The Devil Rides Out (1968)

THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (1968, known as The Devil Rides Out in its native England) is one of the last fine examples of the classic Hammer Horror style. Before closing up shop in the mid-1979s, the studio’s subsequent output would include some good, and even a few great, films, but the familiar motifs had been mostly played out, and later experiments with gore and nudity resulted in an uneven, hit-or-miss approach that lacked the finesse and sure-handed control of the earlier efforts. For despite Hammer’s reputation for a reliance on shock effects over story, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (like most of their classic output) reveals a careful, even reserved, handling of the material, coupled with superb craftsmanship and a close attention to detail.
Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, the screenplay by Richard Matheson (The Legend of Hell House) concerns the Duc du Richleau (Christopher Lee) as he tries to rescue a young friend from a coven of Satan-worshippers, led by Mocata (Charles Gray). Wheatley’s novels have earned a reputation for well-researched authenticity, and Matheson’s strength was for placing horror in realistic, believable settings, so the film is imbued with an aura of conviction, setting it apart from the spooky-creepy clichés typical of the horror genre. This lends a fresh, contemporary feel, no doubt enhanced by the early 20th century setting, complete with automobiles and airplanes (this is one of the few Hammer horrors set not in the Victorian era).
This solid narrative is handled like an adult fairy tale by director Terence Fisher (who helped launch Hammer Horror with 1957’s Curse of Frankenstein). Fisher’s work featured a clear demarcation between Good and Evil, light and darkness, yet somehow this simple approach never seemed simplistic. Despite the religious overtones, his films felt secular, as if the battle between righteousness and blasphemy were a well-matched chess game in which the winner was not the most devout but the most skilled. The results were, at their best, clear-headed, with characters that shone through like well-defined archetypes.
This is certainly true of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, thanks to fine performances from Lee (who proves here, as in The Gorgon, that he could plays heroes as well as villains) and Gray (the latter making a suggestively sinister impression despite relatively brief screen time).
Unfortunately, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT suffers somewhat in the horror department. The storytelling does a fine job of setting the stakes and preparing us for frightening consequences, but the manifestations of evil are seldom as eerie as intended. One senses fear of censorship in some cases: the satanic orgies are notably mild. In other cases, the special effects, though adequate in their day, suffer under modern scrutiny. Beyond this, there is perhaps a problem of sensibility. Hammer Horror, particularly when directed by Fisher, was usually at its best when portraying a tangible menace (for example, Horror of Dracula turned the Count into a full-blooded physical being lacking the spooky supernatural power to turn himself into a bat). In THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, on the other hand, Fisher is dealing with the uncanny, with visitations that might be hypnotically induced hallucinations or actual demons from the pit, and he lacks the vision that would bring these manifestations to convincing life. (Fisher’s Italian contemporary, Mario Bava, would have excelled at these scenes, but then, Bava probably would have bungled the rest of the film surrounding them.)
It may seem odd to praise a horror film when the visual horror is disappointing, but THE DEVIL RIDES OUT offers compensation in other areas. One example is a scene when Mocata pays what appears to be a social call while the Duc is out. This long sequence, wherein he gradually lulls his victim into a hypnotic trance, is a great piece of writing, acting, and directing, with an economical use of tighter and tighter camera angles that convey his gradually increasing mental domination, culminating in a perfectly calibrated high-angle shot looking down on him as he raises his head and sends his power into the upper rooms of the house, urging one sleeping victim to commit murder. After a fortuitous interruption breaks the spell, he also gets one of the film’s best lines as he departs, only temporarily defeated: ‘I won’t be back for Simon—but something will…’ (The film’s other most memorable line occurs when the Duc is asked to lend a car: ‘Of course,’ he says casually. ‘Take any of them.’ We never see how many he has, but the way Lee tosses off the line conjures up visions of an entire fleet.)
Although decades later, we can look at the plot with a different, more ambiguous perspective, the film itself still rings true. The Duc’s rescue of his friend reads almost like a cult deprogramming, and one could argue that he is intervening where he has no right to do so, but the strength of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is in convincing us that he is waging a righteous battle that will save the very souls of all involved. This fairy-tale simplicity yields strong, satisfying dramatic conflict, stirring up a rich brew of mythic undertones of the sort that enhance the best horror films. The film may flirt with cornball melodrama, and rely on excess dialogue to explain the convoluted twists that lead to the happy ending, but one emerges from the experience feeling as if one has relived a vivid dream in which ancient archetypes have crossed swords in a sort of ritual re-enactment of some eternal conflict. This is not a film that one wants to oversell to viewers seeking intense shock effects, but it remains, along with The Exorcist, one of the great portrayals of the battle between Good and Evil. 

