31 (More) Days of Fright: The House at the End of Time

More like House in Need of a Power Wash, am I right?

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 was chosen by friend and generous donor Kat Meyer: The House at the End of Time (or La casa del fin de los tiempos), directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. The 2014 film has the honour of being the first ever supernatural horror film from Venezuela! You can find it on the Shudder streaming service.

What happens:

Trigger warnings: suicide, domestic violence.

The House at the End of Time begins, as the Latin-speaking kids like to say, in medias res. After an establishing shot of the titular house, we see a woman rouse from where she’s sprawled on the floor. There’s a nasty cut across her cheek and mirror shards sprinkled around her. She arms herself with a large mirror shard and finds the house in total disarray. Taking a lantern, she follows the sound of a loud groan and heads into the dark basement, calling for “Leopaldo.” Instead of Leopaldo, she finds the body of someone named Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero), who has been stabbed to death. In a shock scare, the prone man clutches her, but after a short struggle, he falls back dead. Then our protagonist sees Leopaldo (Rosmel Bustamante), a young child standing in a darkened doorway. Our heroine calls to him. He begins to move toward her, then is sucked back into the dark room and the door slams behind him. The woman continues past the closed door, down into the depths beneath the house, where there are some sort of catacombs. The lights fade.

The film cuts to our protagonist, Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez), receiving a life sentence for the murder of her husband Juan José and son Leopaldo. Thirty years later, Dulce – now an elderly woman – has been released into a sort of house arrest. She returns to her home where the murders took place, but the house will be monitored by two police officers at all times. Returning to her home, she flashes back to happier times: 1981. Her sons Leopaldo and the younger Rodrigo (Héctor Mercado) wolf down a breakfast as fast as possible before they run out to play. Her memories are interrupted by the arrival of the Parish Father (Guillermo Garcia), a young man who wants to have a chat.

Dulce and Juan José in their totally ’80s wear.

Dulce notes that she stopped believing in God a long time ago, but the priest says he doesn’t believe she was responsible for her family members’ deaths. After all, he runs an orphanage, and knows that once you see the smile of a child, you simply cannot murder him. (Seems like a really naïve priest.) Dulce guides the priest to the catacombs underneath the house. When he asks her what they are for, she says she doesn’t know; the catacombs have always been under the house since she moved in. This is the spot where she last saw one of her children. The priest notes her fingerprints were all over the knife, and she was covered in her husband and child’s blood. If she didn’t kill them, who did? Dulce says the house itself did it.

Back in the past, Leopaldo and Rodrigo join their Venezuelan Little Rascals crew and get up to various shenanigans: playing baseball, filling water balloons with urine and tossing them at stuffy businessmen – kids’ stuff. Both Leo and Rodrigo are in love with the same girl, Sarai (Yucemar Morales), a conflict that leads Leopaldo to hurl a piss bomb at Rodrigo and the two to scrap. After a day of Sandlot-esque fun, they return home well after dark. They do their best to act cute to avoid their mother’s wrath, but it doesn’t work out so well for Leopaldo, who is older and supposed to be a role model.

While Rodrigo is free to go to bed, Leopaldo must stay up as punishment. Leo is a bit spooked by the old house, so Dulce gives him a pearl, saying it’s a little moon and will protect him. Juan José arrives home and apologizes for being late, saying he was helping a friend with his truck. Dulce, however, is not sympathetic: Juan José has been out of work for a while, and she has no food to feed their children. Juan José pleads for Dulce to give him time: it’s hard for an old man to find a job. Frustrated by his wife’s disappointment, he then abruptly leaves for the bar. Dulce locks and chains the door behind him.

Not long after, the door knob begins to shake and there’s a pounding at the door, but when Dulce looks out the window, Juan José is already well down the road. Someone else is trying to get in! Rodrigo, in his bedroom, becomes frightened when he notices his door knob shake and a pounding against the door. In the main room, Dulce watches in horror as the door opens as far as the chain will allow. She peers out the opening, but sees nothing. Yet, as soon as she turns her back, an arm grabs her and holds her back. She breaks free and stabs the door with scissors (shades of Inside), but the intruder has departed. Back in Rodrigo’s bedroom, whoever was outside enters. Rodrigo hides himself under his blanket. Through the scrim of the blanket, we can see a child approaching. As soon as the figure pulls off the blanket, the film cuts to Dulce, who hears a child scream.

