Retro Movie Review – 9 Thoughts About The Devil Rides Out

SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS’ THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, AKA THE DEVIL’S BRIDE, WHICH IS 41 YEARS OLD SO MAYBE DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT

In 2001 the band Fantômas released an album called The Director’s Cut. This album is, in my opinion, their best work and one of the coolest albums I own. It features covers, rearrangements, and updates of themes from various genre films, ranging from Der Golem to Cape Fear to Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer.

Side Note: Another track on the album, inspired by Ronald Stein’s theme to Spider Baby, is the greatest Halloween song ever recorded.

One of the tracks on the album is an arrangement of James Bernard’s theme to Hammer Horror’s The Devil Rides Out. The title and the track were very compelling to me. I wasn’t familiar with the film, but as soon as I found out it was a Hammer production, I wanted to see it. Hammer Horror played a huge role in my development as a horror fan.

American releases of this film have been few and far between, to the point where I’m having trouble finding out if there have even been any aside from the original theatrical run, when the movie was retitled The Devil’s Bride because there was concern the original title made it sound like a Western.

I will go ahead and confirm their concern was correct, because that’s exactly what I thought when I saw the title. And I kind of still want the movie that conjured in my head.

Since 2001 I have been casually keeping an eye out for this movie. I don’t get terribly obsessive about specific things, as there are always other movies, books, and toys to keep my interest. So it was more a matter of being generally aware of a release, not poring over the dark recesses of the internet desperate to find a copy. Obviously I would have if that had been the case, as there have been foreign releases over the years and I’m sure it’s available via more nefarious methods that I do not, personally employ.

Earlier this year Shout Factory – that wonderful hero of genre film – announced they would be releasing The Devil Rides Out on Blu-ray; a new 2K scan with the original effects intact. Honestly I didn’t care about the details, I was just delighted that I’d finally be able to see this oddly elusive film.

This movie represents the time when Hammer was looking for genres other than classic monsters. They had gone to that well a few too many times and turned to the looming threat of Satanism for inspiration.

Starring Christopher Lee and Charles Gray, the film presents a clash between good and evil in the south of England in 1929; a literal battle for a man’s soul.

Did it deliver or had I built my expectations up too high based on very little information? Read on and find out!

1 – I’m Talkin’ Fuckin’ Lee – In The Devil Rides Out Christopher Lee plays the heroic Duc de Richleau, a seasoned world traveler wise in the ways of, among other things, the occult. Lee had often referred to it as not only one of his favorite roles, but his favorite movie that he appeared in.

Now having seen it, I understand why.

As the Duke, Lee gets to be just as charismatic, powerful, and commanding as he always is, but this time representing the forces of good. Plus, he sports a dashing Van Dyke that I don’t believe I’d seen on him previously.

The Devil Rides Out is based on the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name and I presume there was a lot more backstory for de Richleau there than there was here. In a power move that I respect, the filmmakers decide the audience is simply going to accept that Christopher Lee’s character knows everything he knows about Satanism and the occult because, well, he’s Christopher Fucking Lee and casting him was shorthand for “this guy knows his stuff, do not question it”.

There are a few scenes where de Richleau has to console people who feel that they have failed or have had something calamitous happen. Lee has a very endearing way of speaking to these actors and his face softens in a way that is uncharacteristic and fascinating to see.

You can tell that Lee is savoring this role every second he’s on screen. His enjoyment is enough to put a good, fun movie over the top into “awesome” territory.

2 – Could It Be… SATAN?!? – Duc de Richleau and his pal, Rex Van Ryn (who I’ll say more about in a bit) pay their old friend’s son a visit in his ridiculously opulent English manor. They were all supposed to meet for their annual dinner, but the son, Simon Aron, didn’t show up.

