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Terence Fisher
Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi
Richard Matheson

Devil worshipers plan to convert two new victims.

Rated G.

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $27.99
Release Date: 10/29/19

• Audio Commentary with Film Historians Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman and Screenwriter's Son Richard Christian Matheson
• Audio Commentary with Actors Christopher Lee and Sarah Lawson
• Alternate Version of Film
• “Kim Newman Recalls” Featurette
• “Jonathan Rigby on The Devil Rides Out” Featurette
• “Black Magic” Featurette
• “Dennis Wheatley At Hammer” Featurette
• “World of Hammer” Episode
• Trailers
• Image Gallery


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The Devil Rides Out [Blu-Ray] (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 14, 2019)

Given its title, 1968’s The Devil Rides Out could offer either a Western or a horror film. A release from the Hammer studio, it takes the latter approach.

When a good friend dies, suave Nicholas, the Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), agrees to become the guardian of his pal’s son Simon Aron (Patrick Mower). Nicholas’s buddy Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) – also a friend of Simon’s father – meets up with both to assist.

Alas, it turns out Simon pursues a dark path, one that lands him in cahoots with a satanic cult. When Nicholas tries to rescue Simon from this group, he finds himself the target of their leader Mocata (Charles Gray), a figure bent on his death.

Well, all that sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Alas, little real drama emerges in the campy, silly Devil.

The film finds itself at an immediate deficit because of its release date. 1968 also boasted Rosemary’s Baby, an infinitely superior tale of a satanic cult.

Of course, it’s no shame to fail to match up with a classic like that, but this chronological juxtaposition nonetheless reminds us more actively of Devil’s flaws. Compared to the dark tension of Baby, Devil can’t help but seem goofy.

Even if I forget I ever saw the Polanski film, Devil simply lacks much energy. We spend an awful lot of time with characters who lurk in bushes, and attempts at terror fail to hit the mark.

The goat-headed demon of the title just looks like some dope in a fake head, and the movie seems restricted by its “G” rating. Granted, a “G” in 1968 allowed for racier material than the badly watered-down “G” of 2019, but it still limits the explicit nature of the film.

Given the subject matter, that becomes a real issue. A tale that involves satanic orgies needs to show some reasonably graphic content to work, so the tame nature of Devil robs it of potential power.

It doesn’t help that so much of the film seems to revolve around grousing and arguing among the characters. Every once in a while, the movie throws some action or attempted horror our way, but most of it feels oddly dialogue-driven.

I suspect budgetary limitations restricted how much the filmmakers could do with the material. Without the funds to give the imagery the impact it needs, we find ourselves stuck with characters who mainly describe the terror.

That just doesn’t work, not even with a dominating cinematic presence like Lee in tow. Along with Gray’s spooky villain, Devil shows promise at times, but this chatty horror fable feels too silly and talky to succeed.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

The Devil Rides Out appears in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This felt like a dated but decent presentation.

Sharpness usually seemed positive. Mild softness occasionally crept into wide shots, but the majority of the film showed fairly nice clarity and accuracy.

I saw no jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. Print flaws also created only minor concerns, as I saw occasional small specks and nothing else. These did get more prominent as the film progressed, though.

Devil opted for a natural palette, with an emphasis on blues and browns. A few more dynamic hues occasionally emerged, but these dominated. The transfer replicated these hues in a pleasing manner.

Blacks were pretty dark and deep, while shadows seemed acceptable, albeit a bit dense at times. All in all, the image held up reasonably well over the last 51 years.

Devil came with a wholly mediocre DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack. Speech tended to seem somewhat distant and bland, without great naturalism, though the lines remained fully intelligible.

Music showed more oomph, but this also meant a shrill quality at times. Effects followed suit, as they tended to be lackluster and occasionally a little distorted. For its age, the track was acceptable but it never became better than meh.

A slew of extras appear here, and we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from film historians Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman and screenwriter’s son Richard Christian Matheson, all of whom sit together to discuss the source novel and its adaptation, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and production design, music, and related topics.

