Friday, April 8, 2011

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Even though I don't officially consider myself to be Pagan, I like Paganism and have studied it with interest (and I am certainly more Pagan than Christian). So watching a movie about 'Satanism' is always interesting, because the popular conception of Satanism is based upon so many misinterpretations of Paganism. I feel like a black guy must feel when he watches blaxploitation movies that are filled with atrocious stereotypes. Yet I like movies about Satanism, and I almost feel a little guilty about that, because they tend only to propagate those ridiculous stereotypes. But mostly they're done in fun, not meaning to offend; and anyway, I know how to appreciate fantasy, and Satanism is a pretty exciting subject for fantasy. And what's more, I've actually attended a real Pagan ritual, and it was dreadfully boring. If they had dressed it up as a Satanic ritual (but without anything seriously evil), I think it would have been a whole lot more exciting. I mean, ritual is all theatrics, anyway. But then, that's my real faith talking - atheism.

Getting to the movie itself, The Devil Rides Out is a Hammer film starring the venerable Christopher Lee. I don't know exactly what 'the Hammer reputation' is (yes I'm a horror fan, but I wasn't even alive in the '70s), but this is a very good film, even taking its age into consideration. The suspense sets in almost immediately, and you're drawn into the fight against the powers of darkness. There's even a car chase on back country roads! The bare bones of the plot is that Lee's character, the Duc de Richeleau - having studied the effects of black magic, yet being on the side of good - is trying against all odds to pull his young friend Simon out of the clutches of the high priest of a cult of devil-worshippers before it's too late.

The black magic is actually surprisingly effective in this film, considering the state of special effects in 1968. It may not be seamless, but rather than being all about pomp and flash, it serves the story well, and feeds the atmosphere of fear concerning the nature of the dark arts. There's a great standoff where the good guys hold out the night within a circle of protection, while the evil cultleader weaves his spells from afar in an attempt to break their defenses. The mesmerizing power of the cultleader translates very well to the screen, too. Just looking into his eyes and hearing him speak is enough to convince you of his abilities. And the woman who plays the priest's reluctant medium has a perilously captivating beauty. The only thing that would have made this movie better is if the frenzy in the woods had actually been an orgy.

Regardless, I was very well entertained, and I recommend this film.