The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride) is a visually exquisite horror piece from the later days of Hammer Studios’ great run of horror flicks. It’s a rare instance in which Christopher Lee plays a heroic figure: Duc de Richleau, man of God and expert in the occult. Richleau sets out to investigate the strange actions of an old friend’s son, Simon (Patrick Mower). Turns out Simon’s been hanging with some Satanists, trying to summon the God of Death, which is always an awkward situation for everyone involved. Mocata (Charles Gray) plays the opposite to Lee’s Richleau, an expert in the occult who wishes to use Satan to his own ends.
There are some great ritual sequences of Satanists dancing around fires, summoning Satan and offering up virgins to him. Satan has a goat head, which is always great.
By 1968, Hammer’s horror flicks had become somewhat buried under sequels; Rides Out has a distinct identity to it, thanks to Terence Fisher’s career-best direction and the emphasis on suspense rather than big-name characters and gore bits. In fact, it’s relatively light on the gore compared to Hammer’s reputation. Lee is particularly great as a heroic character, his demeanor no less commanding but thankfully on the side of the anagels for once.
Speaking of angels: As with many mid-20th-century British horror, there’s a distinctly Christian element that feels quaint these days but also gorgeous in its own way. The assumption of an all-Good to defeat all-Evil is comforting even in the form of strict religious iconography. Divorced from the real-world history of the Church of England, it ultimately feels just as aesthetic as the Satanic aspects (an aesthetic of which I’m very fond).
Rides Out shows a restraint that feels quaint by modern standards. Movies made in its wake tended to feature more egregious gore, nudity and what-not. The lack of tits and viscera put the dynamics of the tale in clearer focus. Here, the Satanic practitioners are the upper-class — wealthy, dignified people in search of an extra kick because they’ve seemingly conquered the mundane elements of daily life. They live in mansions and share fine wines and cheeses. Their robes are probably tailored.
Although Richleau is also wealthy, his attitudes are powered by a concern for other humans and his loyalty to Simon is a virtue. Nonetheless it’s a battle for the soul of humanity solely between the rich and powerful, basically out of boredom. Don’t any of the Satanists here have anything better to do besides tempt a goat god? Worth unpacking.
This new Blu-ray from Shout! Factory features a 2k restoration, audio commentaries from film historians Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr and Richard Christian Matheson, and a number of special documentaries created for this releass. It also includes older commentaries from Lee and actress Sarah Lawson, as well as a number of other special features from previous discs.