DEVIL RIDES OUT, THE (Devil’s Bride, The)

(director: Terence Fisher; screenwriters: Richard Matheson/from the novel by Dennis Wheatley; cinematographer: Arthur Grant; editors: James Needs/Spencer Reeve; music: James Bernard; cast: Christopher Lee (Duc de Richleau), Charles Gray (Mocata), Nike Arrighi (Tanith), Leon Greene (Rex Van Ryn), Patrick Mower (Simon Aron), Gwen Ffrangcon Davies (Countess), Sarah Lawson (Marie), Paul Eddington (Richard), Rosalyn Landor (Peggy), Russell Waters (Malin). Eddie Powell (The Devil), Yemi Ajibade (African Demon); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Anthony Nelson Keys; 20th Century Fox/Hammer Films; 1968-UK)

I can’t recall Christopher Lee being more animated and more enjoyable to watch.


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Known in England as The Devil Rides Out and to American audiences as The Devil’s Bride, it has become a favorite cult horror film over the years and is considered one of the best films the cheesy Hammer Films studio ever made–if not their best. It was released in America the same year as Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and helped cause a revival of interest in that creaky genre. It stars Christopher Lee as the pompous know-it-all aristocrat Duc de Richleau, in one of the few roles where he plays the good guy. It is a masterful performance that might be his best. Lee is best known for playing Dracula and in modern times the octogenarian played the wizard Saruman in the Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. In his long career Christopher Lee has been in over 300 films, which is more than any other actor.

Hammer’s best director Terence Fisher adapts the popular 1934 novel by Dennis Wheatley, and screenwriter Richard Matheson does a super job in improving the long and unwieldy novel by taking a lot of the stodginess out and condensing the action without losing the story’s meaning. The film could have been greater if the studio operated on a bigger budget and did more with the Satanic magic manifested, nevertheless it does a wonderful job of portraying the powers of black magic and the occult. It is well researched in the arts of the occult, and it pleases the audience with the triumph of good in this war between the forces of good and evil. It also shines as a thrilling romance, as it depicts the ongoing struggle between good and evil while throwing out the caveat that the power of the dark forces is a living force not to be trifled with. The “arcane arts” and its promises of tabu knowledge and superhuman powers has always intrigued mankind, and this film does a good job of keying in on that interest while keeping the magical fun movielike. Fisher’s film takes all this black magic as serious stuff, which allows its melodramatic moments to transcend easily into allegory.

The film is set in the England of the 1930s, capturing the periods flair for luxury with those marvelous vintage cars and vast estates. The Duc de Richleau and his close friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) arrive for their reunion and discover their close ally Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) has failed to show. The older Duc and Rex were members of a privileged order with Simon’s father, and when he passed on they kept their promise to him to look after his son. The Duc and Rex arrive in Simon’s country estate home and discover something strange is going on as Simon tells them it’s a secret meeting for members of an astronomical society, and asks them to leave. The Duc, who is knowledgeable about the occult, suspects this is a meeting of Satanists when he overhears the guests complaining that there are more than 13 guests present. Before leaving the Duc persuades Simon to take them up to the observatory room, and while there he spots the occult diagrams drawn on the floor and wall. The Duc also uncovers in the hamper a black cockerel and a white hen, which are the traditional sacrificial animals for the Satanists. The Duc takes this very seriously, as he tells Simon “I’d rather see you dead than meddling in black magic.” Rex is skeptical but sticks by his friend, who knocks Simon out and takes him back to his place. There he has Simon sleep while wearing a cross necklace. But the head of the Satanic circle, Mocata (Charles Gray, known to Bond fans for playing Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever), has perfected a mastery of the black arts and can project his will across great distances, as he uses those powers to have Simon choke himself with the cross. The butler Malin removes the cross to prevent him from choking himself to death, but that allows Simon to come under Mocata’s power and he flees to his residency.

The Duc is now sure that the Satanists want Simon for tomorrow night’s satanic baptism, which is on the night of April 30. That falls on the eve of May Day, which is a powerful time to hold a Black Mass and baptism because it’s one of the major black sabbats. What worries the Duc is that if they baptize him, they will have lost Simon for good as they will have stolen his soul. The two look for Simon in his home in vain, but in the observatory room they become frightened as the room starts getting colder and smoke starts coming from the nostrils of a drawing of a satanic goat on the floor. This initiates the arrival of a minor devil guarding the house. The demon is a cross-eyed black man, whom the Duc warns Rex not to look into his eyes or he will come under the devil’s power. Escaping that threat, the Duc has Rex track down one of the guests at Simon’s party, Tanith (Nike Arrighi), whose name means moon goddess. It’s explained that the followers of the Left Hand Path take the name of a former occultist or deity after they are baptized. When Rex locates Tanith she tells him that she is to be baptized with Simon tomorrow, and that Tanith is her real name.

Rex kidnaps Tanith for safekeeping to the country house of the Duc’s relatives, Richard (Eddington) and Marie (Lawson) and their precocious young daughter Peggy (Landor). But Tanith escapes stealing the car the Duc loaned Rex, as he chases after her using Richard’s car. As proof of Mocata’s great powers Rex’s windshield suddenly frosts over and a fog mysteriously covers Tanith’s escape path, as Rex crashes. Steven Spielberg used the same special effect in his TV movie Something Evil.

Rex while stumbling around without his crashed car, comes upon the house where the Satanists are meeting. He gives the Duc a ring, who spent his time wisely reading up on the Satanists at the British Museum. When together again, the two witness from behind the bushes the Black Sabbat ritual that begins with the sacrifice of a goat and an orgy among its flock. The Goat of Mendes (a man with a goat’s head), who is the Devil, appears as everyone in robes bows to him as their master. Rex comes up with the bright idea of shining the bright car lights from the Satanists’ cars on the ritual while the Duc drives his car into the crowd. They grab Tanith and Simon while knocking out Mocata and any of the other devil worshipers who try to stop them, and take them to Richard and Marie’s. At the house the Duc leaves again for another trip to the museum but leaves strict orders that Tanith is to be watched by a smitten Rex and Simon by the skeptical Richard, and they are never to be left alone.

There are a few more memorable sequences, one where Marie is sitting with a baby doll (a form of purity and innocence) when she meets in her salon with a visiting Mocata who is trying to take his acolytes back as she tries desperately not to succumb to his hypnotic power. When Mocata is prevented from succeeding, his chilling parting words are “I will not be back. But something will, tonight.” This leads to the most unforgettable scene when the Duc, Richard, Marie, Simon must stay inside a protective circle for the entire evening to fight off with their own magic the forces Mocata sends, which includes a giant tarantula who will not enter the circle, the false spirit voice of Rex at the door asking to be let in, the illusion of Peggy being attacked outside of the circle by the tarantula, and the appearance of the Angel of Death on a winged horse. Rex has remained outside keeping guard on Tanith, who fears being in the house because she’s the medium Mocata uses to gain power over the others. When someone in the circle looks at the skeletal face of the Angel of Death and is about to die, the Duc chants the Susamma ritual–a piece of magic that reverses time and space. By night’s end everyone is saved from Mocata, as God and the forces of good triumph over the Devil’s evil forces.

I can’t recall Christopher Lee being more animated and more enjoyable to watch. That night spent in the chalked off pentacle fighting the forces of darkness and challenging us to rediscover our myths, was cinematic magic. Though the dialogue seemed stilted at times, overall this was a suspenseful work that was respectful of its subject matter and its characters. It was also helped by James Bernard’s eerie score, that made one feel that something strange was in the air.

REVIEWED ON 10/28/2003 GRADE: A-