Some films have no business working as well as they do. The Devil Rides Out is one such film.
Set in 1929, the story opens with the dashing Duke de Richleau awaiting the arrival of his good friend, Rex Van Ryn. The Duke is played by Hammer stalwart Christopher Lee who, in a rare change of pace, gets to play the hero and does a fine job of it.
Rex arrives piloting his own biplane, which is the extent of the characterization the script allots him. After landing, he and the Duke set out to call on their young friend, Simon. What they find upon arriving at Simon's palatial house alarms the Duke. It seems Simon has fallen in with a group of Satanists led by the sinister Mocata, played by Charles Gray. As the Duke says, “Simon is playing the most dangerous game known to mankind.”
Lee’s dialog is full of lines like that. They should induce groans, but Lee pulls them off with flair. He opens the commentary track on the DVD saying that he’s largely responsible for the film being made. He was a big fan of the novel by Dennis Wheatley and brought the book to the attention of studio executives. His performance is reminiscent of Peter Cushing’s turn as Van Helsing in Horror of Dracula (1958), and his admiration of the source material shines through.
Opposite Lee, Gray delivers a smooth, understated performance that’s almost as magnetic as Lee's1. Consider the scene where he calls on the Duke's niece in an attempt to extract Simon. She makes to throw him out, but he leaves of his own accord saying, “I'm leaving. I shall not be back. But something will.” He pauses for a moment then adds, “Tonight. Something will come for Simon and the girl.” His tone is casual, not threatening, and all the more menacing for it.
Despite the supernatural elements, The Devil Rides Out isn’t really a horror movie at all2. It’s a terrific pulp adventure. Sure, the characters are archetypes, and the stilted dialog may induce a wry smirk, but the film rolls along at such a good clip, we’ve hardly a moment to care.
Gray had just starred in You Only Live Twice (1967) but Hammer's first choice for Mocata was another Bond alumnus: Gert Fröbe, Goldfinger himself! ↩
Fearing moviegoers would think The Devil Rides Out was a western, Twentieth Century Fox changed the title to The Devil's Bride for the USA theatrical release. ↩