This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film is the British black magic thrill-ride The Devil Rides Out (or The Devil’s Bride in the U.S.A.), directed by Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher (Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein). It’s not the easiest film to find, but I managed to find it on DailyMotion, of all places.
A biplane lands in a field in England, and the pilot, Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene), clad in a three-piece suit, hops out to greet his old friend, Duc de Richleau (Chrisopher Lee), a dapper man with Lucifer-esque facial hair. Rex is expecting to see another friend, Simon, but Richleau informs him Simon hasn’t been around – he never visits the club and spends most of his time in his large, remote house. Impulsively, they decide to pay Simon a visit and make this reunion happen for real.
A servant beckons them enter the estate of Simon Aron (Patrick Mower), and they realize he’s having a little gathering: people of many different cultural backgrounds are enjoying a little cocktail party. Simon greets his old friends and explains they’ve walked into a meeting of his astronomical society. He introduces Richleau and Van Ryn to some of his new friends, like the Countess (Gwen Ffrangcon Davies) and Tanith Carlisle (Nike Arrighi), who Rex is sure he’s met before. They also meet Mocata (Charles Gray), the head of the society, who takes Simon aside for a chat. In the meantime, Richleau and Rex converse with Tanith and explain that they were friends of Simon’s father. Tanith seems confused as to why they’re present; it was her understanding that only 13 people were required. Of course, Simon returns to politely ask his old friends to leave.
Richleau and Rex, however, take their time in departing – they have a smoke, sample the wine, and Richleau insists on seeing Simon’s telescope and observatory. The observatory floor is covered by a large star chart with a goat’s head painted in its centre. Then Richleau hears scratching. He throws open the closet and opens a hutch to reveal chickens: future sacrifices for some dark ceremony. Richleau is incensed and grabs young Simon by the lapels: “You fool! I’d rather you were dead than meddling with black magic!” Simon downplays the seriousness of it. But Richleau refuses to leave unless Simon goes with him. After much debate, Richleau decides to just clock his friend’s son, and our two heroes carry Simon out the front door. Simon’s butler attempts to stop them, but Duc de Richleau gives him more of the same medicine and they retreat to Richleau’s home.
Richleau rouses Simon from sleep and immediately hypnotizes him using a mirror. He instructs him to wear a symbol of protection (a good-old crucifix), fall asleep in his bedroom, and wake at 10 (very civilized!), free from anxiety. While Simon dozes, the other two men discuss what Simon’s got into. While Rex doesn’t believe in the powers of the Occult, Richleau assures him of the great power of the darkness. Meanwhile, Simon’s eyes pop wide open in bed. He begins to choke himself with the crucifix, then summons Richleau’s butler, Max (Keith Pyott) via an electric bell. Max later enters the drawing room with the crucifix, saying the boy was choking on it. Rex and Richleau race to the bedroom to find Simon has escaped.
The two men return to Simon’s house and sneak in through the ground-floor window. At first, they find the dark rooms deserted, so they ascend to the observatory. They turn on the lights and find the chickens remain unharmed. Richleau explains that Simon is about to be initiated into the “Left Hand Path,” and once he goes through the ceremony and is given an Occult name, his soul will be lost forever. The only way to get to him is through another member of the group. Rex believes he remembers seeing Ms. Carlisle from the casino, but Richleau warns she already has her Occult name – Tanith – and can’t be trusted.
Before long, the lights in the observatory dim and the temperature turns remarkably cold. The eyes of the goat head seal in the floor glow red and smoke billows from it. Suddenly, a figure appears atop the seal: a Black guy dressed in nothing but red shorts, just smiling. “Don’t look at the eyes,” Richleau warns. Eventually, he tosses a crucifix at the beach-ready man, who explodes in a puff of smoke. Richleau concludes that it must have been some sort of infernal being, raised by dark magic. They realize that the eve of May Day is coming up, which is the perfect date for the Satanists to initiate Simon into their dark coven. They must stop the ceremony, or Simon will be lost forever. And the only way they can find Simon is through the woman, Tanith Carlisle.