When Richleau and Van Ryn arrive unexpected, they find that some sort of strange gathering is going on with visitors from across the globe. The duo are clearly not wanted there, though Simon feels appropriately awkward about it. Richleau immediately suspects that there’s a Satanic ritual in the offing because that man is just on top of his game.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Simon is compelled to get rid of his friends. Rather than simply leaving, Richleau shoves his way upstairs into Simon’s observatory where all of the Satanic ritual stuff is. He is not suave about this at all.

Simon tells them they have to leave and Christopher Lee gives him That Look and pretty much says, “Okay, but no” and just shoves past him to go upstairs. Simon, being a Proper British Gentleman and significantly younger than Richleau, has no idea what to do with this and the actor playing him, Patrick Mower, pulls this off beautifully.

Once Richleau’s suspicions are confirmed by a roomful of Satanic imagery and a basket of chickens, he knocks Simon out with a right hook so that he and Van Ryn can get him to safety. They also knock Simon’s butler out on their way out of the house for good measure.

This is a good plan and I admire it. There are many points in The Devil Rides Out when things could have gotten overly complicated, but instead Richleau and Van Ryn decide to punch people. It’s like they’re me playing Arkham City – they could probably sneak around or avoid certain situations, but punching is faster and they’re good at it, so why not?

Over the course of the film the Satanists, led by Charles Gray as Mocata, pursue Simon because they need him for their annual spring mixer or whatever. There are a lot of twists and turns and some fun supporting characters are introduced, including an extra saucy Sarah Lawson as Marie Eaton, the Duke’s niece.

The climax is weird, but I’ll get to that.

3 – Here Now, What’s All This, Then? – Every British genre production has to have a “Here now, what’s all this, then?” guy. He is the lynchpin of a successful narrative. I think the greatest of all time was Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan on Doctor Who, but Leon Green does a damned fine job here as Rex Van Ryn.

For some odd reason that I still don’t quite understand even after watching the special features, the filmmakers dubbed Patrick Allen’s voice over Green’s performance. That might seem like it would be distracting, but if you’ve watched enough older British films or television you’ve probably experienced it often enough that it won’t phase you. To be honest I didn’t think anything of it until it was pointed out in the special features.

Anyway, between the two of them Green and Allen have a wonderful character in Rex. He nails that classic sort of befuddled-but-doing-his-best that’s such a fun companion for a knowledgeable lead like Duc de Richleau. He wants to know what’s going on (speaking for the audience), but never grinds things to a halt. When it’s time to run or punch or throw mystical artifacts at Satan, he’s up for it.

4 – Very Clearly Evil – Charles Gray plays the villainous Mocata, who is clearly a bad guy from the second he first appears on screen. If the Duke’s first thought upon seeing him hadn’t been, “Well, he must be the leader of a Satanic cult,” I’d have serious doubts about his efficacy as a protagonist.

Gray is delightfully sinister as the cult leader, stopping just shy of chewing scenery and instead infusing his performance with an assured sort of malice. There’s a purposefulness in everything he does that is more intimidating than any grand theatrics could be. This is what makes him such a tremendous foil for Lee’s de Richleau, who is also a self-assured and determined character. The two actors are like willful forces of nature colliding.

Gray has a way of making his somewhat cherubic visage seem sinister. His eyes become slightly too wide, his mouth a bit too tight. I wouldn’t have been shocked one bit if fire or lasers shot out of his eyes at one point.

When Mocata is on screen he is becomes the focus of the shot, even when Christopher Lee is present.

5 – Simple Simon – Poor Simon is, if not fully relatable, somewhat identifiable as the clueless guy who has gotten in over his head.

Patrick Mower is charming enough to make Simon hapless and likeable rather than just a clueless moron. It seems he just fell in with the wrong crowd and kept going along to get along. He’s not in any way malicious or even aggressively stupid – he just has trouble saying “no”. And those darn Satanists have taken advantage of that every step of the way.

Simon isn’t very proactive for most of the film and is typically in need of rescuing, but he’s not a wailing ninny.

As an audience, we like Simon, even if we’re a bit exasperated by his actions. He’s definitely not one of those characters in need of rescue that you’d prefer just see meet a grisly fate. At the end of the film, you want Simon to recognize the error of his ways and hopefully go on to live a nice, uncomplicated life.

