The Duc de Richleau discovers that his young friend Simon Aaron has fallen in with a Satanic cult led by the sinister Mocata. The Duc and his friends try to rescue Simon, but Mocata summons up the forces of darkness to get revenge.
A spirited bit of demon‑busting, with a solid Richard Matheson script that streamlines Dennis Wheatley's once‑popular but deeply stodgy novel into a pacy occult thriller, this is a more ambitious effort than the average Hammer horror film.
Christopher Lee is cast against type in the Van Helsing role of the heroic, authoritarian goateed wise man who clashes with Charles Gray’s suave, sneaky Satanist. Set in the 1920s rather than the 1880s, it has a Bulldog Drummond touch as heroes dash about the home counties in period cars while decadent aristocrats worship the goat‑headed one in decorous mass rituals.
The exotic-looking Nike Arrighi is Tanith, predestined to be groped and stabbed on the black altar by the villain, and there’s an early example of the revoked plot development as she is killed, then resurrected when white magic rolls back time to provide a happy ending. Terence Fisher, the most prolific of Hammer's in-house directors, does especially well underlining the religious aspects of the epic conflict. As often happened, an inadequate but heroic hunk (Leon Greene) was dubbed by voice‑of‑all‑work Patrick Allen, but the two-fisted secondary hero still spends most of the film being patronised or shouted at (‘you fool, Rex!’) by the pompous Duc.
In an unforgettable climax, the heroes (including Sarah Lawson and a young Paul Eddington) huddle in a mystic circle while demon entities rage all around and Lee barks out magic gibberish (‘the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual’) to see off the skull-headed Fourth Horseman. Also known as The Devil’s Bride.
With the classic team of Lee and Hammer Horror you know this is set to be a classic whether for being good or even being bad. Thankfully it most definitely falls into the former category, with Lee giving a memorable and unusual performance as the sorcerer, the hero of the film.