Based upon Dennis Wheatley’s occult classic, The Devil Rides Out is one of Hammer’s – and Christopher Lee’s – finest moments! Deeply unsettling and serious in tone, this is a far spell from the usual gothic fairytale produce that Hammer Films are known for.

Set in the South of England in the 1930’s (Wheatley wrote the novel in 1934), the story focuses on the Duc de Richleau (C. Lee), who has been trusted with the care of his deceased friend’s son, Simon Aron (Patrick Mower). Baffled by the fact that he hasn’t heard from Simon for some time, Richleau and his friend Rex van Rijn (Leon Greene) decide to pay Simon an unannounced visit at his country estate, only to gatecrash a rather strange party with even stranger guests. Simon insists that his guests are members of some astrological society and that this is a private gathering, but Richleau is not fooled easily. Demanding to take a look at the telescope in one of the upper rooms, he notices mysterious symbols and a pentagram drawing on the floor. When he furthermore discovers two chickens hidden away in a cupboard, he rightly concludes that Simon and his friends are involved in the occult and are practitioners of black magic.

While Richleau tries in vain to persuade Simon to distance himself from the group, van Rijn falls for one of the guests, the young and attractive Tanith Carlisle (Nike Arrighi). Both Simon and Tanith have yet to be officially initiated as members of the group, which is lead by the sinister Mocata (Charles Gray) who has a psychic connection to the pair. Having failed to talk sense into either of the two would-be initiates, Richleau and van Rijn follow the group to a secret place where the ceremony is to be carried out. After much magical mumbo jumbo and driving each and every worshipper into a frenzied state of ecstasy, finally the goat of Mendes (otherwise known as the Devil) appears. Looking utterly vile being cloven hoofed, horned and with a goat’s face, it is one of the film’s most disturbing moments, though there are many more to come!

Richleau and his friend manage to sabotage the initiation ritual, and together with the befuddled Tanith and Simon they escape to the house of Richleau’s friend Richard Eaton (Paul Eddington). Shortly after, Mocata appears and – trying to hypnotise the lady of the house to find out Simon’s and Tanith’s whereabouts – has to give up eventually. Before he is asked to leave, however, he threateningly announces that “he won’t be back tonight, but something will”. Indeed, hell-bent on destroying Richleau and his interfering friends, Mocata forces Richleau and his friends to defend themselves inside a magical diagram, where they have to ward off (arachnophobes beware!) a gigantic ghastly spider - as well as the second demonic apparition, the Angel Of Death itself. If that scene doesn’t make your blood freeze then I don’t know what does.
Galled that his evil plan has failed yet again, Mocata manages to kidnap the Eaton’s little girl, Peggy, thus setting the scene for the movie’s dramatic climax…

Filmed in 1968, The Devil Rides Out was made at a time when occult and magic were still in fashion, before it all went up in smoke with the end of the hippie era. In fact, one might argue that it came to a (literally) bloody end with the Manson murders in 1969.

The cast are terrific, but the movie belongs to Christopher Lee (here against his usual villainous roles) and to Charles Gray. While Lee’s character still manages to exude authority and a certain icy aloofness, Gray’s ‘Mocata’ is pending between pure evil and smug dandy.

The film is available fully restored (even the opening credits look glorious!), and available as Blu-ray/DVD double play. Both discs feature an array of bonus material such as ‘Black Magic: The making off…’, ‘Dennis Wheatley at Hammer’, ‘World of Hammer’, as well as various audio commentaries with some of the stars, and Hammer experts cum fans Marcus Hearn, Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss (and yes, that’s the Mark Gatiss).