Charles Gray as the evil Mocata in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT
Charles Gray as the evil Mocata in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT


THE DEVIL RIDES OUT has received better treatment than many Hammer films have on DVD in the U.S. The supplemental materials are meager, but at least there is an audio commentary – an element missing from many of the classic films released on disc in the states.
Warner’s DVD preserves the color photography in sharp detail – showing off the ornate production design that was always a significant aspect of Hammer Horror. The image is matted to a theatrical widescreen (non-scope) ratio, enhanced for 16×9 TV screens. There are English and French dialogue tracks and two trailers: one British release and one American (virtually identical except for the title change).
There is a nice documentary called The World of Hammer, narrated by Oliver Reed (who starred in Curse of the Werewolf). Unfortunately, it does not focus on DEVIL RIDES OUT, and the selection of clips from Hammer’s output is hit-and-miss. Mixed in with the Gothic chillers are glimpses of war films and appallingly bad footage from some forgotten comedies. With so much great material available, it is incomprehensible that the documentary includes so much sub-part footage.
Also disappointing is the audio commentary. Lee and co-star Sarah Lawson provide some interesting tidbits, and they evince a well-deserved sense of pride in their work, but too often they lapse into explaining the plot. Which is bad enough on its own but made considerably worse by the fact that, decades later, they are fuzzy on the details and so, with the movie’s soundtrack turned off so that they may record their commentary, they end up merely speculating on why characters are performing certain actions.
Those willing to suffer through this chitchat will be rewarded with some interesting details. For example, Lee was instrumental in convincing Hammer to adapt one of Wheatley’s novels (presumably the reason the actor was given the lead, somewhat against type), and Lawson’s husband dubbed the voice for the film’s other male lead, Leon Green, who was supposed to sound American. Lee also praises the overall authenticity of the film (thanks to Wheatley’s research), identifying only one fictional invention, a ritual invocation that dissipates the power of evil twice in the film. (Lee failed to find a real-life counterpart for this in his own research, so he had to invent the words for it, which were not given in the book.) It’s nice to see that Lee takes the subject matter seriously, and one wishes that more of the commentary featured more information of this kind.
Although not perfect, Devil Rides Out is one of Hammer’s essential films. Its strengths mostly outweigh the weaknesses, which lay mostly in the area of outdated special effects. In fact, Lee’s audio commentary mentions that this is one Hammer film that could truly benefit from a remake, thanks to the advances in digital technology. Director Joe Dante (The Howling) has expressed an interest in doing just that, with Lee reprising his role as the Duc. Unfortunately, the project seems to be lost in limbo. According to Dante, Lee remains philosophical about the delay, pointing out that the advancing years will only make him look more like the character as originally described in the book.

The Devil puts in an appearance.
The Devil puts in an appearance.

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (a.k.a. “The Devil’s Bride,” 1968). Directed by Terence fisher. Screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley. Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Grey, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon Davies, Sarah Lawson

Rosemary's Baby (1968) – Horror Film Review

Writer-director Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel has earned a reputation as one of the greatest horror films ever made. It is easy to understand why: this is a serious effort that gradually and carefully constructs a mounting sense of paranoia that climaxes in a horrible final-scene revelation. The setting and performances are completely credible; even the basic plot line (a woman undergoing a difficult first pregnancy) has an everyday believability that invites audience identification. In short, ROSEMARY’S BABY transcends its genre trappings: viewers are not allowed to sit back and enjoy a pleasant roller-coaster thrill-ride; they are lured into the plot and set them up to be terrified and disturbed by the unfolding events And yet, despite these undeniable strengths, the film is too deliberately paced and ultimately too tame to completely justify the high regard in which it is held. It’s a horror film for people who want to be scared – but not too much.


Despite being based on a best-selling novel, Polanski’s film actually seems inspired by THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943), a Val Lewton production about Satanists living in modern New York City. ROSEMARY’S BABY begins with Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse moving into a New York apartment, which was split off from a much larger apartment. The previous tenant died after lapsing into a coma but not before mysteriously moving a huge piece of furniture in front of a closet (which, we learn much later, hides a door leading into the other half of the apartment from which this unit was split off). Rosemary meets Terry Gionoffrio (Victoria Vetri), who lives with Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon) in that very unit; soon thereafter, Terry dies from a fall out the window. The Castevets invite Rosemary and Guy over for dinner; Rosemary has a strange dream in which she imagines being ravished by the Devil, and soon Guy’s acting career is taking off. Strange developments disturb Rosemary; her friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) tries to warn her, but he too lapses into a coma and dies, although not before sending her a book about witches. After reading it, Rosemary becomes convinced that the Castevets are witches who plan to sacrifice her baby in some kind of ceremony.
Rosemary seeks help, but her husband and her doctor are in league with the Castavets. After being sedated, Rosemary wakes up to find her pregnancy terminated; Guy and her doctor insist the baby died, but Rosemary hears crying through the wall. Using the door hidden in the closet, she sneaks into the Castavets apartment and finds that the Castevets — and many others, including a visitor from the east, bearing gifts — are not sacrificing her baby but worshipping it. Rosemary screams when she sees her baby’s eyes, but Roman Castevet tells her the child has his father’s eyes — his father being Satan. Rosemary is shocked to learn that her child is destined to be the anti-Christ, but her maternal instincts take over and she decides to mother the child…


