There I was, looking at Facebook. Among all the pictures of cats, clever memes about drinking wine, and pictures of what people had for dinner, a friend of mine from Britain put in his status that he was watching what he thought was the greatest horror movie ever made. The movie is called The Devil Rides Out. I must confess I never heard of it. Then I did some research on it. First, I found out Christopher Lee is in it [so far, things are looking pretty good]. Then I found out it was made by Hammer Films [Woo hood! Where do I find it?]. How could it be there was a Hammer horror film I'd never seen? I love Hammer films! Hammer films had style- they were melodramatic, very colorful, pretty gory [lots of blood], and more often than not featured scantily-clad women with plunging necklines. They had their own repertory company - you often saw the same people in many different movies [like what John Ford did with his westerns]. What's not to like?
The plot - Christopher Lee is Nicholas, Duc de Richleau. He and his longtime friend Rex Van Ryn are getting together for a yearly reunion with their much-younger friend, Simon Anon. When they drop in at Simon's home, they find him entertaining 13 guests. Among the guests are a snooty French countess, an Italian girl named Tanith, and an older guy named Mocata [Charles Gray]. Simon joined an 'astronomical society,' but Nicholas suspects something is amiss. His suspicions are confirmed when Simon asks Nicholas and Rex to leave. But before they leave Nicholas asks to see Simon's telescope. Once in the house's observatory, Nicholas notices a strange decorative scheme on the floor [including a goat's head] and two live chickens locked away in a closet. To Nicholas this means only one thing - Simon has fallen in with the wrong crowd and is practicing black magic. Nicholas knows quite a bit about the occult, so he knows it when he sees it. What happens in the rest of the movie is a fight between good [Nicholas and Rex] and evil [Mr. Mocata] over the souls of both Simon Aron and young Miss Tanith.
Mr. Mocata is some kind of high priest in a Satanic cult. He has quite the mental hold over both Simon and Tanith, both of whom are to get some kind of Satanic baptism into his cult. Mocata has been practicing the dark arts for a long time and has quite a following. But time is short for the cult. They have to do the Satanic baptism before the end of the Grand Sabot of the Year, which in the movies is two days hence. Despite the efforts of Nicholas and Rex, Simon and Tanith get away from them to participate in a ritual to bring them into the cult. During the ritual, there's a goat sacrifice, drinking of the dead goat's blood, and lots of really bad dancing by English white people. Mocata then summoned Baphomet. Nicholas and Rex saw the whole thing. Richlieu referred to Baphomet as the "Goat of Mendes - the Devil himself." So, for the record the Devil is a white guy with the head of a goat. But our two heroes broke up the ritual and spirited Simon and Tanith away to the house of Nicholas' niece Marie.
The morning after the aborted ceremony Mocata pays a visit to Marie's house. He tries to persuade Marie to hand over Simon and Tanith to him. She refuses, so Mocata uses his own powers to get Tanith to kill Rex, and Simon to kill Marie's husband. Were it not for Marie's daughter Peggy interrupting Mocata's concentration they would have succeeded. Mocata leaves empty-handed, but promises Marie that 'something else' would be back to retrieve Simon and Tanith. But once darkness fell that night, Nicholas and the others [Marie, Simon and Marie's husband] withstand a night's worth of black magic unleashed by Mocata. Tanith ran away, Rex caught up with her and stayed away from the house. Tanith was Mocata's medium through whom he worked his magic. They endured a really big tarantula, and the Angel of Death himself. But thanks to Nicholas the Angel of Death went away without retrieving a soul. Tanith died, but the Angel didn't get her. The other four survived the night in the house, only to find out that Mocata kidnapped Marie's daughter Peggy. Simon went after Peggy to try to get her back. Nicholas puts Marie in a trance, and summons Tanith's spirit to speak through Marie. Nicholas gets Tanith to tell them Peggy's approximate location, a place where "a winged serpent was guarding the way." Rex knew of such a place, and the group headed there to rescue Peggy.
When they broke into the house, they came upon another Satanic ritual. Only this time, instead of a goat Mocata intended to sacrifice Peggy. Marie sees her unconscious daughter lying on an altar, with Mocata just waiting to drain her blood. But somehow Marie turns supernatural and gets Peggy to recite Nicholas' incantation [major plot hole here - how did she do that? Nicholas didn't do it, and he's the magic man. Just sayin'...]. Mocata's demonic temple becomes a church - Mocata and all his followers are gone. At that moment the good guys are transported back to Marie's house and back in time to before Tanith's death and Peggy's abduction. Nicholas had said before that once summoned, the Angel of Death couldn't return empty-handed. Who went back with him? That would be Mocata. Since he summoned the Angel, he paid the penalty. And the rest lived happily ever after...
Christopher Lee got to play the hero for once. He has a lot to do in this film, and it's no wonder that this is his favorite Hammer film. Charles Gray is a very convincing villain Mocata. The Devil Rides Out is much different from Hammer's usual fare of monsters, mad scientists and vampire hunters. It is a must-see for every Hammer fan. Thank you Bruce Hamilton - this was a great find.