The Finest of Gothic Hammer Horror.
In the Protean depths of Christopher Lee’s back catalogue, it is somewhat of a rarity for him to play against type. Although his portrayal of villains runs the gamut from the mindless monster to the evil genius, the number of times he has played the hero, or even the protagonist can be counted on one hand. In the film The Devil Rides Out (1968), Lee has the rare chance to play both.
Based on the Dennis Wheatley novel, the film is a classic Manichean struggle of good against evil and follows the worldly Duc de Richeleau (Christopher Lee) and close associate Rex Van Ryne (Leon Greene) as they attempt to rescue their young protege Simon Aaron (Patrick Mower) from the grip of a coven of satanists, led by the charismatic Mocata (Charles Grey). The Duc, schooled in cabalism and black arts, realises that Simon's soul is endangered and disrupts the Black Mass wherein Simon and Rex's obligatory love interest Tanith (Nike Arrighi) are being prepared to be baptised into satanism.
Lee's performance as the Duc is outstanding: he brings a dapper, aristocratic bearing to the role and makes the character a more than worthy adversary for Charles Gray's Mocata. Gray manages to finely balance charisma and menace. During one scene in which he unsuccessfully attempts to hypnotise a friend of Rex's into telling him the whereabouts of Tanith, he exits with the line "I shan't be back...but something will..." - a line he delivers with absolute relish. Terence Fisher's direction is assured throughout.
Unlike many of the Hammer Films of the late 1960s, The Devil Rides Out maintains a fast pace and an intriguing
plot with a number of memorable set pieces. Accompanied by the James Bernard's powerful and spooky score and lavish production design, The Devil Rides Out is by far the classiest of Hammer's films.
Like all the Hammer Films, there is the occasional cringe-worthy moment. The car chase scenes screamed Ducs of Hazzard, and the execrable special effects climaxed with a "giant" tarantula and the Angel of Death attacking the cast. A swag of continuity errors saw night change into day in the blink of an eye.
But if you're a Hammer fan, the odd indiscretion makes you love the genre all the more.