A thrilling and very creepy film from Hammer Horror, The Devil Rides Out stands as one of their finest films. It’s the whole atmosphere and compelling story, aided by a pacy running time, The Devil Rides Out is a must see.
It’s the 1920’s in the English countryside and the cultured, well-respected Duc De Richleau(Christopher Lee) has become concerned about a friend. This friend is the young and often irresponsible Simon Aron(Patrick Mower) ; De Richleau knew his father and since that friend’s death he has looked out for Simon along with fellow chum Red Van Ryn(Leon Greene). The concern regarding comes from Simon seemingly cutting contact off with those closest and disappearing for long periods of time. Aided by loyal best friend Rex, the two men soon unearth that the reckless has fallen in with a secretive society of devil worshippers who wish to baptise him once more as a follower of darkness. The sect is headed by the powerful and dangerously charismatic Mocata (Charles Gray), who is known to be ruthless and extremely gifted in getting people . After knocking Simon out and whisking him away, De Richleau and Rex must contend with the knowledge that they are marked for something dark by the evil Mocata . They also help rescue a female follower Tanith( Niké Arrighi )who hasn’t been initiated into the bit is struggling with the pull of it. He shelters both Simon and Tanith with his niece Marie( Sarah Lawson) and her husband Richard(Paul Eddington) , who live in a large house in the country. Protecting the potential victims isn’t going to be a cakewalk for as the wicked Mocata can use mind control and hypnosis to make unsuspecting victims do his bidding. Now De Richleau must fight to save Simon and from the clutches of Mocata , who has set his sights on the rest of De Richleau’s family in a cruel blow that will require a lot of faith to overcome. Let battle between good and evil commence in entertainingly spooky fashion.
Terence Fisher adopts a restrained, low key approach here that allows for the story to become front and centre, while moving it along at an acceptable pace of mounting chills and unnerving mystery. That doesn’t mean that is without set pieces, it simply means that they are done in a way that isn’t too razzmatazz and more slithering menace. The scene of Mocata intensely putting Marie under hypnosis is gloriously creepy and stands out as a piece of dark filmmaking as the psychology of the situation and overall ambience is cranked up higher in a battle of wills. The other big standout is the protection circle scene where the group have to face off against the dark forces that don’t let up. It knows how to up the ante excellently in the best possible way. Hammer was known for its villains in the guise of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, but the fact that the main enemy in The Devil Rides Out is actually people who believe in a dark purpose makes a very unnerving prospect. Supernatural events occur throughout in the form of dark sorcery and satanism but the battle between good and evil feels more rooted in some semblance of reality while still retaining the magic of Hammer that you’d expect. The lack of bloodshed is also a stroke of genius; it allows us to focus more on the story than just parts that are possibly grisly. As mentioned earlier, the approach of a bit more subtlety adds immensely to the atmosphere of the piece as it unfolds deliberately but in a manner that is very fascinating. The film also has a dazzling colour scheme within in that highlights the richness of red and purple, plus there’s some great camerawork that employs intense close ups of eyes to startling by effect. A few special effects don’t measure up to modern eyes, but the main focus of the spooky story is the true crux of things that outweighs niggle. The score by James Bernard( himself a Hammer Horror regular) is one of great tension and action, which is exactly what you’d want in a film like this.
Christopher Lee heads a very good cast in a role that is a change of pace for him; the hero. But Lee quickly displays how adept he is at surprising us with a passionate turn as a knowledgable man fighting to save a friend with a sense of great dignity to his core. Lee acquits himself well with force and gravity it must be said and provides the centre of this film. Charles Gray is his counterpart and he relishes being very evil throughout. For Gray, it’s all in the eyes as he uses them to such creepy effect as the character he plays manipulates those around him unsettling skill. Even before we’ve seen Mocata, we get an impression of the man and Charles Gray plays to that spectacularly. loyal friend who is supremely tested by the ordeal and along the way develops romantic feelings for the beautiful Tanith. And speaking of Tanith, she is played with the right amount of sex appeal by the enticing Niké Arrighi. There’s something a little otherworldly quality to her and it’s utilised nicely in The Devil Rides Out. Patrick Mower has the role of the reckless and foolhardy man caught in something he is starting to regret. The part isn’t the biggest stretch for the actor, but he puts in a very good performance nonetheless. Really standing out from the moment she’s introduced is the role of Marie, played by Sarah Lawson. She starts out as seemingly immensely vulnerable, but Lawson shows that the character is actually more switched on and important than people think. In fact, later becomes quite integral to the plot and a lot of this is down to Sarah Lawson. Paul Eddington rounds out the cast as the sceptic among everyone who soon comes to believe in the darkness about to surface.
A creepy and very enthralling Hammer Horror, The Devil Rides Out stands at least in my book as one of their finest. This owes much to a great cast, somewhat low key approach and feeling of elevating tension.