the hero in a Hammer film, his performance as The Duc de Richeleau is one of his very best and remains a rare treat for those who can’t see beyond his Dracula persona. At once cool and authoritative, Lee brings the right aristocratic bearing to the role and makes the character a more than worthy adversary for Charles Gray’s Mocata, similarly one of the actor’s finest hours.
A stage actor of some presence, Gray’s greatest asset is undoubtedly his mellifluent voice which, sounding not unlike that of Jack Hawkins, actually got him work dubbing Hawkins’ voice in the sixties when the latter developed throat cancer. Gray’s own film career has spanned a number of diverse projects, including two James Bond films and The Rocky Horror Picture. His work as Mocata in The Devil Rides Out is without question his most memorable screen role, however. In fact never did an actor exude such charm and menace at one and the same time. During one scene in which he unsuccessfully attempts to hypnotise a friend of Rex’s into telling him the whereabouts of the girl Tanith, he exits with ‘I shan’t be back, but something will…’ a line he delivers with absolute relish. Save for the role of Rex, which is played by Leon Greene but dubbed by Patrick Allen, owing to Greene’s poor attempt at an American accent, the rest of the performances are also uniformly good, while Terence Fisher‘s direction is assured throughout – never more so, in fact.
A fast moving, episodic film, it contains many set pieces which stay in the mind, including the discovery by Rex and the Duc of the pentacle circle hidden in Simon’s attic, the woodland initiation ceremony in which the Devil himself appears, and the climax in which a young girl is saved from sacrifice in a ceremony in which the Satanists are ultimately destroyed by the Duc. Most memorable of all, however, is the lengthy sequence in which the Duc, Simon and two of their friends (played by Paul Eddington and Sarah Lawson) fight off all manner of horrific apparitions (including a giant tarantula and the Angel of Death) from within the protection of a pentacle.
Accompanied by the rat-a-tat-tat of James Bernard’s powerful score and helped immeasurably by the lavish look of Bernard Robinson’s production design, The Devil Rides Out is without question one of Hammer’s classiest films. There are, of course, occasional imperfections: the effects don’t always convince (particularly the giant tarantula) and the continuity is a little shaky at times (day turns into night and back again within the space of the woodland initiation sequence), but these are nit-picking flaws in an otherwise fine film.
Terence Fisher: Director
Arthur Grant: Cinematography
Rosemary Burrows: Costumes
James Needs: Editing
Spencer Reeve: Editing
Patricia McDermott: Makeup Department
Eddie Knight: Makeup Department
James Bernard: Music
Anthony Nelson Keys: Producer
Bernard Robinson: Production Design
Richard Matheson: Script
A W Lumkin: Sound Department
Ken Rawkins: Sound Department
Christopher Lee: Duc de Richleau
Charles Gray: Mocata
Nike Arrighi: Tanith
Leon Greene: Rex
Patrick Mower: Simon
Gwen Ffrangcon: Davies Countess
Sarah Lawson: Marie
Paul Eddington: Richard
Rosalyn Landor: Peggy
Russell Waters: Malin