After calling nearly every hotel in London, Richleau tracks down Ms. Carlisle. (They’re lucky she’s not a local.) Richleau instructs Rex to keep Tanith occupied – the ceremony requires 13 members, and if she’s absent, they won’t be able to initiate Simon – while he picks up some artifacts from the British Museum. Rex says he will drive Tanith to the country, and keep her at their mutual friends’, the Eatons. Somehow Rex convinces Tanith to get in a car with him (it is a nice car) and they drive into the countryside. Eventually Tanith gets wise to his scheme and says she needs to return to London. When he refuses to turn the car around, Tanith makes a leap for it, but Rex stops her. She tells Rex she’s afraid of what Mocata might do if she doesn’t show up. We learn that Tanith is her birth name (despite sounding sinister), and she, too, is to be initiated into the Left Hand Path with Simon this evening. Mocata speaks to her telepathically, via the rear-view mirror, and tells Tanith to trust in him.
Rex and Tanith arrive at the country home of the Eatons: Marie (Sarah Lawson), who is Richleau’s niece; Richard (Paul Eddington), her husband; and their child, Peggy (Rosalyn Landor). As soon as Rex exits the car to hug his friends, Tanith drives off. Rex takes Richard’s car and gives chase. Mocata again communicates with Tanith, reassuring her he has things under control. First he turns Rex’s windshield opaque, but Rex smashes a hole so he can see. Then Mocata generates a thick fog in the road. Rex runs into a tree, leaving Tanith free to escape.
Stranded on a country road, Rex attempts to flag down a passing motorist and is nearly run over by the Countess, barreling down the road. Rex chases after her on foot and watches as she arrives at a massive country home surrounded by gates topped with dragon statues. He hides in the front lot (where many cars have been parked) and watches as Mocata and dozens of others exit the house and enter their vehicles. He hides in the boot of the Countess’s car, and at the end of his destination, finds himself in a dark wooded area. Mocata and his disciples have changed into robes – none more garish than Mocata’s, a vivid purple and yellow. Only Simon and Tanith remain in their street clothes.
Hidden, Rex watches as Mocata lights a fire pit, then cuts a goat’s throat and collects its blood into a grail. The crowd goes bananas and a very clothed orgy begins. Rex finds a telephone box and calls Richleau. Richleau drives to the phone box immediately, handing Rex some salt and mercury from the museum, which are good in protection against the dark arts. When they arrive upon the scene, the PG orgy is in full effect, with both Tanith and Simon looking very awkward in its midst. Rex informs Richleau that Tanith is to be initiated tonight, so they should save them both. Richleau is all like, “We’ll do what we can.”
Then, the guest of honour arrives: a goat-headed man that Richleau identifies as “the Goat of Mendes, the Devil himself.” Everyone genuflects to the goat-man and Mocata directs him to the new recruits. Richleau realizes they must spring into action: the duo return to his car and drive into the crowd, blasting their headlights toward the Goat of Mendes. Rex, crouched on the side runners, hurls a crucifix at the goat-man and he explodes into smoke. Rex gathers the two initiates and they abandon the car, punching their way home through many angry Satanists.
They return to the Eatons, where Richleau provides instructions on caring for the recently rescued Simon and Tanith (who both seem relieved). Marie is to put Tanith to bed, and Rex is to watch over her and notify Richleau if anything whatsoever happens. (Literally the moment Marie leaves the room, Rex goes in for a kiss with Tanith – because he, like Rob Thomas and Santana, is so smooth – and is summarily rejected.) Richard is to do the same with Simon – not to leave his side for an instant. To prepare for the evening, the Eatons and the rescued young people are to have only water and minimal food. No alcohol at all. Richleau leaves for the city to pick up some talismans, but as soon as he does, Mocata pulls into the Eatons’ driveway, looking like a Satanic John Steed.
Marie Eaton reluctantly welcomes the Satanic leader into her drawing room. Mocata says he’s come to return Richleau’s motorcar, but he also needs to bring his friends Tanith and Simon back to London with him. Mocata insists that Duc de Richleau has been filling Marie’s head with lies: “In magic, there is neither good nor evil.” Instead, he explains, it’s all about the power of the will, kind of like how his will is overpowering Marie’s as he hypnotizes her. Once Marie is fully hypnotized, she reveals where the various other people are in the house. We then see Tanith wake from bed in a trance and approach the dozing Rex (sleeping on the job!). Simon, in the other bedroom, tosses and turns, so Richard checks to see if he’s okay. Suddenly, Simon begins to choke Richard, and Tanith pulls a decorative sword from the wall, ready to kill Rex. All is looking dire for our heroes when the little kid Peggy runs in and shouts for her mommy. The spell is broken and everyone snaps out of their trance.
