The Devil and Dennis Wheatley
Now nearly forgotten, Dennis Wheatley was a bestselling author, best known for his novels of the supernatural, black magic and Satanism, he also wrote adventures and mysteries. In the 1960s he was selling a million books a year in the UK alone.
Wheatley was born in South London, 1897. He began writing in 1931 and his first published novel was The Forbidden Territory (1933) which was so popular it was reprinted seven times in seven weeks. The book introduced the character of the Duke de Richleau who with his companions fought satanists, sorcerers, demons and even the devil himself in a series of 11 books which included probably his best known work - The Devil Rides Out (1934). The epic Strange Conflict (1941) which involved Hitler, the Nazis and fighting the forces of evil inside the Astral Plane and the final book in the series, Gateway to Hell (1970).
Other popular novels by Dennis Wheatley include - The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1948), The Ka of Gifford Hillary (1956), They Found Atlantis (1936), Uncharted Seas (1938), To the Devil a Daughter (1953) The Irish Witch (1973) and The Satanist (1960). He also wrote a reference book on the occult - The Devil and all his Works (1971).
The British studio Hammer, famous for their horror movies filmed three of Wheatley’s novels. The Devil Rides Out (1968) starred Christopher Lee as the Duke de Richleau and Charles Gray played the Satanist Mocata, it was directed by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher. De Richleau and his companions attempt to rescue a friend who has joined a Satanic sect. The film was well received and is regarded as one of the studios best horror films. It was renamed The Devil's Bride in the U.S. in the belief that American moviegoers might think the film was a western!
Uncharted Seas was retitled The Lost Continent and filmed by Hammer in 1968. It starred Eric Porter and Hildegard Knef and was directed by Michael Carreras. A ship is blown off course and finds itself in the fog-shrouded Sargasso Sea where the passengers find themselves trapped on an island of man-eating seaweed. They are attacked by giant crab-like creatures, they also run into Spanish conquistadors. The film is an oddity, regarded as one of Hammers worst, but it has its fans.
To the Devil a Daughter was released in 1976. It was directed by Peter Sykes and starred Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Honor Blackman and 15 year old Nastassia Kinski. An occult novelist (Widmark) is asked to look after and protect a young girl (Kinski) who is being sought after by a group of Satanists headed by Christopher Lee. It was to be Hammers final horror film at that time. The studio is currently under new management and making horror films again.
From 1974 through 1977 Wheatley edited 45 paperback reprints for Sphere books with the heading "The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult", Wheatley selected the stories and wrote introductions for each book. The series included black magic-themed novels by the likes of Aleister Crowley and Bram Stoker and non-fiction works on magic and the occult
Dennis Wheatley died in November 1977. He was cremated at Tooting and his ashes interred at Brookwood cemetery.
“I am very grateful to have known and to have called Dennis Wheatley a friend. When I read his books I am always amazed at the depth of the background information contained therein. It is customary of course for an author to do his homework and to fine-tune his research, but Dennis somehow makes you feel when you are reading that you are actually in the room, privy to everything that is going on and living the story literally as he describes it. I personally would very much like to make many more of his books into films and so many would warrant this. I am fortunate enough to possess a first edition of The Devil Rides Out signed by him with a very kind comment in terms of the film and, indeed, my performance as the Duke de Richleau.”
Christopher Lee in the foreword to The Devil Rides Out (1988 reprint).