The Devil Rides Out (1968)

As Sinclair McKay observes in his book on Hammer Films, this film appeared in the same year as Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead and Witchfinder General, thus making it look almost instantly old-fashioned by comparison. Yet I suppose even in 1968 it must’ve already seemed that way to some extent, with its unquestionably good heroes and unquestionably evil villains (we’ll quietly ignore the fact that our hero resorts to magic much like our villain does) and the blatant God-vs-Satan (or Set, I should say) business. These days, of course, that old-fashioned vibe is why we still like Hammer, and this really does represent a kind of apotheosis of their particular gothic, just before they were disrupted by behind-the-scenes turmoil and their inability to really cope with the 1970s. Plus it offers the rare spectacle of Christopher Lee in actual heroic lead mode, which is probably why he was so fond of it. As the Fortean Times article on author Dennis Wheatley observes, “Satanism” was kind of code for Communism in Wheatley’s books (apparently he was a supporter of fascism pre-WW2, and remained pretty reactionary thereafter despite opposing the Nazis by then), but the film has none of that; this is a much more straightforward and literal battle of good vs evil. Generally it’s pretty cracking stuff and the pace rarely lets up (to the point at times where it probably should’ve done), but I can sympathise with those who think the film falls down in the special effects department; even Lee’s said a remake with CGI might be a good thing. And yet I doubt it; a story like this isn’t really about the technical polish of the special effects anyway, and I don’t know if you could retell this particular one now with the same seriousness the film embodies. Maybe some stories are best left to other decades and to accrue charm with the passage of time…

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