The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Dennis Wheatley

  About Dennis Wheatley:

Dennis Wheatley was born in 1897 in London and at the age of 11, joined the Royal Navy cadets. With the outbreak of war in 1914 he was commissioned and fought in France and Belgium including the Ypres Salient and Passchendaele. After suffering from a chlorine gassing, he was invalidated and returned to England - with the damage to his lungs, he found himself unable to play sports and started reading heavily including much classic fiction, as well as beginning a study of the occult, and although never actually practising the art himself his studies went as far to dine with famous occultist Aleister Crowley and writer Montague Summers.
After the war he took over the family wine-business, but with the global depression of the 1930s he took up writing to make more money. His first story, a murder mystery entitled
Three Inquisitive People was not published at first - its overly detailed plotline and unconventional storyline proving overly daring for his publisher. A quick follow-up, Forbidden Territory proved more popular and went into print in 1933. Following this sucess, Wheatley began rapidly expanding his portfolio creating a number of recurring characters including the Duc de Richleau, an adventurer and occultist, and Gregory Sallust, a hero who later turned World War 2 spy. The first of his most famous occult series of novels came in 1934 with The Devil Rides Out. It was not long before there was talk of cinematic adaptations of his work, and in 1934, Wheatley's friend Alfred Hitchcock proposed to direct Forbidden Territory. However, Hitchcock's producer had no interest in the work, and while another producer brought the rights, Hitchcock was unavailable to film and it was left to B-movie director Phil Rosen. Ultimately, even at the time the film was a minor release and is forgotten today. In 1936, his thriller novel The Eunuch of Stamboul was shot as the film The Secret of Stamboul (a.k.a The Spy in White), starring James Mason (North by Northwest (1959)) and Valerie Hobson (Bride of Frankenstein (1935)), although proving popular at the time, it is a mostly forgotten film today. Hoping for more cinematic adaptations, Wheatley wrote several film scripts including The Bombing of London that predicted arial bombing of major cities during future wars, but none of these were picked up.
During the Second World War he was re-commissioned and became the only civilian member of the Joint Planning Staff - working in Churchill's offices, producing papers and reports for the Chiefs of Staff. He continued to write stories, most having a war-time setting, until 1942, and then started again immediately after his work ended, with the appropriately named The Man Who Missed the War. More war-set espionage novels followed, including Codeword–Golden Fleece which was based on a real secret project. In 1948 Wheatley wrote The Launching Of Roger Brook which introduced his 18th Century espionage series of novels. Through the 1950s he wrote dozens more novels and by the 1960s he was selling up to a million books each year.
The 1960s were big for horror movies and in 1963, the British Hammer Films Studio expressed an interest in filming some of Wheatley's works, optioning several stories. In 1968 they shot The Lost Continent (based on non-horror title Uncharted Seas) and the Black Magic horror The Devil Rides Out with Christopher Lee as the heroic Duc de Richleau. However, the titles failed in the United States, where Wheatley was little known, and the verité horror of Rosmary's Baby (1968) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) was becoming more popular than Hammer's dated period settings. The proposed adaptation of The Haunting of Toby Jugg was put on ice, as was a proposed 12 part television series of Wheatley's work. Continuing to write, Wheatley concluded most of his novel series during the early 1970s, and penned a detailed reference work on Satanism - The Devil and all his Works - a topic on which he was considered a world authority. His final writing project was a detailed four part auto-biography. After the 1960s Hammer films, Wheatley and Christopher Lee became friends, and the actor was offered the rights to film a variety of Wheatley's works. Along with ex-Hammer producer Anthony Nelson Keys, Lee set-up a film company to shoot these adaptations, but it folded quickly. After the phenomenal sucess of The Exorcist (1973), Hammer Films, on their last legs, looked to capitalise with the vaguely connected 'young girl in peril from Satanic forces' novel To the Devil, A Daughter. The final film was almost unrecognisable from Wheatley's original novel, and he withdrew the rights to the studio of shooting sequel novel The Satanist. Dennis Wheatley died in late 1977.

Although at the time, considered to be one of the world's most popular writers (in 1972 alone, his top books sold 80,000 copies each), Wheatley is almost unheard of today. Although initially surprising, given the modern love of black magic and espionage themes, it is clear from reading Wheatley's works, that they are very dated. Filled with outdated political and racial opinions, often lacking naturalistic dialogue and with some very obvious Deus ex Machina endings, the books also suffer from simply being too mild - the Black Mass scenes and romantic interests boast no sex or nudity. Ultimately, like contempories Nevil Shute and Hammond Innes, his books are too dated to appeal to modern 'pulp' readers, while not being good enough to appeal to the 'classic' novel fans. Despite their poor interpretations, it is the Hammer films that have kept an interest in Wheatley's work alive and encouraged at least a few fans to explore his wide ranging oeuvre.
  DVD Reviews: Films based on Dennis Wheatley books
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Optimum UK Region 2 DVD (Ultimate Hammer Collection boxset)
A good adaptation of one of Wheatley's best, with strong production and acting making a very impressive film.
Highly recommended to Wheatley fans.
The Lost Continent (1968)
German E-M-S Region 2 DVD
Decent production and sets are let down by a poor editing and  a terrible rushed script with little reference to the novel.
Not recommended.
To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Optimum UK Region 2 DVD (Ultimate Hammer Collection boxset)
Almost unrecognisable from the original book, and a simply terrible film overall, it was rightly Hammer's last horror.
Not recommended.


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All text in this site written by Timothy Young - January 2006.
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