I’m sure the vast fortune his father left him will help with that.

6 – Spelling A Cast – Other highlights of the  cast include Niké Arrighi as Tanith Carlisle, Russel Waters as Malin, and the aforementioned Sarah Lawson as Marie Eaton.

Tanith is a young woman who is at the gathering at Simon’s house. Initially our heroes think she’s just another Satanist, but it turns out she’s supposed to be baptized in the same ceremony as Simon. Fortunately for her Our Man Rex is sent to interrogate her after Simon disappears from the house where he was being kept safe.

There’s a really weird non-segue where Rex goes to talk to Tanith at her hotel, then all of a sudden they’re just in a car together driving through the countryside. It felt to me like a scene was missing that explained how Rex talked her into going anywhere with him, but I also appreciate that we just got to the point because this movie had lots of other things to do.

It might seem crass to say, but Arrighi is mostly there to look pretty and provide some motivation for Rex, and she’s very good at what she’s there for.

Malin is the Eaton’s butler. It’s a small role, but Russel Waters makes it memorable. He has a scene where he has to report that the Eaton’s daughter has been kidnapped by the Satanists and his misery and shame are palpable.

My favorite supporting character in The Devil Rides Out is easily Sarah Lawson’s Marie Eaton.

Marie is Duc de Richleau’s niece and, while not as worldly as the Duke, is very self-possessed and capable. She knows her uncle leads a unique life and doesn’t raise a bunch of unnecessary hell about what’s going on.

Lawson has a fantastic scene with Charles Gray – one of the best in the movie – where Mocata has entered her home in search of Simon and Tanith. She’s stern but polite, not yielding to his pushiness and ordering him to leave when he crosses the line of normal interaction. Mocata then proceeds to hypnotize her and the two actors are so good that the scene itself is as mesmerizing as Mocata’s voice.

There are a minimum of justified hysterics towards the end of the film, but for the most part Marie is one of the strongest and most stable characters.

6 – The Chase! – There is, as unlikely as it may seem, a pulse-pounding car chase scene.

Tanith, under the mental control of Mocata, steals the car that Rex borrowed from the Duke. Rex, in turn, borrows the Eaton’s car and takes off in pursuit. What follows is a pretty darn good chase that goes through the twisting roads of the beautiful English countryside.

Unfortunately for Rex (and the Eatons), black magic obscures his windscreen at one point, causing him to crash into a tree. Tanith gets away and the Eatons are down an automobile.

Pro Tip: DO NOT let Rex Van Ryn borrow your car.

7 – Are You Down With The Goats? – Much to my surprise, the Goat of Mendes, aka Baphomet, aka Satan himself appears somewhat early in the film.

Mocata and the rest of the Satanists have brought Simon and Tanith to their spring mixer and are dancing and chanting and getting up to all sorts of tomfoolery. At this point the young people are still sort of on board with the whole thing. The cult seems a little odd, but they know how to have fun.

Then everything goes so, so bad.

The Satanists present a goat to Mocata, who promptly stabs it to death and fills a goblet with its blood, which summons THE LITERAL ACTUAL DEVIL.

For 1968 this is a pretty effective Satan. He doesn’t do much other than sit crisscross applesauce on top of a stump, but he looks absolutely fucking terrifying doing it.

Needless to say, this prompts Simon and Tanith to reevaluate their membership in the club.

Fortunately the Duke and Rex are watching all of this from afar and leap into action when the Prince of Darkness appears. Racing towards the gathering in de Richleau’s recovered car with the Duke and the wheel and Rex hanging onto the side, I honestly thought they were just going to ram Satan with the car. Instead, Rex throws a cross (I think – a LOT of stuff happens in this movie) at ol’ goat-head, who disappears in a poof of presumably acrid smoke and brimstone.

