The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor
(out of 4)
The Devil Rides Out is a Hammer film about a group of friends fighting against devil worshippers led by a powerful priest named Mocata (Charles Gray). Taking a rare turn as the good guy, Christopher Lee plays Duc de Richleau, the worldly expert on the occult who must summon all his knowledge to defeat the forces of darkness. Thrown in the mix is Richleau’s niece Marie Eaton (Sarah Lawson), her husband Richard (Paul Eddington) and daughter Peggy(Rosalyn Landor), Richleau’s longtime friends Rex (Leon Greene) and Simon (Patrick Mower), and Rex’s love interest Tanith (Nike Arrighi).
The beginning of The Devil Rides Out wastes no time, as Duc and Rex rescue Simon and Tanith from a baptismal ceremony, only to be pursued by Mocata, who wants them back. Mocata, a gentlemanly figure with piercing blue eyes, is strong with the black arts – he has powers of possession, hypnotism, and can even summon Satan himself if he needs to (the devil appears once as the “goat of Mendez” – just go with it). Before the movie is through, we have seen animal sacrifices, giant spiders, a car chase involving 1930s-era automobiles, the angel of Death, and some mumbo-jumbo involving time reversals.
The importance of Lee’s acting presence can’t be stressed enough. Taking a role that might have gone to Peter Cushing, Lee is the glue that holds the entire thing together. Exuding intelligence and confidence, Lee makes you believe in his character, so when he starts chanting strange spells you can accept it without eyerolls. It makes the dated special effects (like the giant spider sequence) acceptable. There are some effective moments, like the appearance of a demon appearing as an African savage, or Mocata’s ability to take over Marie’s will through calm speaking and an icy stare. I also noticed the amount of influence this film may have had over later movies like Poltergeist II (the illusion of girl Peggy being threatened; also, Mocata’s visit to the house seems like a direct influence of the “Kane” visit). It is also interesting to note that the character of Duc de Richleau, while in service of the Christian God and Jesus Christ, doesn’t hesitate to initiate bizarre pagan rituals, draw circles of protection against occult aggression, or hold your everyday seance. Whatever does the job, I guess!
The only problem I had with the character of Duc de Richleau was his reluctance to inform his colleagues of nature of the danger they face and sufficiently arm them with that knowledge. They occasionally screw up, and he yells “You damned fool!” at them, but why didn’t he properly warn them in the first place? I was also puzzled over the affection Rex had for Tanith, which was murky in its backstory and seemed only to serve to move the plot forward. It’s also curious that Rex’s voice was dubbed in by Patrick Allen (what gives?). Minor quibbles, however. The Devil Rides Out is a good Saturday afternoon flick best experienced for its atmosphere, not logic or believability. It’s also proof that much more can be found in Hammer horror (and from director Terence Fisher) than Dracula or Frankenstein.
- Bill Gordon