Dir. Terence Fisher
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Christopher Lee, Leon Green, Charles Grey
Given his sinister beard, magical powers, intimidating bearing, shared moniker with noted Three Musketeers antagonist Cardinal Richelieu, and tendency to be Christopher Lee, you’d be well-justified in assuming that Christopher Lee is going to be a memorable villain in this late-60s Hammer production. But actually you’re getting something far more rare -- a heroic Christopher Lee turn! Lee plays Duc de Richelieu, nobleman, scholar, and all around kicker of Satanic asses as he navigates the ins and outs of saving his buddy’s soul from the machinations of Charles Grey’s (that’s right, Blofeld from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) devil-worshipping Warlock Mocata. That’s right, two classic Bond villains facing off over the very soul of mortal men! DEVIL RIDES OUT ain’t fucking playing around.
Lee calls this adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel his very favorite Hammer film, and it’s easy to see why. While it lacks the sumptuous atmosphere that often defines their best material, it makes up for it by being absolutely stuffed with memorable action and setpieces which range from the hilarious (a “giant spider” shot in the foreground) to the genuinely spooky (a classic goatman devil actually appears to his gathered masses!). It’s sometimes a little silly, but never boring -- and when it’s working well it casts a pretty powerful spell.
|Purple nylon Satanic robes? A definite evil fashion don't.|
A big part of it’s power is Lee himself, who I’ve never seen exactly phone it in but who often gets stuck in little cameo parts that just call for him to prance around in a cape for a few scenes while some hooded goons bloody up a naked British chick or two. Those don’t give him much to, er, sink his teeth into, so the enthusiasm he brings to Richelieu here is invigorating. He plays the guy as a genuine badass who may also be the only one who understands the stakes in this game, and his mixture of convincing horror and fortitude do a lot to help sell us on the drama even when things start to feel a little dated. And in the tradition of CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTER, this one has a friend/sidekick (Leon Greene) who takes levels of British Obliviousness to new heights. He’s the kind of fellow who can watch a Satanic mass slaughter a goat, summon the devil, and chase them with knives and then say, “Well, my dear fellow, I wonder what all that was about?” For some reason this affable doofus becomes the main character for a brief period in the middle, but director Terence Fisher know we damn well didn’t hunt down a copy of this out-of-print film to watch Leon Greene find true love with some hopped-up-on Satan waif, so Lee comes back in full force for the exciting climax. And that’s when everything gets crazy and skeletons on horseback may or may not show up.
|I would just like to point out that although you can almost always count on these painted 60's and 70's posters to have a super awesome image which is not even remotely close to anything that happens in the movie (see: RAW MEAT, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES), this one is closer than you might assume. It's not 100%, but if you assume it's a montage most of this stuff actually happens in the movie! Now watch the damn thing!|
Even though it’s dated and occasionally lacking in atmosphere, Lee is right, this is a strong entry. Director Fisher, it turns out, was one of the luminaries of this period in British horror, pushing boundaries of violence and sexuality, making stars of Lee and Peter Cushing, and directing some of the most memorable (and best) films of this early Hammer era, including the 1957 THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN,1958's THE HORROR OF DRACULA (the first of Hammer’s Dracula films), THE GORGON, and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Fisher appears to have directed at minimum one film every year from 1948-1969, finally winding down in 1973 with the excellent FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. With that kind of filmography, I’m guess I’m pretty much doomed to watch more of his work just by pure chance, so it’s a good thing I think the guy is pretty sharp. As for the novel, Lee was apparently a friend of novelist Dennis Wheatley, and also helped get TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER made in 1976. That one is a little more disturbing and modern-feeling, but lacks the momentum and eagerness to please that makes THE DEVIL RIDES OUT so great. Honestly, there just aren’t too many horror films out there with this level of commitment to being a consistently wild ride. So when Lee says he’d love to get this one remade with modern effects and himself reprising the role of Richelieu (who in the book is a much older man)... well, consider this one ticket sold.
And it looks like Dan’s probably up for pre-ordering a ticket to the remake too, in his ABBOT AND COSTELLO AND DUC DE RICHELIEU AND WHAT THE HELL, ASH, VS ODDJOB, JAWS AND LET’S SAY LEPRECHAUN.