by Marco Tremble
This film was the first of Hammer’s two Dennis Wheatley adaptations and also has another important first for a Hammer movie. It is the first and only Hammer where regular leading man Christopher Lee plays the hero in the form of the Duc de Richleau, ex-world war one fighter pilot and and expert on the occult. In this foray into the darkness Mr. Lee is accompanied by another British leading man more known for his singing voice than his horror roles, Leon Greene better known to fans of “Comedy Tonight” as Miles Gloriosus from A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. As well as a very young Patrick Mower and Paul Eddington who is better known for his roles in The Good Life and Yes Minister on TV.
The script is adapted for this black magic romp by Richard Matheson, better known for his novels “I Am Legend” and “A Stir of Echoes” as well as his work scripting Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations starring horror stalwart Vincent Price and the film itself is directed by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher who is responsible for some of their more interesting vampire romps (notably the original Dracula). The movie is in itself nothing more than the story of darkness versus light, good against evil, but not in the usual Hammer vein as there are no vampires in sight, no Ingrid Pitt with her heaving cleavage (more’s the pity!!). This is the primeval battle of Satan against God, with Satan being represented by the ever suave Charles Gray in wonderful charming, yet menacing form as Mocata and the aforementioned Christopher Lee as his nemesis played with gusto and vigor.
Devil is solidly filmed and well acted as well as being steered on course by Matheson’s script and Fisher’s direction and is only ever truly let down by the shoddy 60’s special effects that reminds you of the worst of the Star Trek episodes. As I have mentioned, for the most part the cast are as good as it gets for the late 60’s with only possibly Patrick Mower letting the side down slightly, but we can forgive him when his character remains rather undeveloped. And if the story itself never truly moves at break neck speed, neither does it plod along, which makes this Hammer classic one of the more engaging ones from their stable along with their original Dracula and Brides of Dracula. It also never treats the viewer as an idiot as some of the so called modern horror films do relying on shocks and gore to scare, but instead makes some attempt to bring some intellectuality to it with out making it ridiculous.
In essence, this is a Hammer gem to be cherished along with some of their earlier efforts; intelligent, well filmed and well lead by messieurs Lee, Greene and Gray! But if you’re expecting blondes and breasts this is the wrong Hammer for you. You’d be better off with Lust for a Vampire or Twins of Evil which. let’s face it. while being entertaining, are inferior.