The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray
Based on the novel by author Dennis Wheatley.
Set during the 1930s when the novel was written, The Devil Rides Out tells the tale of Duc de Richleau (Lee) and Rex Van Ryn, who upon Richleau's insistence they visit old friend Simon Aron to discover he is to miss their yearly reunion because he has joined an 'astronomical' society.
Curious about the gathering, Richleau becomes startled when at first he realises the meeting is restricted to 13 members, and they are asked to leave. Wandering around the members' room beforehand, he overhears occult terms and philosophies. His suspicions are confirmed when he invites himself to Simon's observation tower to discover a mini-temple along with a black cockeral and white hen about to be sacrificed to some infernal deity that Simon is to be baptised to.
Knocking Simon out, Richleau kidnaps him and in explaining to his friend Rex that he has studied the Black Arts all his life they begin a cat and mouse game for the very souls of Simon and fellow worshipper Tanith who Rex has fallen for, and leads them into a magical and spiritual battle with the charismatic and dreaded cult leader Mocota (Gray). This leads to various locales such as desecrated churches and haunted groves such as Salisbury Plain where Richleau and his small band catch site of The Angel of Death and The Goat of Mendes (Baphomet) himself.
When Mocota fails in his bid to repossess Simon and Tanith to the circle, he at first summons The Angel of Death to take his enemies out, and only succeeds in killing his disciple Tanith. He kidnaps Peggy, Richleau's niece into using her in a diabolic sacrifice to locate the The Talisman of Set.
Only Richleau's own knowledge of the Black Arts, and his own Faith in God will be enough to save them all from their souls burning in hellish torment as the Darkness desires to claim them all.
I had read some of Wheatley's occult novels many years ago in my youth, namely this one, To the Devil A Daughter (also the film) and The Satanist. Apparently Wheatley's fascination with the occult began during a card game where he prayed to Satan that if he won the game/hand he would devote himself to darkness or something like that.
Well he DID win the game, and it scared the bejesus out of him. Quick as spit, he renounced the Dark Master, named Jesus his saviour and then used his own fear, along with the growing fear of Black Magic in society due to Crowley, the O.T.O, the Golden Dawn and others (which weren't black magicians by the way). I wonder whether he kept the winnings to or gave it away? Anyways for the rest of his life, even though he made a fortune from writing about Black Magic, he always proclaimed that one shouldn't meddle in the Black Arts, for it would destroy your very soul.
Christopher Lee is great in this, and he was the genesis of bringing this tale to Hammer, and as a consequence it was one of their greatest successes. I enjoyed it for two reasons. One you actually get to hear Lee speak more than 10 words compared to his normal role as Dracula, and secondly it still possessed the Hammer charm, and I actually found it quite terrifying in a way. I can imagine back then with the lack of horror films, and also a lack of knowledge of the Black Arts of the general public (compared to today) it would have had the same effect on the audience as The Omen and The Exorcist did ten or so years later.
Mocota is a formidable chap, played with great glee by Charles Gray. He has a great and fearsome hold over his disciples, and possesses some awesome occult powers, powerful enough to summon Baphomet and The Angel of Death to serve him. Various other Dark Lords are mentioned during his rituals such as the Egyptian God Set, so I assume he draws his powers from a variety of dark sources. Besides a powerful mental connection, he can also perform other dark tricks like eye mojo either directly or through his disciples. He can turn glass opaque, summon fog, and illusions such as giant spiders and people, but his greatest power is to be quite charming and persuade those against him that Black Magic is not real, and that Richleau is the disturbed one.
Even though in the end the film came off as a sort of bible-bashing tale, it was still enjoyable and quite suspensful all the way through. On occassion I winced at the stupidity of Richleau's friend Rex who got himself in trouble a few times with his lack of occult knowledge, but if it wasn't for Richleau's interference in the first place, he wouldn't have gotten himself in this predicament.
I was a bit confused with the ending, when Richleau's friend Marie is possessed by some spirit and says a spell that destroys the Satanic Temple and vanquishes all the Satanists. I can only assume it was some guardian angel, though the stretched it a bit more at the very end when time was reversed one complete day, and a summoned Angel of Death resurrects Tanith and hunts down Mocota for the single soul he must take back with him to the Underworld.
My Grade is B.