The Devil Rides Out - The movie (another of Alan's reviews)

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The Devil Rides Out - The movie (another of Alan's reviews)

Postby Alan » Tue 13 Jul, 2010 07:42:28

Yes – but where’s Set’s naughty bits?
The Devil Rides Out – the movie.
Reviewed by Alan.

Regular visitors to this site will know that – perhaps unusually for a DW aficionado – I am a great embracer of modern technology and all its advantages. The joys of living in the 21st century were brought home to me with stunning clarity a few weeks ago when, after searching everywhere for years for a way to see The Christopher Lee “Devil Rides Outâ€￾ movie, (“Not available on DVD mate, never heard of itâ€￾) I stumbled upon the entire movie on u-U-Tube while looking for something else. An apt piece of serendipity particularly appropriate for a film of this nature!

Interestingly enough, given its period feel, the movie (as posted) was in ten minute segments – about the same length as a reel in the early days of cinema. I found that having to pause every ten minutes to “change reelsâ€￾ actually added to, rather than detracted from, my enjoyment. I could almost pretend that I was visiting a movie house during the thirties. And the gaps gave one’s psyche a breather to reflect on what had gone before...

While happy to get it, I approached actual viewing with trepidation. Cross-media adaptations are often disappointing, particularly films made from books. The differing nature of the media often mean that the story becomes “adaptedâ€￾ and bowdlerised within an inch of its life, as anyone who has seen a Mel Gibson offering will testify! To save anyone rushing forward to see my verdict, I’ll state here and now that it’s essentially positive. This is a really enjoyable piece of work.

In the unlikely event that anyone reading this review isn’t familiar with the plot of the original novel, I’ll also state here and now – yes, there may well be spoilers!

It should be remembered that even when it was made, this was a “historical epicâ€￾ of sorts, dealing with a tale set over thirty years before the making of the movie. Thankfully, the director made no attempt to “moderniseâ€￾ it by replacing the cars with Lotus Elites and E-Type Jags or dressing Tanith in a mini-skirt, for which we must all be truly grateful.

The story begins with Rex landing his plane and being collected by the Duke in an antique car, the make of which I couldn’t pick, but which I don’t think was a Hispano. One can hardly blame the producers for that, I think, given budgetary constraints!

The idea of opening the story this way improves (for cinematic purposes) the story, replacing the traditional “coffee was served after tenâ€￾ scene, which works brilliantly in literature, but may have come across as rather static for cinematic purposes. Comparing book and movie we soon see another change. Rather than being the square-jawed, clean-limbed American we’ve come to know and love, Rex has become a square-jawed, clean-limbed Englishman!

In fact, this Anglicisation of the characters persists throughout the movie. Little is made of the Duke’s Franco-Russian ancestry (He is addressed as “Nicholasâ€￾ throughout. They could hardly call him “Greyeyesâ€￾, since his eyes are brown!), nor of Marie-Lou’s titles and background, or Simon’s Jewishness. Presumably the directors felt this would complicate the plot for non-DW fans. Even Mocata is an aristocratic Englishman, albeit a somewhat oily, unpleasant one!

After the initial meeting, the plot continues more or less faithfully to the novel, with the discussion about Simon’s absence from their reunion, and the decision to go and check up on him. The visit to the house in St John’s Wood follows the book closely, even with much of DW’s original dialogue being retained. It does, however, eliminate what I feel is one of the less pleasant aspects of DW’s canon, the equating of physical or medical disfigurement with evil. There’s no mention of the amputee, who must surely be evil because it’s his *right* arm he’s lost, or any attempt to equate racial background with a predilection towards Satanism. The Countess D’urfe has a walk-on part and plays very little role in the movie.

As with the novel, Rex sees Tanith and recalls that they’ve met before (though not as extensively as in the novel, he mentions simply having seen her at a casino), Simon attempts to politely kick them out, The Duke invites himself to see Simon’s observatory, and they end up shanghaiing him, and taking him back to the Duke’s flat, which incidentally was very close to the mental picture I’d formed of it from the books.

However, the swastika that the Duke hangs around Simon’s neck to protect him is replaced by a crucifix (a departure for Lee, who is used to backing away from crucifixes!), more evidence of the Anglicisation prevalent throughout the adaptation.

