For the final horror film of the famed Hammer Films Studios comes this tale from the pen of Dennis Wheatley. Hammer had earlier turned Wheatley’s novel The Devil Rides Out into one of it’s more celebrated films back in 1968. Unlike that film where Christopher Lee was cast against type as the hero he is squarely back in Satan’s corner this time out in what is perhaps his most evil role this side of Dracula and Lord Summerisle.
The film was apparently in production for quite some time as Lee actually owned the rights at one point and couldn’t secure financing so turned back to his roots with Hammer. In a role that seems tailor made for Peter Cushing we have the unusual casting of Richard Widmark in the role of Lee’s opponent. Widmark plays an expert on the occult and is out to prevent Lee’s defrocked priest from bringing a demon into the world by using a very young Nastassja Kinski in his evil quest. Surprisingly I thought Widmark fit the role just fine. This was of course nearing the end of his run as a leading man.
Turning up as Kinski’s father and doing a splendid job is character actor Denholm Elliott. Elliott is one of those actors that adds that extra something to any film he happens to appear in. One can never see enough of him and he certainly adds a sense of terror to this Satanic film. We also get a chance to see Honor Blackman turn up for the Bond crowd.
I for one have always felt this Hammer production has been short changed over the years and still find it a nifty thriller. It’s controversial use of nudity has of course been criticized enough but I think too much focus is spent on the negatives of the film and it’s comparison to other films of the day. Mainly the Exorcist and The Omen. Why bother. Enjoy it for what it is. The cast does a good job with the material and Lee is right in his wheelhouse on this one. The score by Paul Glass is also suitable for the material and adds to the fun.
Lee and Widmark would reunite with a top cast for the Alistair MacLean novel Bear Island that was released in 1979. As for Kinski, she would go on to a lengthy career that included the Cat People remake and Roman Polanski’s Tess. When Hammer studios started to produce films once again under new ownership Lee would appear as a costar in the first film of the new regime The Resident in 2011 opposite Hilary Swank.
For a midnight viewing, give this one a try.