Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

(Spoiler Warning!) Released in the United States as The Devil's Bride — the title change supposedly due to the original title sounding too much like a Western — The Devil Rides Out is one of those legendary Hammer films that, for a longtime at least, one always read about but seldom had the chance to see. In general, all written references to the movie give it glowing reviews, and, according to at least one source, Joe Dante even tried at one point to get a remake of the material going in the 1980s.
Fine and dandy, all these rave reviews, but The Devil Rides Out is also one of those films that, after you have seen it, you can't help but scratch your head and wonder if all those people who throw out the superlative adjectives have ever actually seen it themselves. Despite all the talent involved — including Richard Matheson, Fisher, Christopher Lee and an excellent Charles Gray — The Devil Rides Out is an incompetent and boring film; were it not so dreadfully dull, it would be laughable as well.
As to be expected with a Hammer film, the production design is excellent. Regrettably, the characters — but for Mocata (Charles Gray) and Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) — are all either uninteresting, dislikable or idiots (a few are also atrociously acted), and the story a disjointed mess. A tale of good against evil, most of the film has good chasing evil to the right, followed by evil chasing good to the left, after which good chases evil back to the right and so on and so on and so on. Where, pray tell, are the Keystone Cops when you need them?
In any event, the film has little suspense and few thrills but numerous twists that leave the viewer groaning, one of the worst being the unbelievable cop-out super-duper happy ending…
Seeing that the movie is based on the "classic novel" — or so it is called during the movie's rather cheap looking opening credits — by the English author Dennis Wheatley, one might give Matheson some benefit of the doubt and lay the blame of the script's failings on the original source. This seems all the more possible when one takes into consideration that the other Hammer film based on a Wheatley novel, The Lost Continent (1968) — cobbled together from the book Uncharted Seas — is also just as pathetic. (Unlike with The Devil Rides Out, however, The Lost Continent is so hilariously over-the-top bad that it becomes enjoyable).
Set in the 1920s, the ping-pong like action of The Devil Rides Out starts in the first frame of the film, when Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene, whose attempt at an American accent was so dreadful that his voice was later re-dubbed by Patrick Allen) arrives by plane for a reunion with his good friend Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee). Wondering what has happened to Simon Aaron (Patrick Mower), the son of a deceased friend whom Richleau views almost as his own son, they decide to pay the young man a surprise visit. And what a surprise, for they discover that he has fallen into the hands of a coven of Satanists led by the charismatically menacing Mocata (Charles Gray). In no short order, the two kidnap the young misled youth, but before you can say "Hey, don't leave him out of your sight," Mocata has him back. To find out where he has been taken, Rex kidnaps Mocata's escort, the lovely Tanith (Nike Arrighi, great accent, no talent), but he soon loses her as well. (Throughout the movie, Rex often serves little function other than to do something stupid so that the next episodic event can occur.) A laughable car chase is on, one in which, whenever they drive through a puddle, the movie cuts to a close-up with back projection and someone off-screen throws a bucket of water into their faces. Of course, the devil makes sure that Rex cannot catch up with Tanith — not by simply killing him, as one might expect, but rather by first turning his car's windshield milky (Rex punches it out) and then by calling up some fog. Scary! Of course Rex ends up driving into a tree, but unlike anyone else who does so, he awakens in the totaled car nary a scratch and can get up and walk away. Two minutes later, what does he do but stumble upon the house where Tanith has taken refuge! (The man's mother must have been a bloodhound.) A phone call later — love how they have telephone boxes in the middle of nowhere in England — Rex and Richleau crash one of the lamest, tamest black masses ever, in which a bunch of older, overweight people dance around smiling in white robes. Oh, yes: The Goat of Mendes — commonly known as The Devil (Eddie Powell) — just happens to be there as well, but they dispatch him with what seems to be a firecracker. Grabbing Tanith and Aaron, good goes riding off to the right again. (Tanith and Rex are sort of in love by now, though who knows why.) Taking refuge at the manor of Marie (Sarah Lawson) and Richard (Paul Eddington), in no short order Richleau leaves and Mocata shows up, almost getting the goods again. When he fails, he delivers the best line of the entire film: "I shan't be back, but something will…." Promises, promises. That night, Rex and Tanith run off somewhere and the rest face off death and demons from the safety of a magic circle — logically enough leaving Marie's and Richard's young daughter unprotected upstairs. Mocata fails at getting the four, but he does get the daughter and kill Tanith. Aaron runs off to sacrifice himself for the little girl, the rest soon follow and, with the help of the spirit of Tanith and some mumbo-jumbo, they save the day and everyone worth saving… including Tanith, who is permitted a gag-inducing revival during the last four minutes.
The Devil Rides Out is a groaner of a film which defies its unjust reputation as a Hammer "classic." A waste of the film stock with which it was filmed, it is just as much a waste of the video cassettes and DVDs it is now available on. Films like this one make it easy to understand why Hammer eventually went belly-up. To be avoided at all costs, unless you have a masochistic streak and get satisfaction from painfully boring movies.


Unknown said...

You got it backwards on the title mix up and your review is backwards also

Abraham said...

I was wondering how long it would take someone to catch the title mix up. As for the rest: the film really is a boring piece of well-shot crap with a poorly constructed narrative. I love Hammer, but not for movies like this one.

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