If you have been sitting at home, scrounging change out of the couch cushions to buy beer and thinking that more money would solve all your problems, consider the strange tale of the absurdly wealthy Duc de Richleau (my good friend and the coolest man in the world, Christopher Lee). He and his old buddy Rex (Leon Green) meet up for a long-awaited reunion to find that their other friend, Simon (Patrick Mower) has not joined them as planned. Simon has recently bought a house with an observatory and has decided that, instead of meeting Richleau and Rex, he will throw a housewarming party with twelve new friends. At the party they will drink fine wines and then kill a white hen and a black cockerel, like you do. Who will the fourteenth guest at the party be? Could it be…Satan? Spoiler: yes, it could.
Fortunately, Richeleau arrives in time to punch a recalcitrant Simon in the face and take him back to his house, where they begin a mad three-day scramble to save the souls of Simon and a young woman from the party named Tanith (Niké Arrighi) who Rex has ill-advisedly fallen in love with on sight. Simon and Tanith are promised to Satan, but haven’t undergone the final baptism which will completely give away their souls. Still, they are able to be controlled by the evil cult leader, Mocata, played by Charles “get the fuck off the desk” Gray and reportedly based on Mr. Crowley.
Unfortunately for Mocata, Richleau knows almost as much good magic as the One-Eyebrow Priest from Mr. Vampire. Of course, this is Christian white magic as opposed to Taoist white magic, but it’s still a trip to see Christopher Lee not only playing the good guy, but also busting out spells for every occasion. Every time something bad happens he’s right there with the perfect countermeasure, whether it’s knowing when to knock you the fuck out for your own good, to conjuring up a spirit to speak through you, to saying the words of a ritual that can alter time and space. And where did he learn all these spells? Presumably from the British Museum. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past few weeks of watching nothing but British horror movies, it’s that you can learn anything at the British Museum. So after a lot of high speed car chases at 50 mph (this film appears to be set around the dawn of the automobile), several fascinating looks at Satanic ritual gatherings, and a battle with, among other nasty creatures, the biggest tarantula in the world, the film comes to a happy, if mind-bending, ending.
The Devil Rides Out is one of the last best Hammer productions, to my somewhat limited but swiftly growing knowledge of the studio. It was made before they started trying to cater too desperately to the youth culture, and yet, ironically, probably contributed, because of its commercial failure, to the decision to make the last few Hammer films so “modern.” Two more films with Lee as Richleau were planned but scrapped in the wake of this one’s poor performance, yet looking back The Devil Rides Out stands as a better film than later, more explicit films like The Satanic Rites of Dracula. I’m no prude, liking boobs and gore as much as the next horror fan, but I feel that Hammer should have stuck to their original formula and not tried to change so quickly with the times. Of course, I’m looking at the situation while perched safely on the other end of time from the sexual revolution, so who knows? Whatever the case, I love this movie, and I hope I’m not the only one.
I can’t help but point out that, like many Hammer films, this is a deeply Christian film. When Mocata’s final ritual is disrupted, and the dark curtains on the walls have burned away amid much chaos, a glowing white cross is revealed on the wall. Also, the last two lines of the film are Simon saying “Thank God,” answered by Richleau’s, “Yes, Simon, He is the one we must thank.” I don’t think director Terence Fisher meant to proselytize, it was simply a product of his worldview on the subject of good versus evil. While the theme could have been introduced in the original novel by Dennis Wheatley, or in Richard Matheson’s script, it is well established that Fisher’s work often contained Christian themes.
A question I wonder if some of you could answer: why do Hammer films usually end so abruptly?
Here’s a new horror guideline, if not a rule: a person who is under mind control by the leader of a Satanic cult WILL steal your car given the slightest chance.