Written by: John White on January 29th, 2006
Original Release Date: UK, 1968
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Christopher Lee, Leon Greene, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower, Nike Arrighi
DVD released: October 21, 2002
Approximate running time: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (as part of Hammer Horror Selection box set)
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0
DVD Release: Warner UK
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £49.99 as part of Hammer Horror Selection
Old friends, Rex, Simon and the Duke De Richelieu, have arranged to have a reunion only Simon hasn’t been heard of for months. When Rex and the Duke go to his home they find a party of oddballs supposedly talking about astronomy but after further investigation the Duke uncovers Satanic texts, false names and a planned black mass. Rex and the Duke kidnap Simon and try to break his conditioning but no sooner have they abducted him but he disappears under the will of coven leader, Mocata. Chasing him they end up in the English countryside and at Mocata’s home. Can they save Simon and the friends that help them from being baptised by the devil and losing their souls.
Before 1968 the British didn’t make films about Satanism, it just wasn’t the done thing. The censors and public taste weren’t ready for it so when the popularity of Dennis Wheatley’s books made clear that the public would go to see such a film Christopher Lee cajoled Hammer into optioning this one. Hammer put the big guns on to this production with a script from Richard Matheson, production from Anthony Nelson Keys and direction from Terence Fisher.
Given such delicacy, it is not a surprise that the Devil Rides Out is a bit coy about blood, nudity and the whole topic. The screenplay utilises the old trick of one educated lead, the Duke, explaining that whole Satanism thing to the ignorant one, Rex. This plays up Lee’s natural authority well but gives Rex the thankless role of being a tad stupid and blundering around. The film is also couched with a very religious point of view – at the end Rex the former agnostic says “Thank God” to which the Duke replies in the last words of the film “Yes Rex. He is the one we must thank“.
The tone set by the film is a consistent one of deadly seriousness and affronted morals. Simon’s playing with the occult is extraordinarily stupid and for this he is punched several times, asphyxiated and splashed in blood. The rest of the cast are struck by the lack of basic decency these Satanists have – the Satanists will abuse the privacy of your home, sacrifice your children and probably refuse to flush the downstairs loo. The Devil Rides Out aims itself at the bourgeois and their concerns and wraps itself in the clothes of a quasi religious message. This positioning is as much about marketing and making the film safe as about any belief in the subject matter or concern for salvation.
The film is essentially concerned with the fight for Simon’s soul and the battle of wills between Lee’s Duke and Gray’s Mocata. The film is exceptional in the sequences where Mocata tests the Duke and his friends through hallucinations and mind control. Gray and Lee have few scenes together but each is such an extraordinary presence that you never question their potency. The supporting cast are good but are really asked to play around this central conflict and be agnostic or scared as the story requires.
The special effects are dated but deserve credit for bringing some difficult set pieces to the screen whether they be the black genie, the giant spider or the angel of death. What works really well in the film is the soundtrack and the way that is used to unnerve or suggest change. The whole film is directed at breakneck pace and technical limitations aside this is a magnificent piece of horror which still has the power to disturb.
Along with Horror of Dracula, the Devil Rides Out represents the best of British Horror.
The Devil Rides Out is one of five films available in the Hammer Horror selection available in the UK. The other four films are Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, Horror Of Frankenstein, Lust For A Vampire and Scars Of Dracula.
The film is presented beautifully with a spotless anamorphic transfer of an excellent print. The sound is actually stereo which works well for the great sound effects in the film as well as James Bernard’s bombastic score.
The film comes with scene access and the theatrical trailer on the DVD.
There is a well received R1 disc from Anchor Bay which boasts 5.1 sound and more extras, but this R2 disc is going to be a tough one to beat in terms of the treatment of the main film. A pity that it has not had a single disc release. You do need to own a copy of this film.