DEVIL RIDES OUT
/ DVD. Studio Canal.
1968, Hammer shot their first Dennis Wheatley films –
the boys own adventure The Lost Continent,
and this, their first overtly occult movie, taking advantage
of the British censor’s reluctant loosening of their Christian
morals. At the time, Wheatley’s books had begun to have
a revival that would last through the next decade, thanks to
raunchy covers that barely reflected the somewhat stuffy and
reactionary content, and a wider interest in Satanism, devil
worship and all things occult in the world at large.
In the film, Christopher Lee plays the Duc de Richelieu, an
aristocrat who finds that his young protégé Simon
(Patrick Mower) has become involved in a Satanic cult led by
Mocata (Charles Gray). Along with his friend Rex (Leon Greene),
he endeavours to rescue Simon and fellow initiate Tanith (Nike
Arrighi), but Mocata is not about to let them go that easily.
Sympathetically adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson (who
sticks closely to Wheatley’s original story but tightens
up both the action and the cumbersome dialogue considerably),
The Devil Rides Out is a genuine Hammer classic.
Terence Fisher directs in his usual efficient, unflashy style,
keeping that action thundering along – this is a film
full of car chases, fights and spectacular horror scenes, all
heightened by a James Bernard score that is histrionic even
by his standards.
Lee – a fan of Wheatley who, if interviews are to be believed,
genuinely believes in the power of occult evil – gives
one of his most enthusiastic performances as the Duc, who is
some sort of occult expert himself, but firmly on the side of
the angels. It was rare to see Lee as the hero in a horror film,
but he’s excellent in the role. Gray too is impressive
as the insidiously smooth Mocata, oozing an oily charm yet seeming
convincingly dangerous. The rest of the cast are perhaps less
impressive – Paul Eddington, in a supporting role, is
convincing as an initially sceptical family friend, but Greene
seems woodenly stoic – his performance not helped by being
dubbed by an instantly recognisable Patrick Allen. His performance
isn’t helped by the fact that Rex is one of the most spectacularly
useless heroes you’ll ever find in a horror film. Tell
him not to look into the eyes of an apparition and he’ll
immediately stare at it; tell him to stay calm and he’ll
blunder in, fists flying, or break a trance by shouting just
as the vital information was about to be revealed.
of the most impressive sequences in The Devil Rides
Out – not quite the climax, but near enough –
has the heroes inside a magic circle as Mocata’s satanic
forces are sent to attack them. It’s a powerful, dramatic,
almost hysterical scene that ranks amongst the best of Hammer’s
dramatic set pieces, and renders the actual finale of the film
a bit of an anti-climax. It’s also long been one of the
most problematic moments of the film thanks to some special
effects that were pitiful even at the time. Both the giant tarantula
and the Angel of Death that Mocata send to attack are neutered
by really, really rotten optical effects. This new version tweaks
these and other effects in a surprising George Lucas style spot
of digital revisionism. Okay, it’s not that dramatic –
but unusually, there are several moments of new digitally created
or revised effects in the film to improve on original imperfections.
These are most obvious in this scene – the spider is made
much more effective, the arrival (and facial close-up) of The
Angel of Death arguably less so (simply because they are more
obvious digitally created). None of these changes alter the
dramatic thrust of the film, and I’d argue that even the
most questionable are actually improvements over what was there
to begin with – Hammer purists, however, might want to
hold on to their old DVDs as well as own this.
The Devil Rides Out feels like an end of an
era film – it has the look, feel and sound of a 1960s
Hammer movie, while everything that came after it feels more
like their 1970s work, and there is a dramatic difference in
style between the two eras (personally, I’m a bigger fan
of the Seventies stuff, but still have a love for the previous
decade’s work). It certainly feels like the last of the
traditional Hammer horrors, with its unambiguous tale of good
vs evil (this is a film that ‘does God’ quite unashamedly).
Hammer’s next Wheatley film, the criminally underrated
To the Devil a Daughter, was a decidedly more
modern affair, with all the sex, gore and moral ambiguity that
is absent here, and is arguably the more interesting film. But
if you were to choose one Hammer film to represent their most
successful era, then The Devil Rides Out should
probably be the one, and if people call it the company's best
film of the decade, I wouldn't put up too much of an argument.
This new release comes with a fascinating pair of documentaries
covering the making of the film and the Hammer-Wheatley years,
as well as a look at the digital restoration (a good game –
watch the film without seeing this first and see how many tweaks
you actually spot).
IT NOW (UK)