Sunday, November 1, 2015

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Devil Rides Out

This year's penultimate film was:

The Devil Rides Out
Every once in a while I start to feel like I've seen all the horror films. Like there's nothing new under the sun. Sure, new stuff gets released every year, but I'm talking the really good stuff - the classics and the new classics. I've seen all the vampires, the slashers, the zombies. I've seen the exploitation flicks, the psychological horror and the ghost stories. Wale, Corman, Craven, Romero, De Palma, Carpenter all sit on my shelf. I'm found-footaged out.

I start to feel - not just jaded, but melancholy, like all the good stuff has already been watched and whatever I'm watching now is the dreck. It's not rational - there's no way I've seen even a tenth of all the horror movies ever made - but the feeling is there.

And then - and THEN I realize that I've still never seen The Old Dark House. Or Basket Case. Or, in this case, The Devil Rides Out. It's like a renewal - what other awesome films haven't I seen? It Follows was fantastic, and I'm glad I saw it - what other flicks will become new classics? The moment passes and I'm once again happy to have horror films to watch.

Which is all to say that I was in a mood, and The Devil Rides Out got me out of it.

The Medium
I saw this on YouTube and I'm not sure I should have. It's not available anywhere else for streaming, however, and I didn't see a copy for sale at my local shops, so...

The Movie
The Devil Rides Out (released as The Devil's Bride in the US) is a Hammer film starring Christopher Lee and that right there generally means it's worth watching. Production quality is of a consistently high level as is the cinematography. The acting ranges from top-notch (Lee and Charles Gray) to serviceable, if a bit wooden. All the characters are from upper-crust British society, however, so perhaps it's that stiff-upper lip that makes them all so rigid.

"Is it the lip that's stiff or the enormous sticks up our..."

The film follows the efforts of Nicholas (Lee) and Rex (Leon Greene) to save their young friend Simon from the clutches of a devil-worshiping cult.

Yes - for once Lee is cast as the good guy in a Hammer picture, and his Duc de Richleau is awesome. A modern (I think this is set in the 30's) van Helsing, Nicholas affects a certain world-weary knowledge of pretty much everything. He consistently knows exactly what's happening and why it's bad before anyone else has a clue. His ever-calm nature and answer for everything makes those few moments when he loses his cool much more effective. Only Lee could make a phrase like "Good God, man!" fraught with danger and import.

He even makes smarmy condescension look awesome.

Simon and a young lady named Tanith are to be baptised into the Satanic cult within two days time. Nicholas and Rex attempt to save both of them - even interrupting a ritual wherein the Devil himself (as the goat headed Baphomet) appears! (FYI - for future knowledge or Call of Cuthulhu games - driving a car into the middle of the ceremony and chucking a cruxifix at the demon/monster seems to be the way to go.)

"Me? I thought YOU invited him."

The leader of the cult - a thinly disguised Aleister Crowley stand-in named Mocata - will do anything in his considerable power to regain control of Simon, and especially Tanith, who is a medium for his demonic powers. Gray is excellent in this role and I completely forgot he was Blofeld for at least five minutes. One scene in particular - where he visits the house in which Simon and Tanith are taking refuge only to mesmerize the lady of the house - is incredibly effective. It felt like he really was bending the woman's mind to his, forcing her to obey him simply through the power of his will. He is an excellent villain and as an actor is able to hold his own with Lee, no mean feat.

"Listen to the sound of my voice - it's just... a jump... to the left..."

Thwarted in his attempt to get Simon and Tanith by the timely entry of a little girl, Mocata lays siege to the house with an endless wave of black magic attacks. Nicolas is able to help the residents and Simon withstand the assault, even when the Angel of Death appears on a black horse. Unfortunately, Tanith loses her life - it seems the Angel cannot leave empty handed.

"Maybe the idea of hiding in the barn instead of the magic circle wasn't the best one."

And then they all realize the little girl, Peggy, is missing.

The rest of the film is a desperate race against time to prevent the girl from losing her life - and possible her soul. And the only person who can help them is the recently deceased Tanith!

"Black curtains, check. Black candles, check. Black robes... dammit!"

The Bottom Line
Well written - the adaptation of the Dennis Wheatley novel is by Richard Matheson - acted and shot, this is a fantastic Hammer-flavored Halloween treat. In general I'm not that big on Satanic films, with very few exceptions (Rosemary's Baby, for one, The Exorcist as well). I just find the idea of Satanic cults to be not that credible as a threat. I did very much enjoy The Devil Rides Out, however, and it's extremely well put together. I even found myself misty-eyed at the ending, even though it's a bit of a cheat!

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