A splendid example of Hammer Films operating at the height of their powers, The Devil Rides Out - released as The Devil's Bride in the U.S. to avoid being confused for a western - is pure class all the way. Elegantly directed by Terence Fisher, it features a fine script by ace horror scribe Richard Matheson (based on the somewhat forgotten but once famous novel by Dennis Wheatley), and stars one of the horror genre's biggest stars, Christopher Lee, in a role he has long claimed as a personal favorite. The Devil Rides Out wasn't a big hit at the box office and isn't nearly as well known as it should be, but it regularly appears near the top of most fan polls of Hammer's best movies. It's certainly an unusual sort of film compared to the studio's typical Gothic horror output, set as it is in the late 1920s world of art deco and English country estates, and revolving around black magic amidst a group of decadent Satanists. It's also unusual for giving the imposing Lee, so often typecast as villains (to memorable effect, it must be said), a chance to doff his Dracula cape and fangs and fight on the side of the angels for a change.
The films opens with a bang and scarcely pauses for breath as it hurtles headlong through its story. Once every year, veterans of the Great War and ex-members of the Lafayette Escadrille, Nicholas, the Duc de Richleau (Lee) and Rex van Ryn (Leon Greene) meet up with Simon (Patrick Mower), the son of their dead wartime friend, for a celebratory dinner. No sooner has Rex landed his biplane upon the green swards of southern England and joined de Richleau in his expensive roadster than he finds out that this time, Simon has cancelled their heretofore unbreakable tradition for mysterious reasons. De Richleau and Rex decide to pay an impromptu call on Simon at the country estate he's recently had built for him outside London. Upon their arrival, the pair discover that an odd sort of party appears to be in progress. Simon gives them a halfheartedly warm welcome but is obviously nervous about their presence, and it doesn't take long for the Duc to suss out what's really going on - Simon's got himself mixed up with a bunch of Satan worshippers, led by the suavely sinister Mocata (Charles Gray). For his part, the stalwart but skeptical Rex finds himself entranced by another party guest, an otherworldly Continental beauty known as Tanith (Nike Arrighi).
Visitors to this humble blog may have noted a dearth of content of late. The fact of the matter is, things have been pretty crazy here around the Stalking Moon premises. Not only has the day job been at its busiest peak, we've also been dealing with the nervous tension and stress created by our 8-month-old son going through heart surgery, leaving me with very little enthusiasm or energy to write. Now that our boy is through the worst of it and is recovering nicely (thank God), I've regained some of my usual vim and vigor, and realized that I couldn't let the end of May pass without saying a few words about those three icons of horror cinema, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price.
Even those who don't much care for the horror genre will likely recognize the above three names. But what many might not be aware of is that all three men were not only great friends in real life, but also were born within the same two days of each other (in fact, Cushing and Lee were both born on the same day). Being as 2013 marks Peter Cushing's 100th birthday, I thought I'd celebrate this momentous occasion by spending a little time talking about some of these three fellows' most memorable performances, both the ones everyone remembers them for, as well as a few gems perhaps less well-known than they deserve to be.
“The remake of a classic may be worth everybody's while. The sequels rarely are. I never had any sense of embarrassment over the first Dracula nor The Face of Fu Manchu...alas, in the follow-ups to both there was much to make me look shifty and suck my paws. Knowing this, I nevertheless repeated each character many times over. I did so because they were my livelihood." (1)
~ Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee, no matter his roles in prestige productions like The Three Musketeers, The Man with the Golden Gun or, more recently, in the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars franchises, will forever be associated with his most famous role - Count Dracula. But in the 1960s, Lee was also busy playing another famous villain – Sax Rohmer's evil Chinese mastermind, Dr. Fu Manchu. It was a part Lee played in 5 films, and similarly to the Dracula series, but in a much more pronounced fashion, the early films started strong but each sequel brought an incremental drop in quality. Generally speaking, the Hammer Dracula films all have something good going for them and are beloved by horror fans to this day. This can't really be said for most of the Fu Manchu films (the abysmal last two of which were directed by infamous Eurocult figure Jess Franco), although Lee himself was happy with the first film, The Face of Fu Manchu, a well-produced, lively action thriller with plenty of period flavor and a good cast.
The most well-known of all “Yellow Peril” novels, the Rohmer Fu Manchu series ran to 13 titles published between 1912-1959. The books are speedy, very readable pulp thrillers but are definitely products of their time. The Face of Fu Manchu takes some of the best elements of the books and puts them up on screen.
The film opens in China with master criminal Fu Manchu (Lee) being marched out to his execution under the watchful eyes of his arch-nemesis, Sir Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard (Nigel Green). A few months later, once Smith has returned to London, he begins to sense Fu Manchu's hand in a series of strange deaths and abductions centered around the River Thames. It seems Fu Manchu is very much alive and, together with his sadistic daughter, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin), and assorted henchmen, is once more up to no good.
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