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Category:    Home > Reviews > Devil Rides Out

The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride)

 

Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B-

 

 

1968 was a big turning point in the Horror genre, and for the Hammer Studios, it was the beginning of a turning point that would begin their slow, sad decline.  While George Romero surprised the filmmaking world with his low-budget Night of the Living Dead and Roman Polanski offered the also-groundbreaking classic Rosemary’s Baby, both the same year, Hammer gave us The Devil Rides Out.  Maybe it could also be thought of as the film where Hammer’s luck began to run out.

 

A society devoted to Astrology turns out to also be very fond of Satan, run by the main disciple, Mocata (Charles Gray).  Before exposing them as a fan club for Belial, two men (Christopher Lee and Leon Greene) are simply tying to find a missing friend.  This is when the web of deceit beings.  The screenplay was written by the great Richard Matheson, based on the Dennis Wheatley.  After writing some of the greatest original episodes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Matheson found himself doing some of Hammer’s films, including Die! Die! My Darling (1965, reviewed elsewhere on this site).

 

Though his writing is always solid, there is something that seems to get lost in translation from his talents to the Hammer way of doing things.  Die! fared better than this film did, and both have top rate actors, but Alfred Hitchcock and especially Psycho (1960) changed the rules.  Hammer was torn between sticking to their long- proven style, or go into new directions.  With the British censors on their tale, they played it too safe, maybe still shaken from how Michael Powell’s masterwork Peeping Tom (1960) was savaged and stopped for being “offensive” instead of being celebrated as the brilliant film it was.

 

While the James Bond films and other Horror and Thriller genre films took from that and Hitchcock, Hammer stayed in its own square and its films began to fall victim to repetition.  Even though they would bring in more top rate talent, the decline was already in place.  Director Terence Fisher and composer James Bernard started to repeat themselves, while nudity and religious symbols that would be seen in American films were absent here.  As films like William Friedkin’s film of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1972) and Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976) were blockbusters, the studio would never find a way to find an answer to such groundbreakers.  Raw Meat, a British film (with American director Gary Sherman) was more of the direction Hammer needed, but never found.

 

Though stylish, to a stale fault, the threat of Satanism is uneven and not very convincing.  Lee can do no wrong, but is not given enough of a character to do anything with.  Even eccentric and memorable Charles Gray does not get to be as menacing as he could have been.  In a few short years, he would be Blofeld in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1967), had a cameo as a different character in the 1967 Bond epic You Only Live Twice, then was immortalized as the host in Jim Sharman’s film of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975.  Think how many ways Hammer blew it on him!

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.66 X 1 image is not bad by Arthur Grant, B.S.C., and though the Technicolor is not of the vibrant three-strip variety, it is better than many of the Hammer films on DVD.  The sound is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 English Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds, French Mono and a much more helpful AC-3 5.1 mix that brings alive the problemed project better.  The commentary with Lee, actress Sarah Lawson and Hammer scholar Marcus Hearn is another plus, also in Dolby 2.0 sound.  This is at least as interesting as the film itself, while two trailers (U.S. and U.K.) and a “World of Hammer” episode entitled Hammer that tells about the studio’s history are also offered.  That helps save what could have been a disastrous basic DVD form mediocrity.

 

We have seen much worse, but The Devil Rides Out is a slow trot of a film, especially one with the intriguing premise of Satanic conflict.  It is a curio, but otherwise, make sure you are awake enough when the going gets rough.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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