The Devil Rides Out is the latest restored Hammer classics to be released by StudioCanal on Blu-ray. Based on Dennis Wheatley’s novel, the film is considered to be one of Hammer studios the finest works. The story centres around a group of friends who meet for a reunion, only to discover that one of their circle has fallen into the clutches of a satanic cult. It features a intelligent screenplay by Richard Matheson and strong performances by Christopher Lee and Charles Gray. Unfortunately, the films poor box office returns outside of the UK, meant that the studio declined to make any further adventures of the Duc de Richleau.
What makes The Devil Rides Out so enjoyable is its brooding atmosphere, period charm and luxurious production design. It encapsulates all the finest qualities of Hammer studios. It may not be particularly shocking or horrific by today’s standards but it certainly has an unsettling ambience to it. This is a story from a time when the UK was still a predominantly Christian nation and the notion of ones immortal soul being in peril was a tangible as the threat of violence. Unfortunately, due to budgetary restrictions and technical limitations, the movies visual effects work does look somewhat dated.
Because of this very issue, during the restoration of the optical elements from The Devil Rides Out, it was decided to enhance certain sequences, to bring them in line with the original vision of Hammer and director Terence Fisher. Matte lines have been removed and colour regraded on composite shots. More controversially some footage has been added or replaced. The spider sequence now includes holy water being splashed and the lightning strike on the satanic alter has been more convincingly recreated. The most notable change is the additional lighting to the arrival of the Angel of Death. A back-light has been added to Death’s entrance into the library and when he removes his mask, a flaming blue background has replaced the original black.
I have a great love for Hammer films and am very supportive in StudioCanals undertaking to restore so many of these classics. I therefore do not wish to be sidetracked by a debate of the rights or wrongs of these enhancements. However, I do feel that it was a mistake not to include an original print of the movie on this particular Blu-ray release. The new effects work could easily have been included via seamless branching. Let us hope that StudioCanal listen to fans and reflect on the debate that has arisen. Overall this is the finest presentation of The Devil Rides Out we are ever likely to see. It still has much to offer both fans who know and love the film as well as those who have yet to discover it.