Chrisopher Lee was undoubtedly British horror studio Hammer Films’s most popular and versatile performer. Well, perhaps versatile isn’t quite the word for it—even though Lee was equally effective in roles on either side of the good-evil dichotomy, he seemed uninterested in the territory of ambiguity. And again, that’s too hasty a judgment, because there is something truly subversive about Lee’s intense way of bringing similar qualities to roles of both virtue and vice. Fully capable of playing self-righteous Christian soldiers with the most granite of jaws as well as embodying the honeyed seductiveness of evil incarnate, Lee demonstrated how most continuums are less like straight lines with good and evil situated as far as possible from each other, but rather like a circle where extreme behavior is actually closest to exactly the thing it hates. Take The Devil Rides Out, where Lee plays the Duc de Richleau, a modern day warrior-saint against a cult of Satanists (led by the always silken Charles Gray) out to ensnare his surrogate son Simon. From the first scene, where de Richleau arrives to meet their mutual friend, the skeptical Rex Van Ryn, at an airstrip, Lee seems to be sniffing out the evil. Arriving at Simon’s mansion that evening, his eyes are immediately drawn to the astrology observatory. When his suspicions are confirmed (the group of pagans have gathered in the living room and Simon begs the Duc and Van Ryn to call on him another evening because they are interrupting his “society meeting”), Lee books it to the observatory and almost instinctively knows where to find the sacrificial roosters. “I’d rather you were dead than fooling around with this,” he growls to Simon, in full-blown moral outrage. Not to downplay the top-notch work of Hammer’s premiere auteur Terence Fisher (who turns the centerpiece “circle” sequence into an endless nightmare of atmosphere, suggested evil and, finally, terrifying manifestations) and the smoothly structured script by famed genre novelist Richard Matheson, but Lee’s performance pushes The Devil Rides Out from being merely one of Hammer’s better films into the territory of horror classic.
- 20th Century Fox
- 95 min
- Terence Fisher
- Richard Matheson
- Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: