When we last saw Christopher Lee, he was leading a satanic cult. Now, 24 hours later, he’s out to thwart one. What a difference a day makes!
The film in question is the classic The Devil Rides Out (1968) based upon the Dennis Wheatley book of the same name. Lee plays the film’s protagonist, Nicholas, the Duc de Richleau, a scholar of—but by no means a proponent of—the occult. Nicholas and his friend Rex are old war buddies, having served in the Great War with a third friend. When their comrade was slain, Nicholas and Rex swore to look after his son, Simon, who has now come of age. When Nicholas and Rex get together for their regular reunion, they pay a visit to Simon, interrupting a “astronomical society” gathering held at his home. Nicholas is suspicious of this clique, given that there are 13 of them and they all possess names with occult resonance. When a quick search of Simon’s observatory turns up magical trappings and a pair of chickens in a hamper ready for sacrifice, Nicholas’ fears are confirmed. He and Rex immediately kidnap Simon to get him away from the coven he is about to join.
Back of the home of the Duc de Richleau, we learn that Simon was about to undergo his satanic baptism into the coven led by Mocata (played by Charles Gray, undoubtedly best known for his roles as Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever and as the Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Nicholas knows that Mocata will not rest until Simon, along with another young member, Tanith (played by Nike Arrighi) undergo their unholy initiation into the world of black magic. Can he and Rex thwart Mocata’s scheme before the Simon and Tanith succumb to his hypnotic commands?
The Devil Rides Out has a good reputation in horror movie circles and it’s a well-deserved one. Lee cites it as his favorite film that he performed in and, for a lower budget Hammer movie, it certainly delivers. Wheatley based the character of Mocata on Aleister Crowley, and Charles Gray does a tremendous job of channeling the public image of Crowley into the role if not the actual man, himself.
The movie’s MVP in my opinion, however, is Leon Greene as Rex. In most modern occult horror films, we get a lot of mumbo jumbo about curse breaking and undoing rituals, with the occasional supernatural conflict thrown in. While there is that in The Devil Rides Out, we also get Rex dashing into the thick of things, throwing haymakers at Satanists and exorcising the Devil, himself, by trying to run it down in a 1920s roadster and yeeting a crucifix at the Prince of Darkness. I don’t recall Father Merrin trying that in The Exorcist! This is two-fisted hexploitation at its best, very much in the vein of “The Guardians” books. Having not read the Wheatley novel, I’m not sure how close this adheres to the literary version, but I won’t complain if it’s a liberty taken by the screenwriters.
Some of the special effects might be on the hokier side (the Angel of Death looks like an escaped Nazgul from Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings), but you’ll probably be having too much fun watching Christopher Lee play the rare good guy and cheering on Rex throwing uppercuts at black magic dabblers to care. For punching Satanists alone, The Devil Rides Out gets four out of five skulls and a date on the rewatch list.