To The Devil, A Daughter (1976) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Released: 1976
Starring: Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Nastassja Kinski, Denholm Elliott, Honor Blackman
Director: Peter Sykes

Broke, desperate and ever more out of touch from a horror audience who were thrilling to films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Hammer had one final throw of the dice in them.

With Christopher Lee personally securing the rights for the studio to adapt another Dennis Wheatley novel (after the unqualified success that was 1968’s The Devil Is Rides Out) for free, Michael Carreras raised finance from both EMI and the German Terra Filmkunst to make To The Devil, A Daughter.

And it almost worked…

In present day Germany, Catherine Beddows (Nastassja Kinski) is a 17 year-old nun in the order of The Children Of God, under the care of Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee). Upon visiting her father Henry (Denholm Elliott), he entrusts her care to his John Verney (Richard Widmark).

Verney begins to realise all is not right with the young girl when her behaviour exhibits signs of a malign outside influence, so begins to investigate Father Rayner, discovering he was excommunicated for trying to create an avatar- the personification of a god that would renew the vital spark of the world. This isn’t the Christian god he’s talking about though, it’s the god Astoroth and Rayner has been planning on using Catherine to bring it forth since the day she was born…

It’s a crying shame that To The Devil, A Daughter isn’t a better film, but there’s still a lot to recommend it.

The cast are almost entirely first rate for one.

Widmark takes a fairly unlikable character and gives him some empathy at least, just as Denholm Elliot is his usual marvellous self as the drunken, weak-willed father, emotionally and mentally broken after 18 years of allowing his daughter to be used by Rayner’s Satanic cult.

Honor Blackman stands out too in a small but essential role as Verner’s friend who looks after Catherine for him and receives a fatal stabbing from her for her troubles, while a very young Kinski more than holds her own surrounded by so many acting heavyweights. Vulnerable, but with an allure and charm that begets her age, she’s carries off her complex role with a subtlety and grace that hints at the actress she would grow into.

As great as the rest of the cast are, To The Devil, A Daughter is one last masterclass in horror from Mr Christopher Lee. As the excommunicated priest Rayner, Lee gives what is possibly his most gleefully malevolent performance ever. He’s not just sinister or evil here, he’s radiating malice in every shot and really is quite terrifying.

Storywise, it’s quite a ponderous, slow-moving affair, bleak and joyless, but peppered with occasional bursts of nastiness to shock and grab the attention, which more often than not are brutally effective.

An expectant mother delivering her baby while bound to a bed with her legs tied together is intense as it is, but Lee gives it an extra nightmarish quality just by his physical presence in the room, glaring at her with something other than humanity.

Sadly, the wheels come badly off in the final act. A lovely churchyard scene is the setting for the final confrontation between our (sort of) hero Verner and the wicked Rayner, while Catherine lies on a stone altar, dreaming of a demonic baby crawling into her womb. Hmmm.

Worse, the original ending was dropped for being too close to the finale of Scars Of Dracula, so the threat of Lee is dealt with by a rock being bounced off his head, leaving him to fall to the floor and…that’s it. It’s weak, it’s sloppy and it’s got no drama whatsoever, making for a very poor ending not only to a reasonably good Hammer horror, but the last *ever* proper Hammer horror.

It would go on to be the studio’s biggest hit of the ’70s, but they didn’t see a penny of it as it all went to the financiers. Hammer was finished and it ended not with a bang, but with a rock to the head. They deserved better, Lee deserved better and so did the fans. To The Devil, A Daughter makes a good stab at moving with the times, but it was too little, too late.

Rating: 3/5.


The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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