After all, it's just a ride….

BFI Gothic Season – The Devil Rides Out (1968)

dro1Ψ….Hail Satan!! Let us worship at the altar of the horned one, he that walks backward in darkness, the Prince of lies and Lord of deceit, the crimson hued dude who has influenced all the best guitar solo’s and groupie gang-bangs since the invention of Rock’ N’ Roll back in the fifties. Since over the past week most of you craven cattle have been whimpering in celebration at the birth of the accursed christ brat, fully seduced by the festering untruth of the Immaculate Deception I thought I’d redress the balance with our last visit to the BFI of 2013, with one final sacrifice within the cathedral of cinema with the Hammer Horror classic The Devil Rides Out. I figured I had to include at least one Hammer film in this season and naturally many of them are on the Gothic  film schedule, and as this has always been a personal favourite of mine it immediately beckoned as an essential addition to the fiendish roster, and as I like to close any year with a classic this might not be a film in the same league as say Vertigo or Tokyo Story but within the genre canon it is highly admired by the acolytes of pain. Sourced from the 1934 Dennis Wheatley novel it’s something of a notorious elixir within the Hammer vineyard, not content to interfere with monsters or murderers they went straight to the source of darkness with a hexing brew of demonic manipulation and interdimensional interference, so it was only fitting that I fought through an assailing mixture of driving rain, storm force winds and cursed public transport in order to see the film in its full screen glory, although I now fear for the very sanctity of my soul….ς

dro2φ….It’s very much a good guys versus bad guys battle, as wicked sorcerer Mocata (a mesmerizing Charles Gray) leads of cabal of upper class Satanists throughout London and the South of England in the murky equidistant World Wars period of 1929, their nefarious plan to invoke a brimstone crowned Mephistopheles to the physical realm unearthed by Dr. Strange the Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) in an almost unique role among the champions of light. Richleau is prompted to investigate the strange behaviour of his friend Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) whom has come under the influence of this mysterious camarilla, and the presence of his new domicile festooned with uncanny markings and a sulphur smoked pentagram raise suspicions that Simon might be dallying with forces beyond his control – this guy is pretty sharp huh? After making his critical INT check Richleau swiftly deduces that Simon is involved with the Occult, so he enlists the assistance of his stalwart friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) in order to rescue his acquaintance alongside another young victim Tanith (Nike Arrighi) from the sinister cacodaemonic cult, as Rex takes a fancy to the shapely ankle of the mentally enslaved young lady. To divulge any of their further fiendish shenanigans at this point would be truly diabolical , so I’ll just reveal that there are Salisbury Plan apparitions, duelling mental spirits and giant tarantulas that will chill you to your very soul soul soul…..ζ

dro4Φ…..Hammerheads – and I don’t know if I’ve coined a new phrase there but if I have I’m throwing a copyright warding ® spell on it immediately – will appreciate that the film’s director Terence Young is probably the leading helmsman of the Hammer crypt, he’s the mortician behind the original 1958 Dracula and the original Curse Of Frankenstein which are the two core initiation films of the entire studio cycle, and for my money this is the third high point of that unholy trilogy which mark him as one of the most memorable horror directors that this isle has ever produced. Like almost all Hammer it’s opulently stagey, it has dated and some of the lines fall harder than a leaden pigeon, but there is a brisk momentum which keeps the senses seduced and the duelling sneers of the ‘melifluent voiced’ Gray and smouldering Lee are worth a dalliance with the devil in the pale stage light. The film was fairly controversial for its time, as even by the late 1960’s portraying Satanism on-screen was seen as sacrilegious, remember this was a few years before The Exorcist terrified theatre-goers although its production in the same year as Rosemary’s Baby mark it as a more comic-book thrills than genuine  chills. It amused me no end to see how this film and its ilk don’t waste any time with stupid distractions such as a back story for any of the characters or any diabolical context, the episodic spirit of the film breathlessly sprints from set-piece to encounter without pausing for breath, this for example is the opening of the film – establishing shot of plane which lands; Rex shakes Richleau’s hand and gets into his chauffeur driven car; Richleau remarks that their mutual friend Simon hasn’t been seen for three months but he’s bought a new château; Richleau instructs his driver to take them to this house – the plot is afoot within about 45 seconds. Screenwriter Richard Matheson (whom sadly passed away this year) was a evidently a master of brevity, plunging straight into the action and genre mechanics which can be much more fun than getting hampered down with psychological connections or empathic impulses, what we want from this sort of film is some spooky apparitions, the breaking out of arcane glyphed chalk circles and storm-swept bellowed incantations and that, for your sins is what you get. For all you technical sorts the print was a very handsome 2K digital rip that the BFI have sanctioned for the season, it’s a devilishly handsome transfer certainly brings the vivid purple and white costumes and the flickering onyx candles to life…..Ω

dro3θ….It’s interesting timing as a number of Salem inspired news stories filtered through my news feed over the festive period, with this update to an incomprehensible miscarriage of justice proving that pre-enlightenment ignorance still holds its intolerant grip in many pockets of society around even the so-called First World, which in turn also reminds one of the West Memphis Three. There might be something to be said about the upper classes dallying and delving with the instruments of darkness, like much of British born cinema class can frequently be detected as a discreetly murmured concern, although in Hammer this usually springs from the designs and settings of the eerie source material rather than any overtly charged political manifesto. Of all the sacrilegious purges enforced in the film the worst has to be casting Christopher Lee as a hero, sure he’s a sorcerer of sorts but in the service in the power of good, in a role he considers amongst the best of his staggering 300 film appearances alongside the dainty dance of Lord Summerskill in The Wicker Man. The film must have been a major influence on Ben Wheatley and the cultish chills of Kill List,  in that light I think The Devil Rides Out is prime fodder for an austerity era remake, with the captains of industry and City CEO’s offering a glorious sacrifice to those who lurk between worlds in return for wealth and power beyond this realm and into the next, as they quaff on the blood of Council housed virgins (OK, good look finding one of those) and manipulate the levers of culture and civilisation to the detriment of all mankind, raising the temperature and polluting the atmosphere of the planet with the emissions of their infernal industries in order to anoint the ground for the return of great ΨςφζΦΩθΣ. A-hem. So, with that charming image my final gift to you of 2013 in order to get the new year appropriately blooded I’ve gone a little delirious with ambition and mapped out quite an arcane pentagram of screenings in January, this should enable me to make the most of the remainder of the fantastic Gothic  season, you may be surprised at some of my choices so be sure to check back in and see what curiosities I have exhumed starting with a certain French fairy-tale classique. Until then here is the highlight of this film which I think you’ll agree puts those SFX efforts of the pathetic Gravity or Iron Man 3 in the shade, so if you’ll excuse me I’ll be off to cut some black speech runes into my scrotum with a moon-blessed iron dagger – Happy New Year…..Σ


One response

  1. Wonderful website. Lots of helpful information here.
    I’m sending it to a few buddies ans also sharing in delicious.
    And certainly, thanks on your sweat!

    March 14, 2014 at 1:00 AM

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