Mocata, having nearly just killed several people in her household, politely bids adieu to Marie and warns that while he personally won’t return this evening, something will. Marie immediately goes to check on everyone. Richard and Simon seem okay, but Rex is still asleep (come on!) and Tanith has gone missing. She rouses Rex from his slumber, and he rushes outside to find her. Tanith hasn’t got far, but she’s horrified she almost killed Rex. She tells Rex she can’t return to that house; she’s too much of a danger to the Eatons. Rex promises they’ll find somewhere else safe to hole up.
Duc de Richleau returns and is shocked by recent events – particularly that Rex and Tanith have left! Darkness falls and we see that Rex is hiding in a barn. He’s bound and blindfolded Tanith, who writhes in agony on a haystack, attempting to battle Mocata’s will. Richleau gets in a quick nap – rest is important – and gets to work, drawing a protective chalk circle in the main foyer and setting up various candles and pitchers of water. Back at the barn, Rex pulls off Tanith’s blindfold to check on her condition, and he finds that Mocata has won: Tanith is possessed. And soon she’s hypnotized Rex, too! He undoes her bonds, then falls asleep.
Richleau, Richard, Marie, and Simon lie in the protective circle, positioned in a cross. Richard is dubious that anything is happening, but Richleau snaps at him, saying his doubt is Mocata’s doing. Mocata knows that Richard is the weak link and is trying to break their wills. He appeals to Richard’s long friendship to stay with him. Simon, feeling dehydrated, drinks some of the water, and spits it out. He offers it to the others to demonstrate the taste, but Richleau warns them not to drink. (Another of Mocata’s tricks, no doubt!) The lights dim and the wind begins to howl. Our four heroes stand up and join hands.
First, there’s a knock at the door – a stranded visitor who needs to be let in. Marie goes for the door, but Richleau stops her. Then a giant spider (about the size of a dog) appears and crawls towards them; Richleau assures them it’s only an illusion. Marie and Richard’s child, Peggy, runs into the room and is threatened by the spider. Marie begins to panic. “It’s not Peggy,” Richleau insists, and splashes the girl with water. She disappears into smoke. Richard then throws the rest of the water pitcher at the large spider, and it melts like the Wicked Witch of the West. The will of all four is beginning to weaken after these constant attacks. Richard asks if there’s no way they can fight back, instead of always playing defence. Richleau says there are certain lines he can say, but only when all hope is lost.
Hope leaves town when the Angel of Death rides into the room on horseback. The horse rears up several times, unable to enter the circle, but Richleau warns if they catch sight of the Angel of Death’s face (currently covered by a visor), they will die. Seeing how bleak things are, Richleau chants his protective spell. The visor of the rider falls open, revealing his skull face, but Richleau is able to repel him. However, across the countryside, Tanith snaps out of her trance, then falls down dead. Once summoned, the Angel of Death cannot, Richleau Occult-splains, return empty-handed.
Light returns to the Eatons’ foyer, and everyone is relieved that their night of terror is over. But Rex arrives, carrying Tanith’s body: they did not escape the attacks unscathed. And she’s not the only casualty. When Marie checks on her daughter, she finds her butler has been beaten and the Satanists have kidnapped Peggy. While the crew is reckoning with this turn of events, Simon rashly hops in a car and drives off on his own. The others, however, have no idea where the Satanists might have taken her.
Richleau uses some white magic, calling on angels and using salt, hair, and blood to possess Marie with the spirit of the dead Tanith. Tanith, speaking through Mrs. Eaton, is compelled to remember her love for Rex and tell them where they might find Mocata. However, the spirit of Tanith is only able to see a “winged serpent” before the forces of darkness block her vision. Initially stymied, Rex remembers the statues outside the country estate where he first encountered the Satanic cult. Now it’s on.
Simon, meanwhile, has arrived at that cult house and walks into a massive room where the robed disciples chant and Mocata stands, in his purple robes, at an altar where the sleeping Peggy has been placed. Simon offers to trade his soul for that of the child, but the evil Mocata suggests he can have both their souls. Simon takes the ceremonial dagger with which they intend to sacrifice the child and tries to stab the Satanic leader, but Mocata hypnotizes him to stop and become docile.
Our four proper British heroes arrive on the scene just as the cult begins to call on Egyptian god Set. Marie screams at seeing her child about to be sacrificed. Rex rushes in and is subdued by several followers. Mocata then reveals his plan: trade the child Peggy’s soul for Tanith’s. (He’s very interested in Tanith’s soul – I guess he thinks they’re soulmates.) Richard then freaks out and is beaten down just as surely as Rex.) Marie begs Richleau to cast his fancy spell again, but he won’t.
