The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Sometimes you just have a strong urge to go with something that is at once new and familiar. That's when I usually plug in something from Universal, Troma, or Hammer. In this particular instance, I picked the latter company, and the film I chose, The Devil Rides Out, proved to be a startlingly fresh and exciting flick.
The Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) and his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) find their annual reunion dampened by the non-arrival of a third party, the young Simon. This terrible faux pas is compounded when the two discover that they've been blown off in favor of a Satanic mass. Now occultist Richleau and skeptic Van Ryn must work to save Simon from the thrall of black magician Mocata (Charles Gray, who never looks right without a cigarette holder clenched between his teeth).
Lee gets a chance to play against type and is marvelously striking. He cuts quite the imposing, heroic figure when allowed. That wondrously deep voice of his is put to excellent use, adding layers of command and urgency to every word.
Lee couldn't be in better hands. Terence Fisher, arguably the best director Hammer ever used, effectively splashes good against evil in a tremendous battle with the very souls of the combatants at stake. His fast-moving chase sequences are a highlight, but Lee and company's trials with a Circle of Protection are the most gripping parts.
If this seems quite unlike anything Hammer's done, with no Gothic monsters out of 19th-Century texts, there's a reason. Richard Matheson, who previous to this had written several of Roger Corman's Poe movies, turned his attentions across the seas and wrote a brilliant, literate script - one full of twists, turns, and unexpected happenings.
Easily the best film out of Hammer's transitional period (from high-energy classics to low-brow entertainment), The Devil Rides Out is perfects for all of the studio's enthusiasts.
Re-titled to The Devil's Bride for US release, because The Devil Rides Out sounded too much like a Western. I don't make this stuff up, folks.