Things continue to follow the established version closely, with Max’s removal of the crucifix, Simon hypnotically returning to Mocata, Rex’s scepticism being gradually broken down, the return to Simon’s house, and the manifestation of the “black,â€￾ which was very well done indeed. Rex’s “kidnappingâ€￾ of Tanith also follows the book, save that she escapes after Rex arrives at Cardinal’s Folly, roaring off in Rex’s car while Rex is being greeted by the Eatons. The “realâ€￾ Rex would never have been so bungling as to leave Tanith unattended!

The Eatons, by the way, have also shed most of their canonical history. We’re given no clue as to their back-story, Richard’s bringing Marie-Lou out of Russia, etc. Instead, she is known simply as “Maryâ€￾, and poor Fleur is stuck with that most mundane of English given names, Peggy! She is, however, a few years older than the Fleur of the book, and (thankfully) has lost that revolting baby-talk “He cutted hisself on his magic sword, and there’s a lot of blugâ€￾... Instead she appears in riding gear. Very English indeed!

Providentially, Richard has just finished souping up the family runabout, enabling Rex to leap into it and roar off in pursuit. (“Aw, they didn’t stay long, did they?â€￾ laments Peggy/Fleur, plaintively). Thus we’re avoided the somewhat convoluted chase scene of the book, with Clutterbuck’s reports, etc, and instead have the fairly standard car-chase familiar to watchers of “dick-flicksâ€￾, albeit in much classier vehicles than is usually the case!

Things continue to proceed at a swift pace, again fairly faithfully with the novel, though of course the Duke’s “information dumpâ€￾ is considerably curtailed. The sabbat scene is excellently done, though I’m surprised that the Duke’s breaking down and almost wimping out, and having to be dragged back into line by Rex is left out. I’d have thought this was the sort of suspenseful scene that directors love! The revellers also look somewhat chaste, for devil-worshippers, wearing modest white smocks. For that matter, Set’s penis – what the conflict is really all about – is also left out of the story. Presumably censorship was an issue at the time!

Simon is, of course, rescued, and taken to Cardinal’s folly, and the director *Really* misses a trick at this point. For some reason never explained, Simon has attended the orgy in his three-piece suit, whereas the book has Rex having to knock up a sports goods seller, kitting Simon out in a weird and wonderful mixture of athletic clothing to replace his ritual robes. This was a brilliant comic scene which should have been in the movie, and when I become a multi-zillionaire and commission my own version, it definitely WILL be - and so will Marie-Lou’s nightwear (see below)!

We continue, again commendably faithful to the original, and come to Rex and Tanith’s night vigil and the pentacle scene. The movie’s “pentacleâ€￾ is in fact a circle, neatly circumventing (no pun intended) the problem with a defensive pentacle that must occur to many of DW’s readers – How can you draw it small enough to fit into anything less than a ballroom and still have room in the central circle for four people to lie down comfortably?

As with the book, no mention is made as to how the defenders will cope with bodily needs. Presumably you need a cast-iron bladder if you’re planning to take on Satan and his minions. I was also somewhat disappointed that we don’t see Marie-Lou looking “divinely prettyâ€￾ in her silk PJs!

The pentacle scene is, of course, one of the three most important and climactic scenes in the book, and there’s a strong case for saying a film adaptation of it stands or falls by how well this is done. Well, for me it passes muster – just – if one takes into account the technical limitations of the era in which it was made. Today, of course, we’d have all sorts of computer generated effects, but in the 1960s, a convincing “leprous sack-like thingâ€￾ just could not be got, and a giant spider has to fill the breach. The illusionary Fleur/Peggy arrives on cue, and as in the book the Duke enables her parents to realise it’s a trick in the nick of time {though that chilling line “Look at her face – it’s blue!â€￾ doesn’t make an appearance).

We also have only a vestigial remnant of Mocata’s more subtle attempt to trick them out of the pentacle, with Simon asking for a glass of water, but no attempt is made to develop the scene (in the book Simon thinks the water tastes brackish – it’s long-distance hypnotism from Mocata that’s doing it of course – and the Duke purifies the drink with holy water), nor does Richard’s pistol make an appearance.

