Color, 1968, 95 mins. 43 secs. / 96 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower, Leon Greene, Nike Arrighi
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Studio Canal (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL),Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

The The Devil Rides OutDevil Rides Out represents everything good about Hammer The Devil Rides OutFilms in its heyday. While the subject of Satanism became major studio fodder in the wake of the success of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist in Hollywood, this excellent chiller offered a truly compelling and intelligent conflict between the forces of light and darkness in which the viewer cannot help but side completely with the former in what amounts to a swiftly paced adventure story with a diabolical twist.

Wisely cast against type at the time, Christopher Lee has one of his finest roles as the Duc de Richleau, an urbane gentleman whose knowledge of the black arts comes in handy when his good friend Simon (Mower) falls under the hypnotic influence of diabolical priest Mocata (Gray). Simon fails to show up for a reunion with Richleau and another friend, Rex (Greene), so the two barge into his home and ruin plans for a black mass by dragging Simon off with them. Unfortunately Simon escapes, and our heroes must resort to tracking down a mysterious and beautiful woman, Tanith (Arrighi), who is destined to join Simon at an upcoming baptism into Satan's service. Richleau and Rex disrupt a woodland devilish orgy attended by the Goat of Mendes, one of the devil's incarnations, and spirit away Simon and Tanith to a remote country home. Naturally Mocata comes a-calling and, when turned away by the lady of the house, promises to send his forces to gather those who have been promised to him...

The Devil Rides OutObviously The Devil Rides Out is primarily Lee's show, and he's exactly the man anyone would want on their side in a battle against evil. The Devil Rides OutHowever, future James Bond bad guy (and Time Warper) Charles Gray is also outstanding as Mocata, a fearsome and crafty adversary who avoids putting himself in any physical danger. He will be missed. Special notice should also be given to Sarah Lawson, who twists the potentially drab character of a protective upscale mother into a strong, fascinating woman perfectly capable of dealing with monstrous forces invading her home. Credentials behind the scenes are equally up to par, with the legendary Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) skillfully adapting Dennis Wheatley's occult novel (while wisely retaining the 1929 setting) and director Terence Fisher obviously using all of his formidable directorial skills to deliver some of horror's best set pieces. The suspenseful and frightening passage in which our heroes are confined within a holy circle and assaulted by demonic forces is as good as '60s horror gets.

Anchor Bay's DVD in 2000 was a long time coming several years after Elite Entertainment's briefly available laserdisc edition, the first widescreen option out on the market. The anamorphically enhanced image was quite a refreshing treat upon its release, much cleaner and more colorful than the drab TV prints fans had to endure for decades. James Bernard's powerhouse music score sounds terrific in the disc's 5.1 audio mix but often threatens to overpower the comparatively quiet dialogue in the center speaker, which makes the absence of the original mono mix a bit of a sticking point. Ambient directional effects are sparingly used but effective, particularly the unforgettable Angel of Death scene. Lee and Lawson also appear for an interesting commentary track; it's obvious they hold a great deal of affection and admiration for the film, and their warm recollections are a welcome addition to anyone's respect for their accomplishments. Also included are the original UK and US theatrical trailers, which are identical except for the title change. In America the film was titled The Devil's Bride, with the title card stupidly altered to feature a satanic goat image over a Star of David! The British version on this disc also contains some extra The Devil Rides Outbloodletting during a goat sacrifice and some extremely mild swearing. Still, it's amazing this was actually given a G rating back in '68. The Devil Rides OutAnother episode of World of Hammer is included as well, this time focusing on the studio's general output as narrated by Oliver Reed as usual.

In 2010, Studio Canal stirred up quite the hornet's nest among Hammer fans with its Blu-ray and DVD edition of the film featuring a new restoration complete with digital technology used to correct some of the film's more troublesome (and at least in one case, blatantly unfinished) visual effects shots. The film itself looked great for the time and certainly blew away its predecessors, but the revisions to the giant spider defeat, a bolt of lightning, and the entrance and face reveal of the Angel of Death had many crying foul that this revisionist presentation was the only one offered in HD anywhere in the world. Added here are three new featurettes, all worth a look: "Black Magic: The Making of The Devil Rides Out" (33m35s) with Matheson and Mower recalling the production; "The Power of Light" (12m51s), a look at the restoration process including a detailed look at those "fixed" shots; and "Dennis Wheatley at Hammer" (12m51s) covering the author's significance in U.K. genre literature at the time and the path taken to translate this, The Lost Continent and To the Devil... a Daughter to the big screen at Hammer. Also included are a still gallery and the commentary and World of Hammer episode from the earlier DVD.

The Devil Rides OutIn 2019, Scream Factory finally answered the prayers of so many by bringing The Devil Rides Out to U.S. Blu-ray with both versions finally The Devil Rides Outincluded to satisfy everyone. The new 2K scan of the interpositive held by American distributor 20th Century Fox is a total stunner with more robust and convincing colors than the earlier Blu-ray and a nice uptick in detail as well. Particularly on larger displays, it really wipes the floor with the Studio Canal transfer from start to finish. This version sports the title card for The Devil's Bride and features all of the original effects shots intact. The Studio Canal tweaked version is also included among the extras looking the same as the prior release, so feel free to compare at will. (Due to their respective logos and a BBFC card, the running times differ slightly.) The Lee and Lawson commentary, World of Hammer episode, "Black Magic," "Dennis Wheatley at Hammer" are also ported over (no "The Power of Light," not surprisingly), and you get a trio of very welcome new extras as well. An audio commentary with Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr, and Richard Christian Matheson (son of Richard and a screenwriter in his own right) is a very thorough and informative conversation about the film with multiple subjects packed into each minute, with some fascinating insights about elements of Wheatley's novel that made it into Matheson's script but not quite to the screen (including a pre-Hitler swastika and a mummified penis; can't imagine why those got dropped!). They also point out one great scene cited as perhaps the best acted in any Hammer film, note some character variations compared to their literary counterparts (including the original Judaism of one of our heroes), and the nature of the film's visual effects as a product of their time and an extension of the story's function. The featurette "Satanic Shocks" (29m59s) features the always enthusiastic Kim Newman who hails Matheson as the "unsung hero" of the film (albeit denigrating the source novel a bit more than it deserves) and really goes into story's place in the scope of Wheatley's work including the characters' previous adventure and the state of Hammer at the time. "Folk Horror Goes Haywire" (24m8s) is an equally worthy analysis from Jonathan Rigby contextualizing the film as an unusual entry from the height of the summer of love and a timeless slice of supernatural horror from Fisher, whose career had been sidelined a bit by two freak accidents outside the same pub. He also goes a bit into Hammer's push to cast Charles Boyer in the Lee role, which would've been... interesting. The U.K. and U.S. theatrical trailers are also included along with an image gallery (4m37s) including some priceless portrait shots of the cast.


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Reviewed on October 9, 2019.