“The power of darkness…”
Sir Christopher Lee was the ultimate classic cinema villain – whether it be Lord Summerisle in the gripping The Wicker Man , the suave baddie Scaramanga going up against James Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun or everyone’s favorite neck biter in Hammer Films’ Dracula series, Lee was always ready to steal the show as the antagonist.
That changed, at least for one film’s worth of time, in 1968 when Lee was cast as Duc de Richleau, also known as Nicholas, in Terence Fisher’s fantastic The Devil Rides Out.
Based on the novel by acclaimed author Dennis Wheatley and written for the big screen by legendary horror author Richard Matheson, The Devil Rides Out is one of the best black magic/Satanic panic films of its era.
The film tells the story of Nicholas as he is keeping a close watch on Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) as he seemingly falls deeper and deeper into the world of dark magic and Satanic rituals. Before things gets too devilish, Nicholas and a friend manage to break Simon and a young woman named Tanith free from the devil-worshipping group. Of course, it doesn’t just end there, as Nicholas and company actually interrupt a ritual where the Devil himself actually appears!
The group ends up being followed by the leader of the cult, Mocata (played magnificently by Charles Gray), who just so happens to be psychically linked to Simon and Tanith. Mocata offers the two initiates a chance to come back to the group on their own but when they refuse and Mocata is met with opposition by Nicholas and his friend, Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene), all Hell literally breaks loose.
The film is haunting, with a shrieking score and unnerving visuals throughout. Lee crushes it as Nicholas, a walking encyclopedia of the dark arts who protects his team with a gusto usually reserved for his villainous roles that made him such an iconic figure.
The film is visually stunning, with a color palette that holds up wonderfully well to this day. Speaking of modern day, the film also lends some inspiration to a number of recent films that showcase the ‘home invasion’ subgenre. From The Strangers to Funny Games to You’re Next , the idea of being violated and attacked in your home has been one that has chilled audiences for years.
Of course, the theme of Devil worship and the Devil attacking good people has been a story as old as the Bible itself and is still a powerful theme in horror films these days, too.
Paranormal Activity 3 may not have been the greatest film ever made but it has one of the creepiest scenes in recent horror cinema when we first run into the Devil-worshipping cult that is hellbent on serving their demon.
Black magic and horror go hand-in-hand and will always be intertwined in cinema, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of it done properly than The Devil Rides Out.