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Room 101


The Devil Rides Out

By the late 1960's the once cutting edge Hammer Films was falling quickly behind the times. Back in the 1950's, the small British studio had been the leader in horror. It was the innovator that bravely treaded where others were afraid to go. Meanwhile, American studios were making mostly bad science fiction films about alien invaders from the Red Planet and giant radioactive monsters (obvious stand-ins for Communists and the bomb). Hammer, on the other hand, were busy remaking the classic Universal gothic horrors that first launched the talkie era back in the 1930s (Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy) in glorious techno colour. This time round, though, adding the "dangerous cocktail" of blood and nudity to the horror mix. This might sound rather tame by today's standards but was genuinely shocking to 1950's audiences.

Sadly, however, the studio that dripped blood was unable to stay ahead of the horror game indefinitely. Between the 1957 release of their first gothic horror The Curse of Frankenstein and their last film to date To the Devil a Daughter in 1976, the basic Hammer product for the most part failed to evolve at all. There's only so many Dracula and Frankenstein sequels a studio can make before audiences get bored. By the time Hammer made The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in 1974 (kind of a mad mix between a Dracula and a Bruce Lee film), the writing was already well and clearly on the wall. Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary's Baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist ... these are the films that Hammer should have been making a year before their transatlantic competitors did, not an eighth Dracula sequel without the franchise's biggest star Christopher Lee as Seven Golden Vampires was!

There was one film, though, that could have changed the fortunes of the troubled studio and bought them the extra time they needed to regain lost ground. However, the film makers failed to adequately capitalise on the picture's success early enough. That film was The Devil Rides Out: an adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's bestselling but disturbing 1934 novel about the Occult and widespread practice of Satanism at the highest levels of modern society. It's worth noting that Whitley's black magic books sold in their millions, even outselling James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Though, they were never popular in America due to Whitley's VERY British style of writing and imperialistic heroes.

Upon its 1968 release, the film adaptation of The Devil Rides Out was immediately hailed as a return to form by impressed critics. Today, the film is widely considered by fans as perhaps the best of the Hammer Horrors. In 1976, Hammer adapted another of Dennis Wheatley's bestselling black magic adventures: To the Devil a Daughter. But despite doing the best business Hammer had seen in years, it was already too late for the collapsing company ... if they had only released it sooner.

Old British horror films starring Christopher Lee might be interesting to film buffs and might even make fun late night viewing, but what does any of this history lesson have to do with the unexplained, paranormal or even parapolitics? That's the question most regular readers will probably be asking themselves right about now.

Well consider this, what if it wasn't all fiction? Both Dennis Wheatley and Christopher Lee (who was instrumental in getting the film rights for Hammer) had at least been somewhat associated with Britain's elite ruling class. Wheatley spending much of WWII in Churchill’s basement fortress as part of the Joint Planning Staff with the rank of Wing Commander. And Christopher Lee even claiming (via his mother Contessa Estelle Marie) to be a descendent of Charlemagne, the famous European monarch who through his conquests effectively recreated the Roman Empire in the middle ages. The question must be asked then did this pair know things the general public didn't?

At this point, it's important to point out that by "Satanism" we're definitely not talking about the very limited Christian fundamentalist definition of anything they don't understand but, more seriously, any attempt to use the Occult sciences for selfish, destructive or evil ends. The secretive Sith religion practiced by the evil Emperor of the Galaxy and Darth Vader in the popular Star Wars films (which oddly enough also star Christopher Lee) would definitely qualify, but the Wicca faith, which emphasises a "rule of three," most certainly would not.

That said, the answer to all of the above, as weird as it might sound, is an alarming but definite "yes." Dennis Wheatley was famous for saying, when asked about the supernatural and occult, "don‘t meddle!" More substantially, though, in a recent documentary titled To the Devil ... The Death of Hammer, made to accompany the DVD release of To the Devil a Daughter, Christopher Lee goes into some detail about how he and Wheatley originally intended the Hammer adaptations of The Devil Rides Out and To the Devil a Daughter to be a kind of "propaganda" warning about the serious dangers of Satanic worship and belief.

Also in the same documentary, filmmaker David Wickes goes into detail about how Wheatley was an "authority" on Satanism and the Occult. Wheatley didn't just make stuff up, he actually knew the meaning of all the different symbols and based his black magic books strongly in real Occult lore and fact. This might explain why the Satanic worship scenes and certain plot elements from The Devil Rides Out seem to mirror, bizarrely, events and oddities in the real world.

The most obvious example, of course, being the "Cremation of Care" ceremony which marks the beginning of the annual (and very weird) three week long ‘encampment' each summer at Bohemian Grove. A secluded 2,700 acre redwood grove located in northern California. Readers who aren't familiar with either the Bohemian Grove or "Cremation of Care" should read my earlier Blade Runner: Electronic Owls and Illuminati Symbolism article or watch Alex Jones' excellent documentary Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove. However, it's pretty well documented that the ceremony involves the mock human sacrifice of an infant to a giant 45 foot stone owl god, and what more, many of America's and even the world's most elite names in politics, business and the media attend the annual gathering dressed in outlandish but expensive Ku Klux Klan style robes. Which, rather suspiciously, are just like the robes worn at the black magic ceremony to call the "Goat of Mendes" in The Devil Rides Out. It's worth pointing out, too, that the "Great Owl of Bohemia" (which may or may not be meant to represent the Canaanite idol Moloch) has horns.

Then there's the less well known Skull and Bones Society at Yale University, of which President George H. W. Bush, his son President George W. Bush, and the latter's 2004 presidential opponent, Senator John Kerry, are all admitted members. The secret societies headquarters, ominously known as "The Tomb," have become famous on the university campus for their own bizarre rituals (which involve members dressing up as the Devil, getting in and out of coffins, oh and more mock human sacrifice) as well as the malevolent screams and chants of "Devil equals death!" and "death equals death!" emanating from the building. The windowless "Tomb" is also allegedly decorated with pentagrams and other Occult type imagery. And this is where America's political class have spent their college years since 1832 ... maybe those wars suddenly make a lot more sense.

Perhaps the creepiest and definitely the strangest parallel, though, is that just as in The Devil Rides Out (and again the Star Wars films, strangely enough), after being initiated into The Order of Skull and Bones members are given new Satanic sounding names. George Bush senior's Skull and Bones name allegedly being "Gog" or "Magog."

How seriously anyone in Skull and Bones or the Bohemian Club take these strange rituals is anyone's guess. However, the elite have certainly put a lot of time, money and research into something they claim is just a bit of harmless recreational fun. Whether Dennis Wheatley knew about either of these secret societies and their rituals isn't known but one things for sure: what they appear to be is exactly the sort of obscene practices he was writing about in his books and, with Christopher Lee, wanted to warn the world about in the Hammer adaptations.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.