Thursday, March 11, 2010

Christopher Lee vs. the Devil Cult

The Devil Rides Out (aka "The Devil's Bride") (1967)
Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, and Patrick Mower
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Gentleman adventurers the Duke of Richleau (Lee) and his friend Rex Van Ryn (Greene) discover their young friend Simon Aaron (Mower) has fallen in with a Satanic cult masquerading as an astrological society. They stage a rather heavy-handed intervention, ultimately carrying off Simon and a young woman named Tanith (Arrighi). Turns out, Tanith has been chosen to be the consort of a demonic entity--the Goat of Mendes--and soon nefarious cult leader Mocata (Gray) is turning the full force of his supernatural powers on the Duke and his friends.

Although ostensibly a horror movie, "The Devil Rides Out" also has the flavor of the old fashioned action serials like "Bulldog Drummond." The Duke and his friend Rex, for all the Duke's expertise with the supernatural, are a pair of dashing, classic adventurers, and the tone of the film is more akin to one of those classic adventure tales, with a heavy dose of the supernatural via Mocata's Satanic cult thrown in.

Speaking of Mocata, Charles Gray has never been as sinister as he is here. Not only is he performing at the top of his game, but the character's ability to remote-control his followers gives rise to some of the film's most suspenseful moments.

Christopher Lee also gives one of the best performances of his career in this film. Not only is he at his most commanding and heroic, but, unlike so many other movies he appeared in, the director takes full advantage of Lee's ability to dominate a scene. The Duke of Richleau as portrayed by Lee is every bit the impressive figure the story makes him out to be. And the battle of occult skill, will, and personality that he engages in with Mocata is believable--and satisfactory in its resolution--because of the way Lee's presence shines in the film.

In fact, this is another film where director Terence Fisher pretty much has every actor, every set element, and every special effect and film edit, working at the best possible level. He had a gift for making these low-budget Hammer Film releases look like they were made for ten times what they cost.

"The Devil Rides Out" may not be a Hammer Films release that gets a lot of attention, but it's definitely one of the best films that the company produced. The mix of horror and adventure, along with some rather clever plot-twists as the story unfolds, keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end.

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