This is the first in my Hammer Film Round-Up. I'm not doing them in any particular order. We'll get through all of them eventually.
There is nothing more disconcerting about a Hammer film set in the 20th century.
The British horror studio most famous for their 18th century set gothic horrors, in my opinion, always benefitted from subverting their audiences expectations either in their narrative or their settings. The Devil Rides Out, one the greatest works of the sadly under-rated Terence Fisher, manages to do both.
The Devil Rides out gets off to a swift start, fairly unusual (and extremely welcome) for a Hammer Film who seemed to favour protracted openings in which to set the scene. (Anyone remember Vampire Circus? Jesus Christ.)
We are introduced to Nicholas, Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) and his trusty side-kick Rex van Ryn (played by Leon Greene and hilariously dubbed by Patrick Allen) who very quickly discover that their young protege Simon has fallen in with a dubious crowd.
Something I was quite surprised about were the many of action set pieces involved. I had always been led to believe this film was all doom and gloom, and don't get me wrong, a lot of it is - but the first half of this film gives Christopher Lee, his goatee, and Leon Greene a lot of room to act as heroic men of action. Lee sadly would never pull this off quite as gallantly as his peer and close friend Peter Cushing did as Van Helsing or Sherlock Holmes, but Lee gave it his all and it is appreciated.
Nicholas and Rex set out to save Simon and a young girl named Tanith from the grips of the cult led by Mocata, played by Charles Gray, better known as Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever.
This leads to one of the greater Hammer action scenes involving lots of fire (of course), a careening vehicle driven recklessly by Lee while Greene hangs off the side precariously and the Devil himself, in all his hoofed glory.
Mocata is pretty terrifying. It is a testament to Gray's performance that he can carry some of the more curious dialogue with such gravitas, but this is part of the magic of Hammer - their ability to attract such immense talent to sometimes questionable roles. These questionable roles taken on so fully by these talents can lead to great things - as in Lee's previous turns as Dracula and the Monster.
One scene in particular involving Mocata and Marie Eaton (played wonderfully by Sarah Lawson) is particularly chilling, and shows the true horrifying extent of Mocata's control over all of their lives.
My final thoughts on this film would have to be the interesting mix of the occult and science, a concept before it's time on celluloid, at least to my knowledge. A finale which almost borders on the Whoniverse in it's bending of time and space is a much welcome addition to the Hammer finale pantheon. Hammer seemed to end their films swiftly and without much fuss, so it's enjoyable to experience one that had a little more to it than a quick staking before credits roll.
Maybe this was another slight indication of Lee's desires to take on more roles attributed to Cushing (who had just come off two questionable adaptations of the Doctor character), but that's just wild speculation.
Hammer Films have an extensive back catalogue, not all of it good, but all of it fantastically entertaining. Mystery, intrigue, the occult, fantastic performances and a decent script all handled proficiently by Fisher, the British Horror Maestro himself... For someone willing to dip their toe in, I'd say the Devil Rides Out is a safe bet.