I first got into Hammer Films when I was roughly thirteen years old. I used to rent the Anchor Bay DVD releases from Movies Unlimited. Since then, I have been an avid fan. But, like with most small studios churning out genre pictures, most of Hammer Films’ productions are now reserved for those belonging to a specific movie “cult”. That is to say that to most potential viewers there will be nothing to enjoy about The Vengeance Of She (1968) or Straight On Till Morning (1972). There are, however, a number of Hammer productions that are, generally speaking, very good and very accessible outside of their two tentpole franchises Dracula and Frankenstein. Among these masterpieces of British Horror I would include Paranoiac (1962), The Nanny (1965), Never Take Sweets From A Stranger (1960), The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and The Devil Rides Out (1968).
The Devil Rides Out is based upon the novel of the same name by Denis Wheatley. Wheatley was a hugely prolific writer of Gothic fiction in England during the first half of the twentieth century so it’s pretty surprising that Hammer made so few adaptations of his work (the second most famous being the final Hammer Production from 1976, To The Devil A Daughter). The script for The Devil Rides Out was penned by science fiction author Richard Matheson. Matheson, through the Christopher Lee character, provides the film with a “voice of plausibility” so as to better sell the more fantastic elements of Satanic power on display in Wheatley’s narrative.
But presiding over the whole affair is Terence Fisher. No other single director is responsible for so much of what critics and audiences consider the Hammer aesthetic to be as Fisher is. Fisher helmed the first of both Hammer’s Frankenstein and Dracula pictures in the late fifties. In these early productions, as with The Devil Rides Out, Fisher imbues the British Gothic with a twist of the Universal Pictures’ horror film, and a dash of the Saturday matinee serial.
The story of The Devil Rides Out is relatively unique within the broader Hammer canon. It’s proposition that one cult, by threatening the cultural and financial elite, could broker national power ties the film to a specific late 60s zeitgeist. Even before the infamous Manson murders there was a fear of the counterculture at large and a growing interest in Crowley’s Satanic teachings within the English culture industry (both Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page were disciples of Kenneth Anger).
Ultimately, however, The Devil Rides Out is a lot of fun. Combining elements of the horror and adventure genres, The Devil Rides Out is a spectacle a minute B-movie that is unrelenting in its pacing. And its climax where Christopher Lee combats the Devil with sorcery is strewn with a rotation of the laughably cheesy and the grotesque. This is top shelf Hammer fare and an excellent place to begin to delve into the vast catalogue of titles produced by one of the most influential studios to ever exist in Britain.