Tuesday, January 28, 2014


TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER (1976), which I watched for the first time today, was the last horror film produced by Great Britain's legendary Hammer Films Studios. It's unlike any other Hammer film ever made. Gone is the Gothic glamour, period sets and costumes, the back lot villages and reused interiors. Instead, we get a film shot on actual locations in Germany and England. And there's no franchise hero or villain on display here. Just pure evil.

Richard Widmark stars as John Verney, an expert on the occult and the author of several bestselling books on the subject. Verney is tasked by Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) to protect his young daughter, Catherine (Nastassja Kinski), a nun newly arrived in London from a convent in Germany. It seems that a band of Satanists, led by defrocked priest Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee), need the young woman in order to complete a blasphemous ritual in which Catherine will be possessed by the spirit of the demon Astaroth. Verney and Rayner square off in a duel to the death for the life and soul of Catherine.

TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER was based on a novel by British horror writer Dennis Wheatley. Three writers, Chris Wicking, John Peacock and Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, adapted the material for the screen and Peter Sykes does an admirable job directing. The story is told in what appear to be disconnected fragments of story lines during the first thirty minutes of running time but everything eventually ties together fairly nicely. However, there are a few loose ends (which the screenwriters acknowledge) and the ending is abrupt, confusing and unsatisfying (a point that all of those involved in the production admit).

Still, the film is handsomely mounted with a nice cast. I'll watch almost any film with Christopher Lee in it (except for the Tolkien butt-numbers, thank you very much) and Richard Widmark lends an air of old fashioned Hollywood leading man to the proceedings. In fact, the German co-producers of the film insisted on an American "name" actor to help sell the film in both the U.S. and Europe. Denholm Elliott is good, Honor Blackman, more than a decade removed from her turn as Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER is still attractive here and newcomer Nastassja Kinski holds her own among the veteran players. And she's not shy about full frontal nudity either.

By the time TO THE DEVIL..A DAUGHTER was made, Hammer Films was on its' last legs. The studio didn't have enough funds to produce the film on its' own and had to rely on a German production company to help finance the project. Following in the wake of ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) THE EXORCIST (1973) and, to some extent, IT'S ALIVE (1974), TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER was an attempt to make an earnest, straightforward horror film about a young woman, demonic possession and a devil baby as key plot elements.

The film became the biggest box office hit in Hammer history but that financial success proved too little, too late. Most of the profits from the film had to be paid to the Germans who had put up the money for the movie and Hammer Studios was left with a mostly bare cupboard. TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER was the last Hammer film for many years until the recent revitalization of the studio and brand.

Even with a clunky ending, TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER works as a first-rate horror film and if you're a fan of the genre, you really need to see this film. Recommended.


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