Christopher Lee’s Commanding Character in a Satanic Cult Film…
A Duke and his companion discover a friend’s son is being initiated into Satanic happenings, but can they save him from the clutches of the enigmatic leader of devil worshippers?
The Devil Rides Out / Official Theatrical Trailer (1968) HD, Hammer
After playing villains from Dracula to Frankenstein in many Hammer horror films, it was a treat to find Christopher Lee in a good guy role in this British horror, The Devil Rides Out (1968). This film was renamed The Devil’s Bride for the American audience to make it sound less like a Western.
Naturally, Lee as the hero of the hour needed to be up against an actor who would be his equal on-screen in the villainous role to make the events more credible. This evil role was filled magnificently by Charles Gray, in what in retrospect could be seen as some serendipitous casting by the director. But that’s not important right now…
The film opens with funky pre-70s opening titles and is accompanied by outlines of star sign symbols and chilling looking goats heads in lime green and crimson red neon. These pictures add to the spooky ambience in this film, telling of how good people can be lured by the occult. However, I feel the colour and font used in the credits do seem incongruous to this film set in 1929 and rural England.
The opening track was composed by James Bernard, who wrote music for many horror films for Hammer and Amicus productions. It leaves you suitably unsettled. This terrifying music sets the scene for this horror film quite bombastically and its eerieness is felt even in the film trailer.
In the leading role is Hammer regular, Christopher Lee – in this, the favourite of his Hammer roles – as the intriguingly titled, Duc Nicholas de Richleau. Lee had the most impressively groomed moustache and goatee ever, and these in combination with his towering presence and baritone voice ensured he dominated every scene he appeared in. As a result, Lee was sorely missed in scenes he didn’t have a part in.
In The Hammer Story, Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes report that Lee said after filming this movie,
“I have high hopes for this film, and it will prove, once and for all, I can be accepted in a completely normal role”
Now more on the movie, where Lee admittedly did make his character more normal, albeit than some of the other, more eccentric characters he played in his career. These ranging from the James Bond bad guy, Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) to 1973’s The Wicker Man‘s Lord Summerisle who was another bad guy with dastardly plans. Now for the eerie plot for The Devil Rides Out…
The film starts as Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) flies in (literally), and is met from his plane by his good friend Duc Nicholas de Richleau. De Richleau picks his friend up in his chauffeur-driven yellow Rolls Royce (not that one from that similarly named film, but Darlin Husband suspects this car is owned by Goldfinger, one of James Bond bad guys).
He seems quite happy to see van Ryn and tells him he’s concerned about their mutual friend’s son, Simon Aron (and the gravity of this situation is conveyed by this Christopher Lee so compellingly you are drawn into watching this movie).
The men then make a planned visit to Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) in his new home, which is far too big for one person and it has a rooftop observatory. It appears that Aron has some other guests, and the men are introduced to the pretty Tanith (Nike Arrighi) – who van Ryn immediately takes a fancy to – and the enigmatic looking Mocata (Charles Gray). Yet they are ushered away politely by Aron.
Aron tells them he doesn’t want them hobnobbing with his twelve friends from the “astronomical” society. Aron’s friends also seem a bit upset at these two visitors added to their number. But then Aron reassured them they haven’t joined their “society” and are merely dropping in. However, de Richleau feels something is sorely amiss and tells Aron that he wants to look at his telescope.
De Richleau then legs it up the stairs and takes a look around Aron’s observatory, and he finds some strange markings on the floor. De Richleau tells his buddy van Ryn that he believes that Aron has now an interest in the occult and that these guests are in fact, devil worshippers.
He has deduced this after he’s sneakily overheard the guests’ conversations, seen those markings on the floor and because he’s found some live chickens in a cupboard. It is also believed that Aron is going to be baptised into this devilish cult by the evil-looking Mocata. After being confronted with this evidence, Aron denies everything.
De Richleau discovers a book on Renaissance black magic and demonology, and this adds to his fears. As he looks at this book as if by (black) magic, some smoke appears and the book seems to summon up an evil spirit (in some natty orange shorts). De Richleau tells van Ryn to avoid looking into this demon’s eyes. This demon vanishes in a puff of smoke after de Richleau throws a cross on a chain at it.
De Richleau has studied black magic, and he then hypnotises Aron putting him in a deep sleep. He places a cross on a chain around Aron’s neck to protect him from Mocata’s powers. The men then take Aron to De Richleau’s home for safety.
There, Aron tries to choke himself with the chain, under the spooky influence of Mocata, but he is saved in the nick of time by a servant. However, as the servant tells De Richleau and van Ryn about Aron’s odd behaviour Aron disappears into the
Its believed that Mocata is one of the Devil’s masters and that he is running a cult and that Tanith, is one of his twelve members. De Richleau adds that someone can be inducted into this cult, only if certain conditions are met. Mocata and his inductees can meet only on the true Sabbat, with thirteen people present. After the men remember the date, they work out they have one full day (night) to save Aron, who will be the thirteenth member.
