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TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER

If you like Hammer films you might enjoy this 1976 production, Hammer’s final horror entry. I find it confusing and silly.

The Package
     In the 1970s England’s Hammer studios found its horror fare, once the hippest and most extreme there was, under attack from a new kind of film. Represented by the likes of ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN, this new brand of horror cinema was reality-based (as opposed to the overwrought melodrama favored by Hammer) and far more explicit in terms of sex and gore than anything Hammer had to offer. TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER was Hammer’s ham-fisted attempt at outdoing those movies at their own game. It starred the veteran Hollywood heavy Richard Widmark (who later dubbed the film the “one regret” of his four-decade career), Hammer mainstay Christopher Lee, and, in one of her very first film roles, Nastassja Kinski.
     The film was based on a novel by Denis Wheatley, one of England’s most successful novelists and an expert on black magic. Hammer had scored a success with the Wheatley adaptation THE DEVIL RIDES OUT in 1968 (which like the present film starred Christopher Lee). Wheatley praised the earlier film but really hated TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER, as it bore little relation to his novel. Yet the film was a sizeable hit, and Hammer planned a third Wheatley adaptation. That adaptation never happened, though, and TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER ended up their final horror film.

The Story
     The attractive Catherine is born and her mother dies during the delivery. Catherine’s father Henry has promised the child to Father Michael Rayner, a Satan worshipping priest, but changes his mind when Catherine turns eighteen. Henry has been unwillingly inducted into Rayner’s evil cult because his wife was a member, but decides he wants his daughter to have no part of it. In desperation Henry delivers Catherine into the hands of a friend, the tough-guy novelist John, who promises to protect her.
     But Rayner nonetheless succeeds in inseminating Catherine’s mother and tracking down Catherine, who is mounted by a Satanic crucifix(!). Ma is impregnated with a demon fetus that claws its way out of her womb and haunts Catherine. It seems Rayner is trying to impregnate Catherine with the antichrist (or something), which is achieved by the demon fetus thing--which at one point literally burrows between the girl’s legs!
     The whole sordid mess concludes outside Rayner’s church, where Catherine obligingly disrobes for John, Rayner and the viewer.

The Direction
     TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER plays like a lame compendium of clichés established by THE EXORCIST, IT’S ALIVE, ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE DEVILS (whose director Ken Russell was initially approached to direct), which appears to have been the filmmakers’ aim. There’s nothing resembling a coherent narrative, as filming commenced without a complete script.
     The film looks good, having been photographed by the great David Watkins (THE DEVILS, MARAT-SADE), and has some fun bits of hamminess from the always watchable Christopher Lee. There are other enjoyable moments here and there, such as the sight of the ridiculous fetus-thing burrowing between Nastassja Kinski’s legs (which Mr. Lee has dubbed “totally obscene and unnecessary”) and Ms. Kinski’s gratuitous (but not unwelcome) third act nudity, but they fail to save this dull and confused mess. I’d personally rather watch the making-of featurette on the Anchor Bay DVD, featuring Christopher Lee and director Peter Sykes commenting with admirable frankness on what a disaster this film was and is.
 

Vital Statistics

TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER
Hammer/Terra

Director: Peter Sykes
Producer: Roy Skeggs
Screenplay: Christopher Wicking, John Peacock
(Based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley)
Cinematography: David Watkin
Editing: John Trumper
Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Nastassja Kinski, Anthony Valentine, Honor Blackman, Michael Goodliffe, Eva Marie Meineke, Anthony Valentine, Derek Francis, Izabella Telezynska, Constantine Gregory, Anna Bentinck, Irene Prador, Brian Wilde

     

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