What would Halloween be without an appearance by the Devil? This Hammer classic is based on a book by Dennis Wheatley and is an exciting adventure story set in large country houses.
The aristocratic Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) meets his close friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) who has just returned from the Continent for a regular reunion. Rex asks about another friend Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) who he expected to be joining them and de Richleau tells him that Simon hasn’t been in touch for a while. He seems a bit concerned about this and about the fact that he’s bought a house.
They drive to Simon’s house, noting a large observatory on the roof, and get let in without too much trouble. There’s a bit of a party going on and when Simon sees them he paints a smile on his face and greets them. He tells them he’s joined an astronomical society and they are having an important meeting. Simon introduces them to some of the other guest including Mocata (Charles Gray) the leader of their group, the cross-eyed Countess and a young woman called Tanith Carlisle (Nike Arrighi) who seems to think they are members of the “society”. It’s clear that de Richleau already knows what’s going on and he knows Simon is going to ask them to leave. He takes the chance to wander around the room and eavesdrop on the various conversations. Just as de Richleau said Simon apologises and asks them to leave.
As he is showing them out de Richleau expresses an interest in astronomy and marches straight for the stairs up to the observatory. The place has decorations closer to astrology than astronomy and a design of a large goat’s head on the floor. De Richleau is clearly angry and when they hear an animal noise from a cupboard he open the door and opens the basket that in there. Inside there is a white hen and a black cockerel. Rex has no idea what’s going on but this confirms de Richleau’s suspicion that Simon has gotten involved with a Satanic Cult. He tries to reason with him and when that doesn’t work de Richleau punches him and knocks him out cold. They run out of the house and Rex carries Simon over his shoulder while de Richleau takes cares of a servant with a single punch.
They go to de Richleau’s place and he hypnotises Simon and gets his servant to put him to bed with a silver cross around his neck. De Richleau tries to convince Rex of the real danger Simon is in but Rex is sceptical. Not long after he’s put to bed Simon starts pulling at the cross round his neck like it’s choking him and he calls the servant to help him. The servant takes the cross down to de Richleau who runs back to his room and finds Simon has gone.
De Richleau and Rex go back to Simon’s house hoping that’s where he’s gone but there‘s no sign of anyone there. In the observatory they look for clues to where he‘s gone. Suddenly smoke issue from the nostril of the goat’s head on the floor and an evil apparition appears, grinning at them and drawing them in with its gaze. De Richleau tells Rex to look away from it but he‘s completely under its spell and in desperation de Richleau throws his silver cross at the apparition and it vanishes.
They go back to de Richleau’s house and while Rex sleeps on the couch de Richleau phones around the hotels in London to find where Tanith is staying They hope that by finding Tanith it will lead them to where Mocata has Simon. The next day is the Witches Sabbath and de Richleau is sure Mocato intends to initiate Simon into the cult that night so they have to find him before then. Rex goes to pick up Tanith in one of De Richleau’s many cars and get her out of London away from Mocato while de Richleau goes to British Library to look at rare esoteric texts kept under lock and key.
Rex drives Tanith out to the country and while driving Mocato exerts his dark influence over Tanith. Rex finds out that Tanith has not been initiated either. He takes her out to the house of de Richleau’s niece Marie Eaton (Sarah Lawson) but when he gets there Tanith drives off in his car. He borrows the car of Marie’s husband Richard (Paul Eddington) and chases after her but Mocato uses his magic to cause Rex to crash. When he recovers he finds the road and nearly gets run over by the Countess hurtling past. A few hundred yards up the road she turns into a large house and Rex sneaks in just in time to see the satanic cult getting in their cars Rex hides in the boot of one of the cars.
The cult drive out to remote location where there are several other covens already and the place is set up for a large ritual that seems involves quaffing booze and silly dancing. Tanith and Simon are both there for their initiation. Rex finds a phone and calls de Richleau to tell him what happening and he drives straight there. The ritual is getting into full swing by the time De Richleau gets there and after Mocato sacrifices a goat the devil himself appears. Rex and de Richleau rush into action. They get into one of de Richleau’s cars and drive straight through the mas of cultists and Rex throws a cross at the devil which makes him disappear in puff of smoke. Rex grabs Simon and puts him in the car then goes back for Tanith then they drive off.
De Richleau drives them to Marie’s house and it’s morning already. Rex takes Tanith to a bedroom upstairs and promises to stay with her. He tells Marie and Richard about everything that’s happened and Marie believes him right away but Richard is sceptical. De Richleau assures them that they face a battle against evil. He asks Richard him to keep a watch on Simon and not let him out of bed.
De Richleau leaves on an errand and once he’s out of sight Mocato drives up to the house in the car de Richleau had left behind at the ritual site. He mesmerises Marie then he uses his influence on Simon and Tanith to make them attack Richard and Rex. Marie’s daughter Peggy enters the room and interrupts Mocato and Marie recovers her wits and has Mocato thrown out. Tanith is upset that she almost killed Rex and she runs away but Rex goes after her. She is worried the Mocata will try to use her to hurt him again but Rex promises he’ll stay with her in a barn where at least she’ll be away from the others.
De Richleau returns and sets up a protective circle with rituals. Mocato sends illusions and fantasies to tempt them to leave the circle but de Richleau keeps them from leaving. A giant hairy spider appears and it attacks an image of Marie’s daughter Peggy but they send the illusion away with holy water. Finally Mocata sends the Angel of Death and when this creature appears on its winged horse whoever sees its face will die. De Richleau is desperate so he uses a spell he’s learned and it works and the demon is gone
They think its all over but Rex returns to the house carrying the body of Tanith. De Richleau realises that the Angel of Death could not go empty handed and so it took her life when it was thwarted trying to claim Simon. Marie goes to check Peggy is all right but it turns out Mocata came into the house and kidnapped her. Simon rushes off alone to save her but he falls under Mocata’s spell
De Richleau does a spell to bring Tanith’s soul into Marie and question her about when Mocata went. This doesn’t get them very far but then Rex remembers the house the cult met in before the Sabbath. They get there just before Mocata is about to sacrifice Peggy. Rex and Richard try to force their way to stop him but the cultists stop them. Marie is possessed with spirit of Tanith again and she can drive back the cultists and Tanith then gets Peggy to recite the same spell de Richleau used earlier. Time is rewound and they are back at Marie’s house in the circle. The kidnapping never happened and Tanith is alive. De Richleau thinks the Angel of Death has taken Mocata’s life instead of Tanith’s.
This is a very strange film with elements of another era of fiction similar to that parodied by Michael Palin and Terry Jones in their Ripping Yarns series. There was definitely a vintage car fanatic on this production going by the cars I saw. The upper class settings could be off-putting but I don’t mind it too much. Christopher Lee is just perfect as de Richleau and Charles Gray really does play the polite evil bastard very well. The scene in the circle is incredibly tense especially the way it gets built up.