Hammer provides an entertaining, and actually quite brilliant, adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's work and although I have not read any of Wheatley's work, sadly, I am familiar with his themes and tone and cannot imagine that this movie lets down fans of the literary great either.
Christopher Lee and Leon Greene play Duc de Richleau and Rex Van Ryn,
respectively, two gentlemen trying to help their friend (played by
Patrick Mower) move away from the tight clutches of a local Satanic
cult. Easier said than done and problems come in the shape of Tanith
Carlisle (played by Nike Arrighi), an alluring female also caught up in
the web of the dark arts, and confrontations with the cult's
charismatic and powerful leader, Mocata (wonderfully portrayed by
Charles Gray). People close to the daring duo are placed in peril and
things go from bad to worse before the finale . . . . . but will it be
good or evil triumphing as the sun rises?
The cast here all do a fantastic job. As well as those mentioned, with Lee and Gray being particular standouts, there's some solid support in the latter half of the movie from Paul Eddington and Sarah Lawson.
Terence Fisher directs (from a tight screenplay by Richard Matheson)
with an assured hand, throwing us directly into the action and letting us
find out a little more with each scene as things move from slightly
puzzling to mysterious to dangerous to deadly. Though I do not know
enough about the rituals and accoutrements portrayed in the movie it
all has a sense of authenticity about it, strange considering how
far-fetched the movie actually is in its depiction of a struggle
between good and evil.
Considering its age, it holds up very well to this day. There are two
major "materialisation" scenes that still hold the power to unnerve; in
fact, the very first one actually made me want to look away from the
screen as I was getting a bit freaked out by the imagery. There are
lots of details in the effects and acting that you could poke fun at if
you wanted to (one scene featuring an over-sized spider is about as bad
as anything in Empire Of The Ants) but if you forgive the "ravages of
time" then you will be letting yourself in for a cracking British
horror movie aimed distinctly at adults.