This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

"Rex, do you believe in evil?"

"As an idea."

"Do you believe in the power of darkness?"

"As a superstition."

"Now there you wrong. The power of darkness is more than just a superstition. It is a living force which can be tapped at any given moment of the night!"

-Duc de Richleau and Rex van Ryn

Great Britain's Hammer Film Studios gained fame in the 1950s with its adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula, specifically by becoming the first to make films of those tales in color. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) was the studio's first hit, becoming to the studio what "Steamboat Willie" became to Disney in that it gave the studio the cachet needed to develop other projects. The next film, Horror of Dracula (1958), was an even bigger hit. Both films starred Peter Cushing (as Dr. Frankenstein in the former and Van Helsing in the latter) and Christopher Lee (who played the Monster and Dracula), both of whom became the most famous of all the talented people associated with Hammer.

By the late 1960s, the studio was still going strong and Lee was urging its executives to make an adaptation of at least one of the books written by his friend Dennis Wheatley. However, the content of Wheatley's books (inspired by real-life black magic cults) made the Hammer executives nervous as they believed censorship in England wouldn't permit such a book to be filmed. Eventually, the studio capitulated and the result was this film.

Unlike many of his other films, Lee is, for once, on the side of good here. He plays Duc de Richleau, a respected aristocrat who learns that his friend Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) has become involved in black magic cult. With his knowledge of the occult and the aid of his friend Rex van Ryn (Leon Greene), de Richleau attempts to rescue Aron before his soul is claimed by the cult's leader, the mysterious Mocata (Charles Gray).

The film's best moments occur when Mocata attempts to thwart the duo's efforts. This leads to the climax in the home of their friends, the Eatons, where they must endure a night of black magic attacks before they finally emerge triumphant.

As with Horror, a major factor to this film's effectiveness is music of James Bernard. It's as powerful as the more famous musical scores for Suspiria (1977) and Halloween (1978).

Hammer adapted another of Wheatley's books eight years later with To the Devil...A Daughter (1976), also starring Lee, only this time as a merciless priest who is in league with (who else?) the Devil. This film is watchable (and even gained some notoriety for the nudity displayed by Lee's co-star, a teenage and then-unknown Natassja Kinski), but the climax is unbelievably hokey. Unlike Rides Out, which received praise from many religious groups and Wheatley himself, Daughter proved less than memorable save for the fact that it became the last horror film from Hammer. The studio, by the end of the 1970s, was dissolved due to business factors as well as the current state of the horror field, which saw competitors putting out classics such as The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Jaws (1975), while Hammer seemed content with simply churning out sequels to their Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mummy films.

One amusing note: this film was originally released in the US with the generic title The Devil's Bride because the studios felt that American audiences would've expected a western under its original title.

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