Release Date(s)1968 (October 29, 2019)
Studio(s)Hammer Film Productions/Seven Arts Productions/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B+
Off many modern Hammer enthusiast’s radars due to the dominance of the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mummy films, The Devil Rides Out (released as The Devil’s Bride in the US) was also not a large hit when it originally premiered. Initially dismissed by critics, it was later re-evaluated and many now consider it to be one of the legendary studio’s best efforts overall.
Set in the early twentieth century, Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) and his friend Rex (Leon Greene) pay a visit to their mutual friend Simon (Patrick Mower), whom they’ve discovered is dabbling in black magic. Duc, a man with vast knowledge of the occult, is convinced that a coven of devil worshippers have chosen Simon, as well as a young woman named Tanith (Niké Arrighi), to be baptized into following the rule of Satan. Their leader, the sinister Mocata (Charles Gray), will do anything to carry out these plans, including bending the will of those around him. It’s now up to Duc and Rex to resist Mocata’s psychic draw and destroy both him and his brethren.
Adopted from the Dennis Wheatley novel by the late, great Richard Matheson, The Devil Rides Out was a project that Christopher Lee had to convince Hammer to eventually make due to its Satanic subject matter. Terence Fisher, who by this point was Hammer’s most utilized director (executing both The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, among many others), helmed the project while James Bernard (The Quatermass Xperiment and Plague of the Zombies) provided an excellent musical score.
The film is certainly off the beaten path for a studio that made its money primarily on struggles with supernatural beings—but with a bit of cleavage and crimson thrown in for good measure. It wastes no time, getting to the plot right away without any mystery whatsoever. Duc and Rex are almost like a pair of policemen, heroically facing off against Mocata (who is modeled somewhat on Aleister Crowley) with the lines between good and evil clearly drawn. Although the film lacks many of the obvious horror tropes of the period, it delivers in terms of story, offering a fresh approach to what could have been much more perfunctory in other hands. The notion that The Devil Rides Out is the best of Hammer’s vast and expansive oeuvre is definitely one worth merit.
The Devil Rides Out comes to Blu-ray in its intended aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with a transfer sourced from a new 2K scan of the US interpositive element (carrying the title The Devil’s Bride). It’s a far better presentation than its UK counterpart (more on that in a minute) with solid grain levels and excellent clarity. There’s also strong depth and texturing on objects, clothing, and faces. The matte and process shots stand out more than ever, showing off a spike in softness, but high levels of fine detail are on full display elsewhere. It’s also extremely colorful with bold swatches of red, green, pink, and purple, as well as natural flesh tones. Blacks are deep with abundant shadow detail, particularly on costumes, and overall brightness and contrast levels are ideal. It’s also a stable and clean presentation aside from minor speckling.
Also included in the extras is the StudioCanal restoration of the film from 2012 with visual and special effects that have been added or altered. It too is presented in 1.66:1, but is a much different experience. Grain is less refined, even chunky, while shadow detail suffers due to crushed blacks. It offers less clarity while contrast is much lower comparatively. The altered effects don’t add much, though the processed driving shots do appear slightly more natural.
The audio for both transfers is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The U.S. version is extremely narrow with dialogue that’s a tad too quiet at times, though not always. Sound effects exhibit very little impact while James Bernard’s score has the most power behind it. The track is free of hiss, but a couple of thumps and a tiny bit of crackle during a dialogue exchange in one scene is all the leftover damage there is to notice. The StudioCanal version’s audio is much louder and fuller, and is actually the better listening experience. A shame that it couldn’t be grafted onto the US version.
Also included is a fine extras package:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr, and Richard Christian Matheson
- Audio Commentary with Christopher Lee and Sarah Lawson, Moderated by Marcus Hearn
- Satanic Shocks: Kim Newman Recalls The Devil Rides Out (HD – 29:59)
- Folk Horror Goes Haywire: Jonathan Rigby on The Devil Rides Out (HD – 24:08)
- Black Magic: The Making of The Devil Rides Out (HD – 34:59)
- Dennis Wheatley at Hammer (HD – 13:14)
- The World of Hammer: Hammer – Narrated by Oliver Reed (SD – 25:53)
- UK and US Trailers (SD – 5:02)
- Image Gallery (HD – 4:37)
The audio commentary featuring authors and film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr provides plenty of contextual information about the film and its cast and crew, as well as its screenwriter Richard Matheson. The vintage audio commentary moderated by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn is fascinating as Christopher Lee is clearly well-versed in the occult and eager to speak about it. Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby’s interviews are as informative as the audio commentaries, but also provide further critique and analysis. The Black Magic documentary features interviews with Richard Matheson, Marcus Hearn, author Denis Meikle, Jonathan Rigby, author Phil Baker, children of special effects supervisor Michael Stainer-Hutchins – Kiffy and Dan Stainer-Hutchins, actor and writer Mark Gatiss, actor Patrick Mower, and author and film music historian David Huckvale. The Dennis Wheatley at Hammer segment features Phil Baker, Jonathan Rigby, and Marcus Hearn. The animated image gallery contains 62 on-set photos, promotional stills, posters, lobby cards, and promotional materials. The cover artwork is also reversible with the original US art on the one side and the French art on the other.
A couple of things are missing from other releases of the film overseas, including the Region 2 Japanese DVD, which features the Christopher Lee episode of The World of Hammer, and the Region B StudioCanal Blu-ray, which features The Power of Light: Restoring The Devil Rides Out featurette. The StudioCanal Blu-ray also includes the film’s soundtrack in 1.0 LPCM.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of The Devil Rides Out is a welcome addition as it’s debuting in the US for the first time. The audio could have used additional tweaking, but the video and bonus materials provide hours of value.
– Tim Salmons