With effects lovingly tidied up (matt-lines removed or hidden in shadow) or gloriously reconstructed (in the case of some ghastly night shots), a commentary from the legendarily wary Christopher Lee and documentaries covering the relationship between Hammer and original author Dennis Wheatley, the effects restoration process, and a straightforward making of, in which Doctor Who, Sherlock and League Of Gentleman writer/star Mark Gatiss pops up, it’s warming to the heart (stored in a jar, in a fridge) of the classic horror fan to see 1967’s The Devil Rides Out treated with such incredible reverence.
Some hackles will rise at any hint of digital tampering on such an unimpeachable classic, which is perhaps why Hammer have been so keen to talk the viewer through it, explaining how sincerely they tried to echo the intentions of the original and bringing on the daughters of the original effects chap Michael Staiver-Hutchins to give it his blessing.
The Devil Rides Out, retitled The Devil’s Bride in the US due to Warner Bros thinking it was a Western (!?), only accidentally found itself surfing the blood-red foam of the occult Zeitgeist alongside Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and put into production thanks to Christopher Lee being a friend of Dennis Wheatley, the author of the source novel of the same name. Relaxed blasphemy laws and the renewed interest in Wheatley’s supernatural thrillers due to the increasingly esoteric philosophies pursued by The Beatles and their ilk certainly helped, but in contrast to Rosemary’s Baby and the visceral demonic horrors of the films which soon followed, The Devil Rides Out is a strangely parochial effort, although a fantastically effective one. There’s none of the near-nihilism and existential angst of The Exorcist or Prince Of Darkness; just the black and white triumph of God (and England) over Satan.
A charming old school chiller in which Christopher Lee’s driven Duc de Richelieu goes head-to-head with a coven of Satanists, led by the vulpine Mocata (Diamonds Are Forever villain Charles Gray), The Devil Rides Out is one of the definitive Hammer movies, and certainly a standout effort from the late Sixties. Definitely worthy of note for reuniting original Dracula director Terence Fisher with Christopher Lee (in a rare protagonist role, albeit no less intense as the cool and deadpan gentleman scholar) for the last time, and drafting in Richard Matheson – author of I Am Legend and screenwriter of various Amicus Poe films for Roger Corman and iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone – to tackle to script over worries that it was ‘too English’.
Incredible dialogue and pacing drives what is essentially a battle of wills between the equally intimidating Richelieu and Morcata through some glorious set pieces – the reveal of the Goat of Mendes in the forest, the hypnosis of Marie Eaton (Sarah Lawson), and of course the climatic battle in the protective circle (roll 1D6 and cast Zone Of Magical Immunity) where Richelieu holds the line against temptation, his companions tormented by a giant spider and the angel of death (all of which look a lot less ropey, thanks to the lovely restoration job). Lee is a triumph, his perfectly trimmed beard and sculpted hair making him almost unrecognisable from yesterday’s fanged deflowerer of virgin necks, his rumbling baritone perfect for pithy, deadpan put downs and urgent commands.
Wheatley was so pleased with the adaptation – despite the departure from the book and the omission of some worrying right wing subtext – that he famously wrote Richard Matheson a letter congratulating him on the script. The same could definitely not be said for the Wheatley adaptations that followed: the endearingly daft 1968 adventure flick The Lost Continent and 1976’s lurid and sensational To The Devil…. A Daughter.