The budget shows a bit in the ghost special effects.

Dulce runs downstairs, but trips and smashes her toenail. She continues on, retrieving a large knife from the kitchen, then heading back up another set of stairs. She runs into Leopaldo and asks why he screamed. Leopaldo says it wasn’t him; it was Rodrigo. She continues on to Rodirgo’s room, but Rodrigo says everything is fine. He was just a little startled by Leopaldo, who was messing around.

The next morning, the Inspector (Miguel Flores) interviews the family about the attempted break-in. Dulce and her family have been living in the house for five years, and this is the first weirdness they’ve experienced. When they moved in, the house had been abandoned for a while. The government was selling it at an unusually good price. Dulce’s story doesn’t add up, but the Inspector isn’t sure what to make of it. After he leaves, Leopaldo approaches his mother in private. He says he saw the intruder, but she didn’t hurt him. Instead, the intruder told him he shouldn’t play with his brother Rodrigo. Furthermore, she gave him a note that Dulce is supposed to read. Dulce unfolds it, but won’t tell Leopaldo what it says. (But she looks troubled by the message.)

In the present day (2011), the priest visits the Archivo Historico and researches Dulce’s case. Strangely, in 1921, there was another family disappearance – the Eckharts – at the same house. And again, more mysterious family deaths in 1951. Old Dulce washes up in her bathroom and is shocked when the mirror reveals an old man wielding a knife behind her. She slams the door shut on the old man. When she feels it’s safe, she sneaks out and calls for the police from the top of the stairs. She then continues to her bedroom and sees it’s been ransacked and the number “11” is written (seemingly in blood) several times across the mirror. A ghostly hand grabs at her again as she leaves, so she locks herself in. The thing bangs incessantly at the door and finally barges in – but it’s revealed as the police from outside. False alarm!

Old Dulce pursues her dream of singing for the opera.

The priest visits Dulce to tell her what he’s learned from his research and is informed by her police guards that Dulce claims to be seeing ghosts. She probably needs psychological help. The priest asks Dulce what happened and she tells him about the ghost of an old man holding a knife. When Dulce sees the priest doubts her, she bitterly jokes that it’s odd for a man of God to have no interest in ghost stories. Changing the subject, the priest tells her the house was built by an English Mason, Irahim Eckhart, who was obsessed with building on this very spot. He said it would show the truth of creation.

Back in the 1980s, Juan José, ignorant of the mysterious intruder’s warning, allows Leopaldo and Rodrigo out to play. Dulce is outraged, saying the kids are forbidden from playing together. When Juan José is confused by this restriction, Dulce confides in him and shows him the note Leopaldo handed her. It reads: “Juan José will kill your son.” Feeling accused, Juan José begins to tear up. Dulce decides she needs to leave, she wants a divorce. Juan José looks more disheartened. Dulce says it’s not just the note. Things have been bad for a while. However, when Juan José realizes she intends to take the kids, too, he grabs her angrily and begins to squeeze her in a disturbing bear hug. He threatens Dulce that she should not try to take his boys from him.

Victoria, hard at work, mediuming.

Leopaldo, meanwhile, spies on Rodrigo making time with Sarai. Rodrigo gives her a gift of a pearl – a “little moon” – and kisses her on the cheek. She punches him at first, but is about to return the kiss when Leo calls Rodrigo home. Sarai and Rodrigo are now on boyfriend / girlfriend terms. The young Dulce seeks out a fortune teller. She visits Victoria (Simona Chirinos), a blind medium. Victoria’s sister, who acts as a manager, explains that Victoria nearly died years ago. The accident left her paralyzed from the waist down and blind, but she can now lives in the world of the living and the dead. She can see beyond time. They travel to Dulce’s house to conduct a seance. Victoria’s sister tells Dulce to close her eyes and not open them, no matter what she hears: “Sometimes our eyes can be our worst enemies.”

