The Devil Rides To Manchester

The Arts

Tomorrow I’m in Manchester introducing ‘The Devil Rides Out’ on the big screen.

In it, Christopher Lee takes a rare heroic turn as scholar and occultist Duc de Richleau, playing him with a dark elegance and intensity, in a trim goatee. He discovers that the son of a war buddy has joined a satanic cult lorded over by the malevolent and not a little camp Mocata (Charles Gray). Director Terence Fisher, working from a literate script by Richard Matheson, creates a handsome period piece set in 1920s England as Richleau and Mocata battle for the souls of two young lovers on both physical and spiritual planes (cue cheesy effects). Hammer’s budget did not stretch to a chase across Europe, and culminated in Buckinghamshire.

There’s a rumour going around that the climactic battle has been tarted up optically, and God, I hope so – anyway, if you’re in Manchester swing by The Dancehouse Theatre at 2:45pm. One of the film’s stars, Patrick Mower, will be doing a Q&A afterwards.

Dennis Wheatley was of the world’s best-selling authors (he shifted over fifty million copies from the 1930s to the 1960s), but he has faded away. It’s not hard to see why; in our dark modern world Satanists seem rather quaint, and certainly not worthy of the hilarious warning Wheatley placed at the front of his supernatural novels about the ‘very real dangers’ of witchcraft.

Dennis Yates Wheatley (1897-1977) was an inventive, prolific author who conjured forbidden thrills by selling the virtually non-existent ‘reality’ of black magic to aghast British readers. In ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’, a monstrous malevolent spider-thing taps at Toby’s bedroom window trying to get in, and it’s there night after night. Toby is a wounded Battle of Britain pilot and thinks he’s hallucinating, but there are Satanic forces at work and he’s powerless to stop them. It’s a book that gave generations of teenaged boys nightmares, written three years after WWII and filled with the dread of Nazi invasion.

Gregarious and clubbable, Wheatley hailed from an upper middle-class family who owned a wine business. His adventure stories were packed with sex, Satanism and snobbery, linked with shared-world characters and teeming with ludicrous incident, giving him the kind of popular appeal Ian Fleming enjoyed. He was drawn to creating titled heroes in the grand traditional vein, like Gregory Sallust, ‘The man the Nazis couldn’t kill!’, but his fantastical novels were less stiff-necked and offered more disreputable hi-jinks. The author of ‘They Found Atlantis’ also invented board games and created several interactive murder dossiers containing physical pieces of evidence, with a sealed last page revealing the killer.

Wheatley’s wife found him a job coordinating secret military deceptions for Winston Churchill, who asked him to suggest what the Germans were up to. Surprisingly, he was often near the mark, although his fears that they would invent a death ray proved unfounded.

‘The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult’ appeared in mass market paperbacks that brought new audiences. Phil Baker’s superb biography, ‘The Devil Is A Gentleman’ fills in the details and catches Wheatley’s breathless appeal.

10 comments on “The Devil Rides To Manchester”

  1. The Devil Rides Out is, possibly, the most under-rated of British horror films.

  2. Richmonde says:

    Brilliant film. Never mind the cheesy effects, they’re genuinely frightening. But more terrifying is Mocata’s visit to Marie…

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Maybe I’m too Deep American, but I can’t get far into a Dennis Wheatly story. About page 40 my disbelief alarm goes off and I set the book aside. I’ve tried several and I know it must be a flaw, but there it is.
    I also can not finish an A. Merritt, although “The People of the Pit” is tops. Merritt was a U.S. writer born about the same time as Wheatly, but passed away (?) passed on (?) passed over (?) passed under – like that one, more graceful – earlier in the 20th century. Merritt’s excessive use of light, sky effects, color pallet and adverbs and adjectives as frosting, plus his dancing metalic, geometric shapes I find stifling. And always elder or otherworldly runes.
    Now, Richard Matheson is almost always very good – clear writing – in an amazing number of fields. Hell House was a terrific novel, although its ending was contrived and a bit of a let down.
    I’ll stand down now. Just make myself another nice pot of imported nine-leaf tana leaf tea and wait for herself to show up.

  4. Anne Fernie says:

    Awwww!!! Welcome to Manchester (I recall you reporting your ‘bad experience’ of Salford…). I only just found out about this and so am at work and will miss – am bereft. I’m sure you will enjoy seeing the pile of rubble that is BBC Manchester right opposite the venue you are in (shame the same cannot happen to the Salford site but hey…). Good luck with the appearance too.

  5. Dylan Lancaster says:

    I have my tickets already. I’m looking forward to seeing the new print on a big screen and the whole afternoon.

  6. Gary says:

    As a kid I always enjoyed his Black Magic stuff, but as I get older his other work appeals to me more. THE ISLAND WHERE TIME STANDS STILL is a wonderfully weird book, with a post-WWII Gregory Sallust getting shipwrecked on a remote island containing an Imperial Chinese community which has hidden itself from the world. It’s a very clever and inventive tale; as soon as you think that you know where it’s going, it changes direction. Wheatley’s disappearance has less to do with Satanism becoming quaint, and more with the ubiquity of the paperback editions, which I started collecting a few years after his death. I now have almost all of his stuff, and I’ve never had to buy one first hand. Very little has been reprinted since his death, meaning that anyone born since 1980 is unlikely to know who he is.

  7. admin says:

    Well that was fun! I hadn’t expected to interview Patrick Mower live on stage but we winged it and he was the perfect gentleman. Thank you lovely Manchester!

  8. Steve says:

    Loved Wheatley’s stuff when I was a kid; but as I became familiar with his sources and the way he twisted it all around to create thrills, I came to realize he was basically a hack, but an entertaining one. Mocata is of course a caricature of Crowley but as a teenager I had no way of knowing that.

  9. Dylan Lancaster says:

    What did you think of the film? I liked the new print. I hope Hammer can do as much with the other classics.

  10. glasgow1975 says:

    I remember reading my dad’s paperback version and being singularly unimpressed, it just seemed dated and laughable.

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