Review: The Devil Rides Out / Cert: 15 / Director: Terence Fisher / Screenplay: Richard Matheson / Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower / Release Date: October 22nd
This rather grand occult movie has long been something of a favourite among Hammer fans. Now it's back, looking more sumptuous than ever in an extensive new restoration. The Duc de Richleau (Lee) meets up for a back-slapping reunion with his old pal Rex Van Ryn (Greene), but their young friend Simon (Mower) is nowhere to be seen. Where can he be? They track him down to his home, but Simon is unwilling to talk, as he has a number of strange guests, among them the smoothly sinister Mocata (Grey). Upstairs, they find a chicken in a basket. No, Simon isn't opening a gastropub; he's joined a coven and is dabbling in black magic!
The race is on to save his soul before he's baptised in Satan, which will happen at a big gathering on the eve of May Day. I say race, but despite Richard Matheson's terse script, everything moves at a stately place, giving Greene plenty of time to raise a quizzical eyebrow (no scene is complete without some strenuous brow twitching) and the viewer ample opportunity to take in the lavish, highly polished sets.
It's certainly one of the loveliest looking of all Hammer films. As the plot thickens, the story moves from one splendid English country house to another, and everyone tootles around the countryside in bright, shiny classic cars (although Lee and Greene, both giant men, rather struggle to squeeze into the back of the Duc's yellow Rolls). Adding to the class is a very nice turn from the reliable Grey as the literally mesmerizing villain.
But it must be said that there's a certain stiffness to some of the other performances, and a general air of genteel ossification hangs over the whole exercise – it's heritage horror, really. The film is also let down by some risible optical effects (bafflingly, given the richness of much else on screen). Many of these have been quietly tweaked on this restoration – the rather weedy bolt of lightning that used to strike Mocata's satanic altar in the last reel now has a much more robust replacement, and the wheezy nag with bat wings that carries the Angel of Death into the Duc's niece's living room has been pimped out with some eerie rays of light. Even so, they still can't help but instil a feeling of bathos.
Hammer fans take this sort of thing in their stride, though, and it all somehow remains cosily satisfying. And the restoration really is quite something, with some of the costumes and sets so vividly coloured you would think they were radioactive. Throw in some informative extras, and you have another fine entry in this ongoing series of Hammer releases.
Extras: Documentaries - 'Making Of', 'Restoring The Devil Rides Out' and 'Dennis Wheatley at Hammer' / World of Hammer Episode 'Hammer' / Gallery / Commentary featuring Christopher Lee, Sarah Lawson & Marcus Hearn