Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
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Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Grey, Leon Green, Patrick Mower
Director: Terence Fisher
By 1968, public interest in the occult was at a peak. Naturally, Hammer wasted no time in capitalising on the interest of all things Satanic with what would become one of the most ambitious and effective films in their canon.
Screenplay duties fell to Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), cutting out the substantial fat from Dennis Wheatley’s original novel, leaving a taut and dynamic thriller that hurtles along at a frantic pace almost from the off.
The Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) discovers that his young friend Simon Aaron (Patrick Mower) has joined a “little astronomical society”, which is in actual fact a Satanic cult led by the sinister Mocata (Charles Grey). Alongside his old friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Green with the voice of Patrick Allen), DeRicheleau is soon thrust into battle against the forces of darkness not just for Simon’s life, but his eternal soul too.
Casting Christopher Lee against type (at least as far as Hammer was concerned) is The Devil Rides Out’s greatest strength. His acting capability never in doubt, Lee brings that forcefulness and authority that makes him such an effective villain to a heroic role, not to mention a towering physicality which adds no small amount of gravitas to his portrayal of the Duc.
He’s matched in every way by Partick Grey’s deliciously Machiavellian schemer Mocata. Suave and slick, but with a barely-concealed streak of cruelty and malice bubbling under the surface, Grey is magnificent here, more than capable of holding his own against the mighty Christopher Lee in one of his finest performances. Think about that for a minute.
Matheson relocates the action from the novel’s 1880s setting to an altogether more happening 1920s, allowing for some sumptuous set designs and plenty of thrilling automobile action, while the special effects for the most part are serviceable at best, still go some way to bringing this dangerously decadent world to life. Home Counties England it might be, but what we are being made aware of is the dark underbelly of the green and pleasant land.
The constant back and forth between DeRicheleau and Mocata for Simon’s soul (as well as Rex’s love interest Tanith, portrayed with real charm and mystery by the excellent Nike Arrighi) leads to several show-stopping set-pieces. The outdoor Sabbat on Salisbury Plain must have been terrifying in its day, as it still holds an incredible impact today, its actual manifestation of The Goat Of Mendes aka “The Devil himself!” still one of the all-time great Satanic moments in cinema.
It all comes to a spectacular climax with the heroes huddled in a magic circle, surrounded by the forces of Hell itself as the Duc uses every incantation at his disposal to save the day and defeat Mocata. It really is magnificent stuff.
A classic for sure and another contender for the greatest Hammer horror ever made? Definitely.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy