Sunday, September 28, 2008

#73: To the Devil a Daughter


To the Devil a Daughter
Directed by Peter Sykes
Written by Christopher Wicking, John Peacock and Gerald Vaughan-Hughes (based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley)
Released March 4, 1976

The last gasp of Hammer Horror pictures, To the Devil a Daughter was one of Hammer's few attempts at capitalizing on the success of "supernatural"/occult horror films like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Obviously, their film was not rewarded with the same level of success.

Nastassja Kinski, just 15 years old and appearing in the second film of her career, shares the screen with Richard Widmark and horror staple Christopher Lee. Kinski plays Catherine, a nun from a mysterious Bavarian church who is allowed to visit her father in England once a year, on her birthday. Little does she know that on this, her 18th birthday, she is being sought by a group of Satanists to be used in a ritualistic sacrifice so that her body may become an avatar for one of the Princes of Hell.

While Lee dons the cloth of a Catholic priest throughout the movie, any knowledge of Christopher Lee's career in acting should signal you that something is rotten in Bavaria. I'm not giving too much away here; it's less than 15 minutes into the movie before we're seeing Lee's evil grin as he watches the bloody birth of an apparently hideous demon baby (or, as they call it in the horror business, "Another Tuesday afternoon for Christopher Lee").

The movie moves along somewhat slowly, but has moments of shock and pure creepiness (shocking like the young Kinski's full frontal nude scene, and creepy like the dream sequence where she lets the demon baby enter her body). The acting is decent, especially Lee, and from Denholm Elliot as Catherine's frightened father. The production itself looks and feels right, with an especially cool use of color near the end as Widmark enters "enemy territory" to attempt to rescue the endangered young girl, and some great camera work and interesting individual shots (like the one above Elliot as the lightbulb swirls around him).

What is an absolute disappointment is the almost hilariously abrupt ending. When you see how easy it is, according to To the Devil, to take on the mighty Satan, you may never be afraid of the Prince of Darkness again. Apparently, just bring a rock and you're going to be fine. This unfortunate turn of events can't help but leave a bad taste in your mouth, turning a pretty decent movie into a bad one in a matter of minutes.

More interesting and entertaining than the film itself is the short but brutally honest documentary included on the DVD, where the filmmakers and a few of the actors discuss (in interviews filmed somewhat recently) problems with the production, including the flawed ending (which greatly angered most of the people involved, including Lee), the end of Hammer films, and Richard Widmark's disruptive, prickish behavior during filming. It's too bad the movie itself was nowhere near as riveting.

For more on To the Devil a Daughter:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD.

Trailer for To the Devil a Daughter:

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