Van Ryn finds Tanith by phoning hotels in London (he called 28 hotels looking for her), while De Richleau studies some books on black magic in a London museum. Van Ryn convinces Tanith to come with him to safety, only for her to be overpowered by her supernatural psychic connection with Mocata – cue disturbing close-ups of Gray’s piercing blue eyes seen in her car mirror – and she escapes by car to join him and the others at the initiation ceremony.
Van Ryn and de Richleau follow Tanith (in what seems like an early 20th century Fast and Furious race) to the Salisbury Plains, to find Aron’s initiation ceremony underway. There are lots of supernatural happenings and weird dancing from these cult followers in white robes.
Mocata himself is resplendent in a purple gown. He chants and this brings the frightening presence of the Goat of Mendes, a half man half goat Devil figure from the Egyptian occult. The men save Aron and Tanith, and then the four go to stay with some friends, Marie (Sarah Lawson) and Richard (Paul Eddington) Eaton and their young daughter, Peggy.
However, Mocata pays a visit there to drop off De Richleau’s car (which is why The Devil Rides Out makes much more sense as a title), and there he is seen to have a psychic power to influence Aron and Tanith’s behaviours.
Aron and Tanith, wake from their sleep and both appear in a trance. These cult inductees attempt to kill van Ryn and Richard Eaton who are watching over them… and de Richleau has one hell of a time as he tries to save the day as these characters are plagued by a Mocata’s demonic forces from hell…
It was good to see Lee in a less villainous role and it appears he strongly argued to be cast in this role from those Hammer powers that be. In his article HERE in Horrified, KB Morris quotes Lee;
… told Hammer, ‘Look, enough of the villainy for the time being, let us try something different and let me be on the side of the angels for once.
However, on seeing Lee, I did hope that there might be a final twist in this tale, especially with that satanic looking goatee.
The film screenplay was based on a Dennis Wheatley novel on the occult. Wheatley, as an author was also known for his thriller books. This author was good friends with Lee and assisted him in making his role more authentic by loaning him his books on black magic.
In Morris’ article, this author states that Wheatley sent Lee a copy of the first edition of this book after the making of this film with a handwritten inscription,
‘Thank you for all you’ve done to get this film made and also for your performance as the Duke de Richleau.’
Lee was instrumental in bringing this book to film and he read all the Wheatley books about de Richleau, to learn more about his film character. Lee certainly provides the presence and gravitas this character required.
It is felt throughout Lee’s self-assured performance and in his always dignified voice. His voice remains masterful even when his character confronts those more frightening parts of the story. Lee used the knowledge he learnt from these sources and a further book on ceremonial magic to provide a more credible and enigmatic character in his appearance and added this in his dialogue used in this film.
Gray was I believe a better choice for his role than Frobe, with scenes set up to take advantage of this actor’s appearance. Scenes used his pale blue eyes to chillingly hypnotic effects such as when they are in the cars mirror, where only his eyes are seen without the full presence of this actor.
He provided a chilling and intense demeanour in scenes where he influenced Tanith and Aron’s behaviours and terrified others working for more for the good of others. Gray provided an equally all-powerful and charismatic presence in the initiation scenes with the cult inductees.
In these scenes, I believe his presence makes him the only choice of role. Especially if you have childhood memories of watching Gert Frobe, the man who was previously cast in this role, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).
There are some wonderful spooky special effects seen throughout this film, and these are seen in the fight for good versus evil and these add to the chilling ambience. The inclusion of the Eaton family, as a normal British family adds a familiar dimension to this story for the audience to relate with, as you can then understand how anyone could succumb to this dark side.
The screenplay of this film was to my surprise written by Richard Matheson. This is the man behind films such as Somewhere in Time (1980) and Jaws 3 (1983). However, this writer was also known for his science fiction and his horror movies.
Morris states that the true motivations of Mocata and his need to use Tanith and Aron in his plans are not seen in this film, as these were not included in the screenplay. Despite this Wheatley was reportedly happy with this film adaptation.
Finally, just one more thing on those casting choices from this film, which will bring a smile to your face. When you think about it, it’s two of those James Bond film villain actors playing Scaramanga and Blofeld in the leading roles.
And add to that, and equally bizarrely Gert Frobe, another James Bond guy was the original choice for this Hammer film’s charismatic villain. This particular British spy film franchise was inspired by those Ian Fleming novels. Fleming in one final shock, based Bond on the Dennis Wheatley character, Gregory Sallust as the bond with bond continues…
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Christopher Lee Blogathon 2021
This film review was added to my and Barry from Cinematic Catharsis’ Christopher Lee Blogathon. Other posts with this cast include Christopher Lee in Airport 77, Space 1999, Charlies Angels and Dracula 1972 AD. Charles Gray stars in The Legacy. Leon Greene in Carry on Henry. Patrick Mower in Carry On England and more. Sarah Lawson in Lovejoy and The Avengers. Paul Eddington starred in The Morecambe and Wise Show.