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Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Sarah Lawson
Screenplay: Richard Matheson, based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
Director: Terence Fisher
Halloween’s coming, so I set aside my Spencer Tracy fest (and my long-delayed Beatles, Blur and Roxy Music review projects) to check off some of the Hammer Studios films I haven’t seen yet, some of them showing this month on TCM.
The Devil Rides Out (retitled for U.S. distribution as it was thought to sound too much like a Western) is a bit of a tease. We see Christopher Lee in the first scene in a dark suit that has a little red pin in it, and a goatee, and think, “Cool, Lee is playing the Devil.” But no. Lee is Duc de Richleau in this ’30s-set story in the South of England. Richleau discovers his friend Simon (Mower) is involved in an occult society, and he and his other friend Rex (Greene) try to get him out of it. Soon, Rex discovers another young woman, Tanith, is an initiate, and both she and Simon are due to give their souls at the cult’s ceremony at the estate of some cross-eyed old bat, the Countess. The cult is led by a man named Mocata (Gray), who is charismatic and possessed of great powers. He conjures up The Devil himself, the goat-faced Set, but Richleau and Rex are able to rescue the two initiates and take them back to the house of family friends, Marie and Richard, who also have a young daughter, Peggy. Mocata shows up, trying to use his powers to get Marie to give up the two upstairs, but the spell is broken when Peggy walks in. He vows to get the two back, promising something would come for them that night.
A number of somethings come, as Richleau, Simon, Richard and Marie stay inside a protective pentagram, with Gray trying every trick in his book, including the faked voice of Rex outside the door, a giant spider, an apparition of Peggy in danger from the spider, and a skeletal knight on what appears to be a winged black steed, but with Richleau’s guidance, they’re able to defeat every attack.
The next day, the group takes the fight to Mocata, with a spell that sends the house up in flames. We’re told that with Tanith’s soul denied to Set, the one who made the deal, Mocata, had to give his own, so he is now dead.
Not all that memorable a Hammer or Lee film, as there are no monsters and Lee is the hero (though why he knows all this magic isn’t made clear). But it looks good, and Gray is the right kind of ham for the evil Mocata role. I sort of admire how for the most part Hammer was able to bang out entertaining B pictures in short order, and with low budgets. The optical effects are laughable, but fun, and Fisher knows how to get the most out of the sets and the exteriors. Good titles, too.