The audience sits in darkness and we hear a ghost enter the room. Victoria channels a conversation between a father and son. The father is angry, shouting that Rodrigo is his only son. Then the ghost of an old man with a knife grabs Dulce’s shoulder. She freaks out and opens her eyes, causing the mystical seance to end. Outside, the gang of kids plays baseball. Rodrigo pitches a ball to Leopaldo, who hits a solid line drive – right into his brother’s forehead, killing him instantly.

The kids got baseball fever. (There were no survivors.)

A funeral follows, as well as a thinking montage featuring the priest. He thinks a lot about the number “11.” After all, Dulce’s youngest child, Rodrigo, was buried on November 11. And November 11, 2011 (11-11-11) is just around the corner. He runs to tell old Dulce this revelation, just as she’s about to cut open her wrist with a knife. The priest’s sudden arrival prevents her from completing the act, though Dulce insists she has no reason to live. She survived prison hoping she could find her missing son, Leopaldo, afterward, but it seems this was a pipe dream. One the police officers guarding the house steps in, realizing the priest has broken in when it’s not visitor day, and kicks the holy father out.

Following Rodrigo’s funeral in 1981, Juan José treats himself to a mourning smoke, but drops his pipe. As he bends down to retrieve it, he discovers a box of keepsakes under the bed. Inside the box is a letter from one of Dulce’s former lovers, Leopaldo Rodriguez, that reveals Leopaldo is not Juan José’s biological child!

At 11:11 PM (plus 11 seconds) on November 11, 2011, all hell breaks loose. What is revealed, obliquely, is that on that date, the house becomes a sort of time nexus. So, the old Dulce, when she tries to get into her room, is the hand that grabs young Dulce in 1981. Likewise, the figure who enters Rodrigo’s room in 1981 is Leopaldo, just as Rodrigo says – but a Leopaldo from the day of Rodrigo’s funeral. Old Dulce, after trying to break in, reveals to Leopaldo that she’s an older version of his mother. She hands him the note about Juan José, as well as the message not to play with his brother. (Though she specifies not to play with him for three days, something that Leo later omits. Never trust a kid.) Leopaldo asks his future mom what he will be when he grows up. Dulce heartbreakingly answers, “the best baseball player ever.”

Post-funeral Leopaldo gives the still-alive Rodrigo his “little moon” pearl. The old man with the knife leaps out at old Dulce and leads her downstairs, into the catacombs. Leopaldo, meanwhile, goes to Juan José and tells him he has seen Rodrigo. They embrace, but Juan José, wrecked by the information Leo is not his child, holds a knife to his neck. He then throws his step-son to the ground and threatens him with the knife, saying he’s not his real son. Leo killed his only son, Rodrigo.

Leopaldo regrets agreeing to learn knife-throwing from his dad.

Young Dulce walks in on this terrifying bit of family drama and tries to calm her husband down. He lashes out at her, slashing Dulce’s face with the knife and smashing her head into the mirror (which is where the film opens). Old Dulce, meanwhile, learns the knife-wielding man is her son, Leopaldo, though much older. He shows her the pearl as evidence. He’s from the year 2071, and explains that time has come to an end in the house. Right now, his younger self is being menaced by Juan José and the only thing that saves him is his mother. He then hands old Dulce the knife: she must kill Juan José and save the young him. Further, she must abduct young him, as he will develop heart disease, which cannot be cured if he continues on from 1981.

Leopaldo hides in the basement, but Juan José pursues him. He corners his step-son and is just about to slide the knife into the child’s gut when old Dulce stabs him in the shoulder and kills him. When she hears her younger self coming, old Dulce hides. But then she remembers old Leopaldo’s words and grabs his twelve-year-old version, dragging him into the catacombs. The opening scene has now been explained, as has how Dulce’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon.

In 2071, everyone will wear filthy bathrobes and nothing underneath.

Dulce tells the priest this story, and asks if God will forgive her. He doesn’t answer, but Dulce brings him to her room to see the twelve-year-old Leopaldo that she kidnapped from 1981. The priest takes a long look at the child, then does a secret handshake with him. The priest is one of Leo’s childhood gang! Dulce says she cannot take care of a child at her advanced age; rhe priest must take Leo to his orphanage, where (presumably) he will get the futuristic medical care he needs for his heart disease. The priest leaves Dulce’s house with the twelve-year-old child, which leads to some questions from the police officers guarding the house. But the priest explains he’s one of his orphans.

