A second look

Hammer horror classic The Devil Rides Out - in which a goat embodies Satan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm

The Devil Rides Out
Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Leon Greene
Director: Terence Fisher

The playful and curious goat may be underrepresented in modern cinema, but that wasn't always the case - the silent era was chock-full of love for the bearded beast. Take Charlie Chaplin's short film Sunnyside, in which a pair of goats mimic the tramp's piano playing. Or Laurel and Hardy's skit Angora Love, which sees the bumbling duo attempt to bathe a billy.

As talkies rolled around, the goat took a humble step back, relegated to background shots involving barnyards - that was, until it was repositioned as Satan's spirit animal, first emerging from its long hibernation in the Hammer horror classic The Devil Rides Out.

It's a unique offering from the 1960s British scare studio, not just for its focus on the often ignored ruminant, but for its atypical adherence to an original idea. Hammer was notorious for its cheap but creatively clever adaptations of big-screen monsters - Dracula, Frankenstein, the werewolf - circumventing thorny licensing issues by going back to source novels in the public domain. Here, Hammer ditched its old ways for a rare focus on a distinctive property: Dennis Wheatley's titular novel about Satanism.

The incomparable Christopher Lee stars as Duc de Richleau, a learned man who gets caught up in a plot to summon the devil. In the other corner is Charles Gray - who played Blofeld in Bond movie Diamonds are Forever - as a mind-controlling Satan worshipper. And in a battle between good and evil, the two face off in quaint English estates, seedy underground lairs and other low-budget sets dressed up to look expensive.

Things come to a head most memorably in the forest scene, where the villain's brainwashed devil devotees slay a goat and drink its blood in an attempt to summon Satan. And then through the mist, he appears - the Goat of Mendes! The Devil incarnate, a terrifying hybrid-creature made up of a human body and a hideous goat's head.

Despite constant references to the demon and even prime placement on the film's grindhouse poster, the wicked creature appears in only that one short scene and it's a little laughable: an obvious mask and fake fur over the body of a pasty actor.

The idea might be scarier than the reveal, but in that one scene, the goat finally took its place on the centre stage.

This Lunar New Year, as the zodiac calendar once again revolves around to the goat (or is it the sheep?) and the Eastern spiritual properties of the animal focus on the positive, remember The Devil Rides Out and how the humble goat has been hijacked to represent the embodiment of pure evil.