Richard MathesonChristopher LeeCharles GrayPaul Eddington
The Devil Rides Out
Medium: film
Year: 1968
Director: Terence Fisher
Writer: Richard Matheson, Dennis Wheatley
Keywords: horror, Hammer
Country: UK
Actor: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon Davies, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor, Russell Waters
Format: 96 minutes
Website category: Horror pre-1970
Review date: 15 June 2002
Lurid melodramatic nonsense, but amusing. Deplorably low babe count, mind you.
The opening credits bore good news (screenplay by Richard Matheson) and bad news (based on the "classic novel" by Dennis Wheatley). I tried to read one of his books once. Dear God, was it bad. Halfway through, I gave up and did something I've never done before or since - I tore the book in half to spare anyone else the dull thudding pain of reading it. I didn't donate it or leave it on the London Underground. Suffice to say that I regard Dennis Wheatley as a talentless hack who churned out panting half-baked pulp tripe.
So what did I think of this cinematic adaptation? Well, basically it's bollocks. The "plot" (I use the term loosely) is driven by happenstance, stupidity, convenient disappearances and dei ex machina. The characters have almost nothing to do with the resolution.
But all that said, there's a lot of fun to be had with all this overheated nonsense.
Christopher Lee is less fun when he's not evil, but he's still a good reason to keep watching. Charles Gray is deliciously monstrous, as always. What's more, some of the set-pieces are pretty damn good. The scene with our heroes in a chalk circle has been much-imitated and the various demonic summonings have a fair whack of atmosphere. This is doubly impressive since the appearance of, say, a chap in a goat's head should theoretically provoke insane, almost painful laughter in an audience today.
The side is let down somewhat by the romantic leads, who can't act to save their lives. I'm quietly wondering whether Hammer movies bothered much with rehearsals before rolling the cameras. Thankfully this isn't quite as much of a drawback as it was in, for instance, Hammer's She. Firstly, even the appalling Leon Greene can't reach the celluloid-melting nadir of badness attained by John Richardson and Ursula Andress. And secondly, the plot isn't really about the romantic leads but instead the conflict 'twixt Lee and Gray.
Mind you, every so often this shocking acting does hurt the film. I'm not just talking about the characters being a bit dull, mark you. Note the scene where Tanith persuades Rex not to go back to the safety of Christopher Lee's sanctum but instead to bugger off on their own to a stable. As it stands, this scene makes them look spectacularly stupid (and what's more, in an idiot-plotting way). It only needed a bit of effort from Nike Arrighi and Leon Greene to make us believe that the characters were making a choice and doing what they felt was right... but no. Ah well.
I'm developing a theory that the romantic leads in Hammer movies tend to suck. But having said that, I haven't yet seen many Hammer movies.
The Devil Rides Out is a commendably energetic slice of hokum. Charles Gray is fantastic and there's plenty of tension and evil mind control. However I'm shocked to learn that this is supposedly one of Hammer's better offerings; what with this and She, I'm starting to wonder if their output was all it's cracked up to be. Still, I've got Dracula: Prince of Darkness and The Vampire Lovers waiting for me on the shelf.
And don't forget that I hate, hate, *hate* Dennis Wheatley. Terence Fisher deserves big plaudits for making me sit through a Dennis Wheatley adaptation and even enjoy it.