Mocata is just about to cut into Peggy when Marie, possessed by the spirit of Tanith, speaks and instructs Peggy to stand up. She has Peggy repeat after her the recitation of a spell, which causes lightning to strike the altar and flames to engulf the room. The followers flee and Mocata is overtaken by flames. All that’s left in the room after the conflagration is a massive cross on the far wall (which I guess was just hidden under some heavy curtains).
Everyone awakes in the protective circle in the Eatons’ front room. Simon and Richleau realize Tanith’s body, which had been placed on a bench, is gone. But then they see Rex and Tanith outside, both completely healthy. “Time itself has been reversed for us,” Richleau (sort of) explains. The Angel of Death must have taken Mocata in place of Tanith. The group then gives a sincere thanks to the Christian God for their Divine salvation, and the end credits roll.
- The film capitalizes on the Satanic panic of the 1960s, and uses the work of one of the best authors to dabble in that realm: Dennis Wheatley, who wrote many thrillers, only some of which featured the Occult. What amazes me is how much Richleau knows about Satanic rituals and black magic, but no one ever asks how he knows this arcane information. He can identify the Goat of Mendes, knows various incantations, spells, supernatural rules, and protections – but his confused friends never wonder how this guy became an expert in the dark arts. I suppose it’s a case of “know thy enemy” – one must study black magic to be able to protect oneself against it – but I would personally be more wary of the guy who is a walking Occult encyclopaedia and looks like Christopher Lee in Satan cosplay.
- Charles Gray is fittingly polite as Lucifer’s emissary on earth. Many cultural depictions feature the Devil as not some angry, violent figure, but an exceedingly polite one who does not have your best interests at heart. Mocata exemplifies that, acting a perfect English gentleman who is nonetheless plotting to deliver your souls to the Devil. The drawing room scene when he converses with Marie, almost to the point of obsequiousness, is a show-stopper.
- As emblematic as The Devil Rides Out is of the Satanic panic of the late 1960s, it’s also indicative of the white colonialism that in some small way inspired it and still runs rampant through western society. After all, the Christian God is shown to be the one true light in this film, the only thing that can combat the forces of darkness. Tanith’s name is suspect, as it derives from a North African (Phoenician god). And when do we see characters of colour appear in this movie? When Richleau and Rex first arrive at Simon’s house, the party features a number of African and Asian guests. Before even realizing what’s going on, Rex is horrified. He knows something’s afoot, given this blatant miscegenation. Likewise, as soon as Richleau discovers chickens in a hutch, Simon’s guilt is assured. Forget that many world religions use animal sacrifice: this is evidence of the devil! Literally, a demon is depicted as a Black man in red shorts – no makeup, no goat horns! The Devil Rides Out is a fun movie, but lest we forget it’s also suffering a bit of a colonialist hangover with its innate fear of all things not white or Christian.
- The Devil Rides Out is known as The Devil’s Bride in the United States, where it was thought the original title would confuse people expecting to watch a Western. And, to be fair, when I told people I had watched The Devil Rides Out, they thought I was talking about a Western.
- From now on, I’m just going to carry a bunch of crucifixes with me at all times. If anything weird shows up, I’ll just hurl a crucifix in its direction like a ninja star. If it’s demonic, it should explode in a puff of smoke.
Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: I regret to inform you that The Devil Rides Out is neither terrible nor particularly scary. The film is interesting, particularly since it seems to be fairly researched with actual Occult folklore, but much of the scary stuff we’re told about, instead of actually witnessing. Though it was neat to see Christopher Lee play a hero, for once.
Best outfit: The devil knows how to dress: check Mocata biting John Steed’s style and tell me he’s not the best-dressed man in this film.
Best line: “I’d rather see you dead than meddling with black magic.” – Duc de Richleau, concerned father figure.
Best kill: Death, despite showing up on horseback, doesn’t figure largely in The Devil Rides Out. Mocata is the only person who dies during the course of the film, and we’re only told it happens. So, the best kill goes to that sacrificial goat.
Unexpected cameo: If you think you’ve seen Charles Gray, the antagonist known as Mocata, before, you’re probably right. He’s the criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And TV fans will know Paul Eddington, who plays Richard Eaton, as the star of Yes, Minister.
Unexpected lesson learned: Think twice before using swords as bedroom decor.
Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Echo Babylon, with their debut album, Slaughter of the Black Cockerel and the White Hen.
Next up: The House at the End of Time (2014).