With Matheson in tow, it comes as no surprise that story/script areas dominate, and those become fairly interesting. We get a pretty good overview of the original novel and changes made for the screen.

Otherwise, the commentary tends to feel more like an appreciation of the film than a historical view of it. While we find some useful notes at times, the overall impression remains lackluster.

For the second commentary, we hear from actors Christopher Lee and Sarah Lawson. Along with moderator Marcus Hearn, all three sit together for a running, screen-specific look at the story, cast and crew, and experiences during the shoot.

Don’t expect much valuable content here. Lee tends to lecture us about Satanism and myths, and he also talks a lot about how great a modern remake with superior visual effects would be.

Lawson seems most concerned with what cast/crew remains alive, and both actors also often describe the movie’s story. Hearn occasionally tosses in some production notes, but we don’t learn much in this dull commentary.

The disc provides an alternate release of Devil, though oddly, the menu simply refers to it as 1.66:1. Since the “main” version also uses 1.66:1 framing, this appellation makes no sense.

The “main” Devil runs 95:43, whereas the alternate one goes 96:08. I don’t think any actual content differences occur, though, as the longer time for the alternate version seems to stem from added pre-credits logos/disclaimers at the start.

The alternate Devil offers updated visual effects in a few occasions. For instance, framing shots at the mansion now come with moving clouds, whereas the original lacked any background information. Other shots correct clunky elements like matte lines.

These changes make Devil a smoother experience but not a better one. I actually prefer the warts and all original, if just because I’m not wild about tampering after the fact. Still, it’s nice to get the option to view the movie with updated visuals.

With Kim Newman Recalls The Devil Rides Out, the film historian provides a 29-minute, 59-second discussion of the source and its adaptation, cast and crew, other genre entries, and a critical view of Devil. Newman gives us a compelling, energetic look at the movie and connected efforts.

In a similar vein, Jonathan Rigby on The Devil Rides Out goes for 24 minutes, eight seconds and offers the author/critics thoughts about cast and crew, and Devil-related issues.

As our third discussion from a film historian, Rigby’s reel can feel a little redundant. Still, he brings details not found in the commentary or Newman’s featurette, so Rigby makes this worth a watch.

Next comes Black Magic: The Making of The Devil Rides Out, a 34-minute, 59-second piece with Rigby, screenwriter Richard Matheson, film historians Marcus Hearn and Denis Meikle, biographers David Huckvale and Phil Baker, special effects supervisor’s children Kiffy Stainer-Hutchins and Dan Stainer-Hutchins, actor/writer Mark Gatiss, and actor Patrick Mower.

“Making” covers the use of “black magic” in culture and at Hammer, the source novel and its move to the screen, story/screenplay areas, cast and performances, director Terence Fisher’s approach, music, and the movie’s reception.

As a general overview, “Making” works fine. Inevitably, it repeats some info from elsewhere, but it stands on its own well enough to deserve a viewing.

Dennis Wheatley At Hammer lasts 13 minutes, 14 seconds and brings notes from Baker, Rigby, and Hearn. As expected, we learn about adaptations of Wheatley’s novels by Horror. It’s a good little overview.

Part of an ongoing TV series, The World of Hammer fills 25 minutes, 53 seconds. It offers a compilation of scenes from various Hammer films.

If “World” came with information about the films, it might work. Oliver Reed’s narration provides some comments about Hammer history, but mainly he just introduces the snippets.

That’s a waste of time. As a repository of movie snippets, it seems like little more than a long advertisement.

In addition to two trailers, we get an Image Gallery. It features 62 stills that mainly focus on publicity shots and ads. Expect a decent compilation.

Apparently The Devil Rides Out enjoys a good reputation among genre fans, but I can’t quite figure out why. Beyond the enjoyable presence of Christopher Lee and Charles Gray, the movie lacks bite or drama. The Blu-ray comes with generally positive picture as well as mediocre audio and a nice array of bonus materials. Fans will enjoy this release but the movie does little for me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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