Finally! I’m getting around to reviewing an ACTUAL Hammer Film! Hammer is a notorious, and justifiably loved, British film company that produced many different types of movies, but they seem to be most remembered for their horror classics, which made international stars of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and a handful of others. Hammer was known primarily for their reimagining of the Universal monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy,) giving these black and white properties a bloodier and, in general, more “adult” treatment—or, at the very least, bringing them into the modern, post WWII era, with COLOR! The Hammer films are sometimes considered a bit cheesy today, but the atmosphere and tone that these truly entertaining films achieved came to DEFINE the B-Movie style, (for me, at any rate,) and THIS film, in particular, is a quintessential CULT classic! The Devil Rides Out, was released in 1968, directed by Terence Fisher, and based on the 1934 novel by Dennis Wheatley, which was adapted into screenplay by the legendary Richard Matheson.
The film opens with Rex Van Ryn (played by Leon Greene) and the Duc de Richleau (played to perfection by Christopher Lee) getting together for a yearly reunion, but discovering that the third member of their group, Simon Aron (played by Patrick Mower) hasn’t shown up. The pair drive to the house that Simon has recently purchased, only to discover that he is hosting a party for an “astronomical society” that he’s recently joined. De Richleau quickly discovers, of course, that the group is actually a Satanic cult preparing to perform a magical ritual. The leader of this cult, Mocata, (brought to sinister life by Charles Gray,) is a skillful magician with the ability to control peoples’ minds and summon demonic creatures to do his bidding. Simon, along with a young lady, Tanith Carlisle (played by Nike Arrighi,) are about to be “re-baptized” into the service of Satan by Mocata—and Rex and de Richleau decide they must do everything they can to save the two initiates from their ghastly fates.
Interestingly, what our “heroes” end up doing is kidnapping Simon and Tanith (completely against their wills), multiple times, and trying to keep them from returning to Mocata. Though Simon does eventually decide that he wants to leave the cult, Tanith appears, primarily, to want to get away from Rex, who in various scenes grabs her, tackles her, and even binds and gags her (for her protection, of course.) And the budding “romance” that seems to be blossoming between the two, with Rex leering at her, asking her on a date, and eventually (once she’s been held captive for long enough) moving in for a kiss, is disturbing, to say the least. Although Tanith and Simon both seem to be afraid of Mocata, it’s the “GOOD GUYS” who seem to be doing all the kidnapping and physically assaulting everyone. As far as we know, both Tanith and Simon joined Mocata’s group of their own free will, and they are being KEPT from the group against their expressed wishes, to begin with at least. (Simon has to be knocked out when he’s first “rescued,” and Tanith believes she’s going on a lunch date with Rex, which he attempts to make permanent.)
Overall, the movie is played completely straight, with Christopher Lee practically yelling every line, to show how important what he’s saying is, and with Charles Gray doing some fantastic “eyeball acting” as he “hypnotizes” and controls his victims. The “special effects” are a bit suspect by today’s standards, and the Devil’s Sabbath is a exceedingly tame (even compared to other Hammer films,) but the acting is so much fun that the film is still a real treat to watch. There is a HEAVY Christian slant to the film, however, particularly in the language used by the Duc de Richleau as he does battle with the evil forces conjured by Mocata to get Tanith. Despite the apparently un-humorous tone, the film DOES feel a bit cheesy, to me. I love seeing Christopher Lee, who is usually on the side of evil, yelling and barking his lines with far more menace than Gray ever musters as the Satanic cult leader. It’s probably just because I’m not religious, but I find the “RIGHTEOUS” crusade that Rex and de Richleau have undertaken to be completely unnecessary, (shouldn’t folks have the right to practice WHATEVER religion they want?) However, we are SUPPOSED to believe that Simon and Tanith’s souls are on the line—and that Mocata is a menace to society who needs to be stopped at all costs! Seems to ME, though, that Mocata and his followers were just worshiping in their own way—having a grand time, drinking some wine, partying with the Goat of Mendes, and not really bothering anybody else, until de Richleau and Rex showed up and spoiled the party!
Regardless of your personal beliefs, the movie is entertaining, with some top notch over-acting and a couple of ultra-cheesy “magical attack” scenes to enjoy. Even though the special effects aren’t that special, these scenes are a hoot, thanks particularly to Lee. Oddly, despite the sinister subject matter of the film, there’s really no bad language, no gore, no sexual content (the Devil’s Sabbath, as I mentioned, is clean as a whistle,) and almost nothing in the film that a Sunday school class could possibly object to. (It’s straight up, good vs evil, throughout!) I find the ENDING to be a bit silly, but it’s still a great film, if you enjoy a bit of cheese mixed into your Satanic cults. (I suppose some might find the movie a kind of dull, what with the lack of all the “GOOD STUFF” you usually find in a cult horror film, but I think the bombastic performances by Lee and Gray more than make up for the tame content!) So—there you go! My first Hammer review down! More to come!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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