Leopaldo asks the priest if he’ll ever see Rodrigo again, and the priest says he may, after he dies. At the end of time. To conclude the film, the priest introduces young Leopaldo to the now grown Sarai, and says “Amen.” (Whether Leopaldo is adopted by his former crush is left to the viewer’s imagination.)

Our priest, who also serves (apparently) as the film editor.

Takeaway points:

  • I enjoyed The House at the End of Time because, as you might expect from the title, it’s all about time paradoxes. As my wife asked, “Is this a movie about ghosts haunting other ghosts?” And it sort of is. How can old Leopaldo exist if he hasn’t yet instructed old Dulce to kill Juan José? How can Leopaldo have the pearl as an old man if he gave it to past Rodrigo? How does old Dulce know that Juan José will try to kill Leopaldo before she sees him do it? Why is old Leopaldo half-naked? The house in this film is a place where – on certain anniversaries (November 11) – everything has always happened and everything is simultaneously happening. The only curious part is that the previous house owners never came into play, though that perhaps would have been even more confusing. But the thematic effect of the film is that – in all iterations, in all timelines – Dulce loves her son, Leopaldo. After all, she kills for him, knowing it will result in her younger self’s incarceration. But she knows that on November 11 in 2011, they’ll all be alive and together (in multiple iterations). It’s almost romantic. Like a murder-filled Lake House.
  • The House at the End of Time also aptly visualizes the slow but sure transformation from male frustration to (murderous) male rage. Though Juan José is initially a sympathetic character, obviously struggling with his failures, he begins to twist over the course of the film. His frustration with himself becomes menace toward his wife and eventually violence toward her and his child. The character arc is not particularly novel, but I appreciated that Juan José was not portrayed as a villain from the get-go. It was a slow burn from frustrated man to domestic killer, and that slower arc is more accurate to reality and more valuable in depicting how these relationships devolve.
  • I question the accuracy of Dulce’s unusual house arrest. After serving thirty years in prison, would the Venezuelan authorities really return her to her home, but pay two police officers to monitor her 24-7? That seems like a huge, unnecessary expense – especially for a convict who’s already spent decades in prison.
  • Venezuela’s horror industry has started off strong. This isn’t the scariest film, but it’s a great twisty thriller. And, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s a good sign there’s already been a Korean remake called House of the Disappeared.

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: The scary elements of The House at the End of Time consist almost entirely of jump scares, and after a while, you learn to expect characters will back into frightening things that leap into the frame. But the lack of real chills doesn’t mean it’s not worth your while. The film is a worthwhile thriller, especially if you’re fond of time paradoxes (and I am).

Padre looking proper.

Best outfit: The priest in The House at the End of Time is looking mighty fine. That’s a nicely tailored vestment right there.

Best line: “A mother is God in the eyes of her children.” – the priest, again with that Pollyana attitude toward parent-child relationships.

Best kill: There’s no way a grimly comic death like killing your younger brother with a baseball is not going to top my list.

Unexpected cameo: I’m not an expert in Venezuelan film, but the priest, Guillermo Garcia has had other significant roles, including a star turn in romantic drama My Straight Son.

Unexpected lesson learned: Venezuela is just a few years away from curing heart disease.

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Archivo Historico.

Next up: Night of the Lepus (1972).

31 (More) Days of Fright: The Devil Rides Out

Extreme Makeover: Occult Observatory Edition.

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.

What happens:

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.

Not only is this a Satanic party, but none of the fire exits are properly marked.

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.

The Devil sends a shirtless Black man to intimidate our heroes. (Not a joke; this is what actually happens.)

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.

Introducing the G.O.A.T.

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.

Probably an ineffective wake-up call technique.

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.

Kind of like playing Red Rover with the forces of darkness.

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.

No horseplay in the front hallway allowed!

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.

Unorthodox for a DJ set, but I appreciate the theatrics.

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.

Tanith has fallen asleep, succumbed to all of Richleau’s long explanations of Occult ritual.

Takeaway points:

  • 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.

“Sorry to bother you, chap, but would happen to have any Grey Poupon?”

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).