Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Devil Rides Out

“The Pretender” also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The utterance of the name of actor Christopher Lee and British film company Hammer Studios more than likely conjures up images of Frankenstein’s monster, or most famously, Dracula. This makes sense given that he played these iconic and villainous characters to much acclaim in Hammer horror movies ranging from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. The hero of the story in these movies was typically played by Peter Cushing.

This is where “The Devil Rides Out,” aka “The Devil’s Bride,” is a bit of an anomaly. In this Hammer horror movie, released in 1968, there is no Peter Cushing and the hero, a man named Duc de Richleau, is played by Lee in a performance so terrific it makes me wonder why he didn’t play more good guy roles. Though it has been said that playing the villain is way more fun.

As the movie opens Richleau greets his friend Rex (Leon Greene) as his small plane lands on a grass field in the English countryside. They immediately head to the newly purchased mansion of their younger friend Simon (Patrick Mower). Richleau tells Rex that he hasn’t seen or heard from Simon since Christmas. Given that it is April, Richleau is worried about what’s going on with the young man and he wants Rex with him to investigate.

Richleau is right to be worried. After some subtle snooping and inquiring done in the understated, subtextual way in which the British specialize, it’s revealed that Simon has gotten himself mixed up with black magick (yes, the type that is spelled with a “K” at the end) and a coven of devil worshipers who plan on making Simon and another young woman named Tanith (Nike Arrighi) their new initiates that evening.

How and why Simon came to be involved with them is never explained. The screenplay by Richard Matheson, from a novel by Dennis Wheatley, is not concerned with those details. The focus is more on occult beliefs, practices, and rituals. Richleau has made an independent study of the occult. He knows what it is, what it can do, and how to combat it. I’d venture a guess that Richleau is a surrogate for Wheatley, and a lot of what is said, done, and shown in the movie is fairly accurate and based on research of real black magick practices.

The heavy in “The Devil Rides Out” is a man named Mocata, played by Charles Gray. He’s the high priest of the coven who performs the sacrifices and rituals. His full head of silver fox hair and light blue eyes mask a dark, menacing figure that poses a very viable threat to anyone who opposes him. He uses his blue eyes to pierce through people’s consciousness and control their minds. Anyone who can do that, and does so malevolently, is someone with whom it is dangerous to tangle.

Since “The Devil Rides Out” is over fifty years old, the special effects are of course a bit dated. This, however, does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie. Plus for me, no matter how many times I watch this movie, the site of the Angel of Death galloping into a room on a large, black steed while scared people cower in a protective circle will always impress me. Buy it.

More New Releases: “The Pretender,” biographical documentary about a young man whose life was heavily influenced by seeing the 1976 movie “Rocky” as a child; and “The Rise of Jordan Peterson,” documentary about the influential academic and author known for his criticisms of political correctness.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.