One of the problems facing ROSEMARY’S BABY today is that we all know the surprise ending, so much of what proceeds it feels like an extended prologue to the brief revelation of horror in the finale scene. What keeps the story somewhat interesting is that it is laid out like a paranoid thriller that, in retrospect, leaves open the question of whether or not anything supernatural really has occurred. Yes, the coven really believe that Rosemary’s baby is the child of Satan, and they convince Rosemary of this, but is there really any reason to believe they are correct?
The film even emphasizes the weakness of the supernatural explanation in a scene wherein Rosemary seeks help from a doctor and babbles out a litany of her suspicions — which sound like crazy ramblings that add up to nothing. To a certain extent, the film plays off the sense that Rosemary’s condition, with all the hormonal changes that go with it, may be leading to mood swings that cause her to succumb to paranoia.
Of course, ultimately her paranoia turns out to be justified — at least to the extent that she is the victim of a conspiracy, but whether or not it is supernatural in nature is not definitively clear. Rosemary dreams of being ravished by the Devil, but that is clearly the result of a chalky-tasting drug slipped into a dessert made by Minnie Castevet; the subsequent problems with Rosemary’s pregnancy, including her child’s appearance, might also be a result of the strange herbal concoctions that Minnie feeds her for ninth months. A couple people die while in comas, and another loses his sight (so that Guy can take his place in an important acting role), but those could be mere coincidences, caused by natural causes; or (recalling Minnie’s herbal remedies) they might even have been the result of some kind of poison.
The film’s two highlights are Rosemary’s dream sequence and the ending. The former is a marvelous piece of surrealism in the manner of the best of Luis Bunuel: dissolves linking disjointed scenes on a yacht with tracking shots of religious imagery, segueing into presumably “real” scenes of Rosemary being tied down by the Castavets’ coven so that Guy can mount her — only close-ups of Guy’s hands and eyes give way to briefly glimpsed scaly claws and burning red orbs.
And the final scene carries a wonderfully twisted sense of triumphant evil that is genuinely disturbing. The crib shrouded in black, with an upside-down cross dangling from it, is a memorable image, and not actually showing the title character is a brilliant stroke of subtlety that allows the audience to conjure its own mental images (the only hint we’re given is a brief flashback to the red eyes that Rosemary saw in her dream earlier).
There is a certain touch of black humor in the proceedings that underlines the horror (as in the Biblical account of the birth of Christ, there is a magi-type character bringing gifts from the east). Whether or not Rosemary’s Baby is in fact the anti-Christ who will sow death and destruction, the exuberant joy of the coven is terrifying, and it is tragic to see Rosemary becoming one of them, at least to the extent of agreeing to raise the child.
In the end, ROSEMARY’S BABY still works because it takes a character in an identifiable and relatable situation (going through pregnancy and all the concerns that entails) and magnifies it to horrific proportions. The realistic situation lends the film a sense of credibility lacking in most horror stories, which is maintained by presenting the supernatural interpretation in an ambiguous way.


Although ROSEMARY’S BABY is adapted from a novel, its story bears striking similarities to Roman Polanski’s other films:

  • As in DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (or THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS), there is a group of characters representing evil (in this case witches rather than vampires) who are far more highly organized and effective than the hapless protagonists.
  • As in REPULSION, the film deals with a young blond woman living in an apartment who gradually succumbs to paranoid fears of persecution; the difference of course is that Rosemary’s fears turn out to be at least somewhat justified.Polanski’s subsequent films THE TENANT and THE PIANIST also deal with characters hiding out in apartments, hiding from persecution by some outside group. Again, the only distinction is how justified each character’s sense of persecution is. From least justified to most justified, they should be ranked: REPULSION, THE TENANT, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE PIANIST.

This was the first Hollywood film directed by Polanski, who had made a name for himself in Europe with such films as KNIFE IN THE WATER, CUL-DE-SAC, REPULSION, and DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES.
The film’s producer, William Castle, purchased the rights to the Ira Levin novel with the intention of directing the film himself, but Paramount Pictures balked, insisting the Polanski direct instead. Castle had directed several entertaining horror films (such as THE TINGLER and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, both with Vincent Price), but his style was campy and gimmick-laden — the antithesis of the serious approach employed by Polanski.
When Rosemary meets Terry Gionoffrio, she apologizes for staring, explaining that she mistook Terry for an actress named Victoria Vetri. In fact, Terry is played by an actress named Victoria Vetri  – although at this point in her career, Vetri was credited under the stage name Angela Dorian. Reportedly, Polanski asked her why she was using the name of a sunken ship – referring to the ill-fated Andrea Doria, which collided with another vessel and sank on July 25, 1956. Under her real name, Vetri (who was also a Playboy Playmate of the Year) later appeared in WHEN DINOSAURS RULES THE EARTH and INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (written by Nicolas Myers) before her career faded out.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). Directed by Roman Polanski. Screenplay by Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin. Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Charles Gordon, Victoria Vetri.