To the Devil... A Daughter
Chris Wicking, Adaptation by John Peacock, based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley
Richard Widmark as John Verney
Christopher Lee as Father Michael
Honor Blackman as Anna
Denholm Elliot as Henry Beddows
Michael Goodliffe as George de Grass
Natassja Kinski as Catherine
After a prologue involving a priest, Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee), accused of heresy, who says, “It is not heresy, and I will not recant!”; we jump twenty years later, to the present where a pretty seventeen year-old nun named Catherine Beddows (Natassja Kinski) steps off a plane. She has left the care of Father Rayner and is going to meet her father Henry (Denholm Elliot). Henry has sent occult author and expert John Verney (Richard Widmark) to care for her on his behalf. Meanwhile, Father Rayner and two other accomplices of his help a woman give birth to an unseen baby, the mother is then killed. But, at the exact same time this birth is going on Catherine suffers from nightmares that she is being reborn as something hideous. Using his dark powers Rayner, a worshiper along with his followers of the demon Astaroth, tries to control Catherine and bring her to them to use in a satanic ritual.
To the Devil… A Daughter is the last movie the original version of Hammer studios produced. It was also the second movie based on a book by then popular, in Britian, horror writer Dennis Wheatley. The first was the vastly superior The Devil Rides Out (sometimes called The Devil’s Bride in the US). While that movie made the author very happy, he didn’t very much like what was done with his novel in this film. It’s a much more graphic story, than anything he had ever written. This was Hammer’s attempt to catch up with the satanic horrors of the time, in the form of Rosemary’s Babyand The Exorcist. Sadly, audiences didn’t seem to like it very much, either. It was not a hit and became the final nail in Hammer’s cinematic history for many, many years to come.
While the plot of To the Devil… A Daughter is intriguing and well constructed, the pacing is very uneven. It comes off as a bit boring at times, this is something that’s even more evident in repeated viewings. Although the movie is visually arresting with some beautiful and sprawling shots of the city, director Sykes has a difficult time building suspense. That said, at about the 1:17 mark the movie does manage to pick up again. Sadly, it all leads to an absolutely god-awful ending. This is certainly one of those movies, where had it a much better ending, it would have been much more satisfying viewing experience.
To the Devil… A Daughter certainly ranks as one of the most adult entries in Hammer’s history. This is probably the route the company would have headed in, had it continued to make films. There is a rape scene as well as a fairly explicit orgy during an evil ritual. It also features graphic nudity in the form of full frontal female. And, one of the two females to display her assets, Kinski, bared her skin at the age of fifteen! It caused controversy, of course, and it is something that one would never see in a movie today. Still, if you can find the Anchor Bay DVD, which is out of print, the scene remains intact in it. As far as gore and violence goes the movie has some blood spattering squibs, a bloody demon baby, a stabbing, bludgeoning, and immolation. There is also one moment that I won’t spoil for you, but it comes towards the end of the film and is quite the jaw-dropper. It’s also the same scene that Lee, himself, was appalled by. You’ll definitely know when you see it.
To the Devil… A Daughter’s greatest asset, and the one that makes it most worth watching, is the acting. Verney is very likable as the hero. As a James Bond fan, I found it to be an utter pleasure to see Honor Blackman, who played Pussy Galore in the classic Goldfinger, in this movie. Lee is truly great in his role playing what ranks as one of the most sinister and evil villains he played for Hammer. Kinski is so naturally beautiful, and she has the right amount of innocence and purity for the role.
To the Devil… A Daughter has been much maligned over the years, but it is not completely without merit. Sadly, it is too uneven and features too poor an ending to be truly recommendable. Regardless, fans of Lee, Kinski, satanic horror, and Hammer, particularly those interested with the studio’s history, would do themselves well by giving it at least a look.