I’m sure many will agree that at this point in the story occurs one of the most chilling events in all supernatural literature – realising that he can’t lure them out of the circle, Mocata sends the Angel of Death himself to get them. This scene is excellently handled, basically a real man and horse with convincing clatter of hooves on the floor – excellent piece of Foley, there! Unfortunately, this is a little spoiled by the single close-up we get of the Angel’s face, which is ridiculous rather than scary, and if I’d been directing I’d have left it to the viewers’ imaginations.

Anyway, we viewers have already been primed with the information about the “Susamma Ritualâ€￾ and the Duke utters it just in time to save them. I strongly suspect that it wasn’t the actual ritual that’s uttered, but the Latin gibberish sounds convincing enough!

As with the book, the Angel takes Tanith instead, and we have the resurrection scene – Tanith speaking through “Maryâ€￾- though of course since the movie is to remain set firmly in England the information she imparts is very different from the novel.

Things proceed quickly to a climax after that, with the Duke and his friends helpless – until supernatural forces from the good side, acting through “Mary,â€￾ turn the tables and the kidnapped Peggy is saved.

At this point I was expecting that the Duke’s explanation that everything after he uttered the ritual took place “outside of timeâ€￾ would be omitted – a fairly decent scriptwriter could have come up with another convincing way to get Tanith back alive, I’m sure – but I’m pleased to say that, again, the movie follows the book faithfully, and we learn just how history can be “ret-commedâ€￾ if your spiritual friends have enough clout! The story ends with the Duke pointing out that Mary’s rhetorical “Thank Godâ€￾ should really be a literal one, a clever climax to the movie.

So, the verdict. Well, let’s be frank here, this was a film made over forty years ago, and it has its limitations. Technical limitations the imagination can work around (though I’d have loved to have seen the sack thing!) but it was also a little sad to see some of the defining scenes and themes the book left out. I’d have also liked to have seen the characters more like the originals, particularly letting them retain their ethnic backgrounds.

However, one can only appreciate any work of art in the context of its time, and I can imagine this film making a real impact upon the cognoscenti of horror fans. It was far more sophisticated than the usual Hammer offering without losing its pace and excitement, the acting was above average, and the story was beautifully paced. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’d strongly suggest anyone who hasn’t seen it to get onto u-tube and get hold of a copy (oops, encouraging people to disregard copyright law, sorry about that!). It might also be a good way to get non-DW fans into his work, and I’d image any horror-film buff who sees it thinking (s)he might have a look at this Wheatley guy to see what else he wrote.

Perhaps, one day, we’ll see a modern version, complete with nude orgy scenes, Pixar-style effects and Charlize Theron in Mary-Lou’s pyjamas. Until then, this minor classic will do just fine!

Stevie P
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Postby Stevie P » Tue 13 Jul, 2010 10:01:31


This is an excellent review. I love the way you've compared the book to the way the director thinks it should be presented. Luckily (as you've said) he still did a pretty good job.
I think the remaining films may not hold out so well!!

Terrific observations. I'd never cosidered the practicality of getting four people (head to head) inside the centre of a Pentagram before.

Well done - terrific reading

Stevie p

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Postby Cibator » Fri 16 Jul, 2010 11:22:48

I've just started looking at the YouTube clips - many thanks, Alan, for drawing our attention to them. Over 40 years since I saw the movie for what proved to be the only time, but I found I still remember a surprising amount about it.

Eliphas Levi must be pleased to see at least one of his drawings used behind the opening credits, considering the rubbishing Richard Eaton gives him in the book. Wonder what those "curious and ancient symbols" that pop up just before the film proper could be? (Not the Eye of Horus, that I do know.)

As for what we miss from the books, for me it was a bit of a let-down to see the Duke's chauffeur in an ordinary uniform of the period, unaccompanied, instead of both him and a footman wearing exotic Russian costume.

Anyone else think Simon's hair was a bit too long for the 1930s?

That observatory in the external views of Simon's house has a curiously unreal look, as if the house they used didn't in reality have it, and the footage has been doctored. But maybe that's just me.

Further comments to follow when I've seen more.
Fas est et ab hoste doceri

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