13 Days till Hallowe’en and the Devil Rides Out

We’ve entered into the sublime swell of telluric energies that rise during this, the season of the witch. Thirteen glorious days out from All Hallow’s Eve and the esoteric influx of eldritch sorceries are nearing their zenith…

Today I’d like to spotlight two items that are, in a sense, a single thing. I draw now your attention from the mundane world about you and entreat your assiduity be turned toward one of the premiere examples of the occult detective genre — The Devil Rides Out.

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Dennis Wheatley was a prolific author, to say the least. Heralded as “The Prince of Thriller Writers”, I favored his “Black Magic / Duke de Richleau” novels, of course, but Wheatley’s work as a whole were brilliantly well-paced. I chewed through them as a boy and still hold a fond place in my heart for them.

Yes, they’re stuffy and so very British, but that’s part of their charm.

As for what I consider his finest work, The Devil Rides Out, written by Dennis Wheatley in 1934, is a sordid tale of black magic and the occult. While it is a product of its time, I believe it still holds up and has a captivating allure, even now.

It helped considerably that Wheatley got on quite well with Aleister Crowley and, it should come as no surprise, the Beast bears more than a passing resemblance to the novel’s antagonist Mocata.

 

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As much as I love the novel, however, the film adaptation of The Devil Rides Out is really something special. It aired on Turner Classic Movies last night and, once again, I could not look away. Christopher Lee as Duke de Richleau is not only brilliant casting, but is easily Lee’s finest performance, and that’s saying a lot.

“Director Terence Fisher has a ball with this slice of black magic, based on the Dennis Wheatley novel. He has built up a suspenseful pic, with several tough highlights, and gets major effect by playing the subject dead straight and getting similar serious performances from his capable cast. Christopher Lee is for once on the side of the goodies.” — Variety

If you’ve not seen it, you should make a point of immersing yourself in The Devil Rides Out. It holds with me a rather curious distinction, shared only by Angel Heart, in that it is a movie that surpasses its source material despite said material being near brilliant.

It is an inspiring film, heavy handed at times, but a delight to the senses. It draws from the novel, capturing its frantic pacing, but is able to frame the narrative through Lee’s performance in such a way that elevates the material even further.

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