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Anchor Bay presents
Duke de Richleau: "In the name of God, you dare not."
DVD ReviewThere are certain films that you hear about, and just don't get to see for so long that when you eventually do see them, there is an inevitable letdown. That to a certain extent is at work with The Devil Rides Out (released in the U.S. as The Devil's Bride), which many writers have described as the definitive movie on witchcraft. The film is based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, and was a dismal failure at the box office for Hammer.
Nicholas, Duke de Richleu (Christopher Lee) and his young friend Rex van Ryn (Leon Greene) are visiting Simon (Patrick Mower), another young fellow, who has joined an "astronomy" group. At a get-together of this group that just happens to be going on at Simon's home, they meet the slightly sinister Mr. Mocata (Charles Gray, who would later portray Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, the Criminologist with No Neck in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Mycroft Holmes in the BBC Sherlock Holmes series) and a mysterious young woman, Tanith Carlisle. Before long, Nicholas stumbles on to the fact that astronomy is not what this group is up to, but black magic. Nicholas and Rex forcibly abduct Simon from his own party and cart him back to Nicholas' home. Before long, Mocata, the leader of the coven, gains mental control of Simon, who then disappears.
The heroes go back to Simon's house, which they now find deserted. While searching the house, they are surprised to meet a demon, The Black Man, who appears out of a drawing of Baphomet on the floor. Luckily, the Duke is able to drive him away with a crucifix he just happens to be carrying around with him. As the search was a washout, they decide to track down Tanith by calling all the hotels in London (!). Rex takes her out for lunch, but he really intends to seize her and hide her out at the home of the Duke's nephew and his wife (Paul Eddington and Sarah Lawson). There follows a repetitive running away of the coven initiates and their capture and recapture by the protagonists which just ultimately seems ridiculous.
When Mocata gets mad about his coven being disrupted, he warns that "something will return." The Duke then draws a magic circle in the parlor, and within the circle they await the horrors that will befall them. The photo of the four protagonists lying within the circle, head to head, has had an iconic presence for this film for years, and it was horribly disappointing to find that it isn't part of some magic ritual or anything of the kind; they're just napping! Never mind that the nephew's daughter is left outside of the magic circle so that Mocata can manipulate her at will. The whole thing concludes in a silly finale which negates much of the content of the film.
Typically I've liked Richard Matheson's screenplays, but he really was asleep at the wheel on this one. Nothing hangs together very well, and the motivations of the characters are murky at best. Lee's character disappears for long stretches simply because it's convenient to the plot that he do so. The exclusion of the young daughter from the protective circle simply so that she can be put at risk is one of the most knotheaded plot devices I've seen in a long time. And although Lee continually makes warnings about the dangers connected with the protective incantations, they all come off without a hitch. An obnoxious payoff failure occurs when the Duke warns that it is death to gaze on the face of the Angel of Death—they all do so but nobody dies. It is particularly telling that the participants on the commentary have a difficult time discerning what the heck is going on in this film.
The special effects are primitive and cheesy even by 1960's standards; there are a number of particularly ineffective bluescreen shots. Worst of all, a "giant" spider that menaces the heroes does so laughably, as it can't seem to maintain a consistent size ratio from shot to shot.
On the positive side, Lee gives a typically good performance, and Gray is having a terrific time as the menacing Mocata. There are a few genuinely scary moments, such as the appearance of the grinning Black Man early on, but the appearance of the goat-headed devil later on is just silly, quite obviously just a man in makeup. It's a shame there wasn't a little more money in the budget for six or seven rewrites and some decent effects.
Oh, and the lurid bodice-ripping cover is a cheat; no such scene or anything remotely approaching it appears in the film. This is a pretty tame bunch of Satanists, who seem to mostly hug and laugh a lot. The only gore is the implied sacrifice of a goat—apparently the BBFC was having enough problems with the idea of depicting a Black Mass to allow Hammer to get away with its usual quotient of horror and cleavage.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Surprisingly, in view of the recent, excellent Anchor Bay releases, the image transfer here is rather a clunker. There are no blacks to speak of, but at most a medium greytone. This seems completely inappropriate considering the subject matter. Colors are generally washed out and drab-looking; only the reds are good. However, the picture is generally sharp and detailed. It seems that Anchor Bay was trying to get what they could out of the materials, since the film is presented in RSDL format, with a fairly high bit rate of 6 to 8 Mbs. There was visible edge enchancement in a number of scenes, as bad as I've ever seen on a DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The remixed audio is fairly good, although at times the remix is wildly overdone, with a distractingly inappropriate directionality that I found jarring. The Dolby Surround track is actually preferable to the DD 5.1 version, since it is less overdirectional. There is significant hiss in portions of the film. In general dialogue is understandable, although there are obviously looped segments. There are a few LFE effects, particularly during the appearances of demons, but otherwise the original mono track, cleaned up, probably would have sufficed.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Christopher Lee and Sarah Lawson
Layers Switch: 00h:59m:20s
In addition to two trailers which are identical except for the different name of the film for the U.S. and the rest of the world, we also get another episode of The World of Hammer, entitled simply "Hammer." As usual, this is a collection of clips, strung together by narration from Oliver Reed. This episode is unusually interesting since it is a general overview of the studio's history, and we get views of the war and comedy films that Hammer released, as well as its far more famous horror films. The program is presented in 1.33:1 anamorphic video, although the film clips are presented 1.33:1. The films excerpted include The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, Quatermass 2, Quatermass and the Pit, Cloudburst, The Nanny, the black slapstick comedy That's Your Funeral, Holiday on the Buses, The Steel Bayonet, The Camp on Blood Island, Men of Sherwood Forest, One Million Years B.C., Plague of the Zombies and Twins of Evil.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA disappointing and ineffective film, in a disappointing presentation. Although there are some scary moments, the movie is far too repetitive and full of plot holes to satisfy. Add to that one of the worst commentaries I've heard on DVD (didn't anybody edit this thing?), and the answer is, maybe worth a rental. At most.
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