Author Dennis Wheatley was expelled from Dulwich College for allegedly forming a “secret society,” which is pretty awesome and hilarious. He was also gassed while serving in World War One and then went on to coordinate strategic military deception and cover plans during World War Two, during which he earned a direct commission in the JP Service as a Wing Commander and took part in the plans for the Normandy invasions. After the war, he was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star.
After his second book, The Forbidden Territory, he decided to write a book about black magic. A friend introduced him to Aleister Crowley, the Reverend Montague Summers and Rollo Ahmed, which led to The Devil Rides Out. In the years after this novel, Wheatley became known as an expert on came to be considered an expert on the paranormal.
He was so popular for this that in the 70s, there was even The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, a series of books that he selected and wrote the introductions for, including books by Crowley, Bram Stoker, H. P. Blavatsky, Maurice Magre, Isaac Bonewits and Cheiro.
This was one of Christopher Lee’s favorite movies — he’s a heroic character, which is rare for him — and would say in interviews that Wheatley was so pleased with the movie that he gave the actor a first edition of the book.
The Devil Rides Out doesn’t dance around the issue as to whether or not. the devil exists. Lee’s Duc de Richleau character — who appeared in eleven of Wheatley’s novels — doesn’t just fight occultists. He comes up against the literal Goat of Mendes called Baphomet and the Angel of Death for real.
This movie also presents Christianity as the ultimate destroyer of evil, so if you get upset by the Conjuring films and how they simplistically make the battle of heaven and hell white and black, well…this movie goes even further. Wheatley believed all of these things and even saw Communism as a force from Hell.
If you only know Charles Gray from Rocky Horror, let me tell you, he’s great in this movie. I love every single minute of this film. His character of Mocata was based on Crowley in the book, in which he was seeking to start an occult magic world war with a mummified penis called the Talisman of Set. Obviously, that is not in the film.
While Simon and Tanith were played by Patrick Mower and Nike Arrighi in the film, the roles were originally going to be given to Roddy McDowall and Linda Evans. Sadly, McDowall had to pull out at the last minute to take care of his ailing friend Louise Brooks, who was suffering from emphysema and arthritis.
Directed by Terence Fisher from a script by Ricard Matheson, I’d say this is in the top ten of Hammer’s output.