All Hallow’s Lee – The Devil Rides Out
Terence Fischer’s The Devil Rides Out features Christopher Lee in the hero role for a change, in this case fighting the forces of evil as represented by Charles Gray. I have to admit, while I’m normally a fan of the Hammer series of horror films, this 1968 release isn’t among their best output. While it’s interesting to see Lee where he’s not playing Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster, the character of Duc de Richleau is nearly as wooden as the cross that repels the coven. Of course, the coven is pretty repulsive itself. Several scenes are devoted to this motley crew of characters, but we only get to meet two of them, with the rest being automatons until they’re needed to attack our band of skeptical heroes, or flail about in what passes for a satanic orgy in a late ‘60s English film. Note that this film was rated X by the British Rating Board, which meant that no one under 16 was allowed to see it. Thus the orgy scene has a lot of writhing about with eyes wide and mouths agape, but not very much sensuality. Personally, I’d like to see these cultists go head to head with the Family from The Omega Man. It could even be included in this movie and it would’ve made about as much sense.
The heroes themselves, led by Christopher Lee, are out of their depth against the likes of Mocata, the aforementioned Charles Grey, who is not yet quite so jowly as in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He seems to have been hired upon the intensity of his stare, as were some of the other members of the cast. There is much staring going on in the movie, from Mocata’s hypnotism, to Lee’s intense glares at the rest of the good guys who just don’t get what he’s asking them to do. Lee comes across as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Van Helsing, deducing that young Simon has fallen into a bad crowd by the fact that he’s having a party in his new home that Duc de Richleau and Rex weren’t invited to. And the house has an observatory. Why else would you have an observatory unless you were going to summon the dark lord? We then learn that de Richleau is versed in fighting black magic, and sets about trying to rescue Simon from Mocata’s clutches.
As the film opened, I saw that Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay, so I may have had some higher expectations for the script, but I was unimpressed with the dialog and story. More interesting to me was seeing some of the people that I recognized from the cast, like Paul Eddington playing Richard, another skeptical friend of de Richleau’s. You may recognize him as Jerry, the frequently bemused and abused husband of Margo Leadbetter, from The Goode Life, and he’s pretty much playing the same character. Much like Rex, Richard and his wife Peggy can’t follow Lee’s simple instructions to not leave their charges alone, don’t look in the eyes, don’t get out of the circle, don’t let Macoto into the house; so much of the plot depends on these characters not following the instructions of Lee. Granted, he never really explains why it’s so important that they follow his instructions, and as the English middle-class, they’re not really used to the idea that Satan is being summoned in their midst.
Like most of Hammer’s oeuvre, colour is an important aspect of the film, with the cultist’s purple robes, Macoto’s pale blue eyes, and the bright scarlet of the goat’s blood on display. The use of country estates and the English countryside does provide an intriguing setting for the summoning of the Prince of Darkness, but like the denizens of this pastoral landscape, I couldn’t feel a sense of true danger in the actions of the cultists, until the end when there was a small possibility of child sacrifice. The effects as well were a mixed bag of nicely done atmospheric mists, and somewhat dodgy green screen or CSO creatures.
Christopher Lee’s performance was decent, but much of the movie leaves him behind to focus on the young romantic lead, trying to save another of the coven who hadn’t quite been converted yet. The subplot of Rex rescuing Tanith, then losing Tanith, then rescuing her again felt padded, almost like it was meant to be shown episodically. In fact, I may have enjoyed this more if it had been a television series similar to some of the amazingly creepy shows that the BBC made for kids in the ‘70s.
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