With Satan thusly dispatched, our heroes jump out of the car, punch a bunch of Satanists, and get Simon and Tanith the heck out of there.

It’s a fantastic scene that feels like a satisfying climax, but isn’t even halfway through the film!

8 – Angel of Death – The final climax of the movie – The Devil Rides Out has about four of them, and they’re all awesome – comes after our heroes have endured a terrifying night of black magic directed at them by Mocata.

Darkness, illusions, and visions of evil torment de Richleau, Simon, and Marie and her husband while Rex attempts to protect Tanith. The final attack is the actual personification of Death itself riding a giant fucking horse into the Eaton’s drawing room and attempting to stomp Simon to pieces.

In an awe-inspiring scene, Christopher Lee stands to his full height, spreads his arms, and utters a lengthy incantation that dispels Death. He had stated earlier that it was their absolute last resort, only to be used when their mortal souls were in peril. With this setup in mind, the scene comes across as massively powerful and dramatic, which is good because the effects were made in 1968.

There’s a lot of superimposing or matte work in this scene that doesn’t look great. If you can enjoy old movies it won’t bother you. In 2012 Studio Canal released a Blu-ray with CGI “fixes” to these effects and I’d wager that they don’t look any better, just different. But I am curious to see the altered version.

9 – The Final, Actual, For-Real Finale – As I said before, a LOT happens in The Devil Rides Out. While it does have some moments for the characters to gather themselves or drop some exposition, for the most part it’s a balls-to-the-wall adventure. There are a few scenes that feel big enough to be the end, but aren’t.

The actual finale occurs after Duc de Richleau has dispelled Death and our heroes have discovered Mocata and the cult’s base of operations. They are about to sacrifice the Eaton’s daughter, Penny, when Rex does what he does best – starts punching everyone.

Unfortunately Mocata’s demonic powers are at their height here and the action comes to a standstill. Marie urges the Duke to use his incantation again, but he cannot.

Side Note: Okay, so I forgot to mention that Tanith dies when Death was dispelled because Death must take a soul when summoned. After that de Richleau contacted Tanith’s spirit in order to discover the whereabouts of the Eaton’s daughter. A LOT HAPPENS, YOU GUYS.

Fortunately, Tanith’s spirit works through Penny, who is pure of heart, to summon Divine Judgement, which vaporizes all of the Satanists and transforms their temple into a church.

Somehow or other this causes all of the good guys to travel back in time to when Tanith was still alive and everyone lives happily ever after, glory be to God on high.

Except for Mocata, who was taken by Death because he summoned it and Death was pretty freaking annoyed to be bothered, what with so much other stuff going on in 1929.

The Devil Rides Out delivered above and beyond my expectations.

Oftentimes you hear about a movie and let yourself get excited for it, only to discover that it had been built up too much. I’ve bought plenty of movies that I hadn’t seen but was excited about, only to turn around and sell them or give them away immediately after watching.

This is not one of those movies. It has a wonderful cast, plenty of action, and the right level of 60s-era deviltry to be worth not just watching, but owning. I love that Hammer was able to successfully dip into something a little different and I’ll be actively looking for more films of this type from the era. If you’re a fan of Christopher Lee this is a must-have, but even if you’re just a general fan of horror I’d recommend checking this one out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Shout Factory’s Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic. It comes out on October 29th and you can preorder it here. Here’s your list of featrues:

Bonus Features

  • NEW 2K Scan Of The 20thCentury Fox Interpositive (Also Included Is The Studio Canal Restored Master)
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman, Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr, And Author/Screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson
  • NEW Satanic Shocks – Author/Film Historian Kim Newman Discusses The Devil Rides Out
  • NEW Folk Horror Goes Haywire – Author/Film Historian Jonathan Rigby Discusses The Devil Rides Out
  • Audio Commentary With Actors Christopher Lee And Sarah Lawson
  • Black Magic: The Making Of The Devil Rides Out
  • Dennis Wheatley At Hammer
  • World Of Hammer Episode – Hammer
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Still Gallery

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