To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
“…and suddenly the screams of a baby born in Hell!”
Director: Peter Sykes
Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman
Synopsis: An American occult novelist battles to save the soul of a young girl from a group of Satanists, led by an excommunicated priest, who plan on using her as the representative of the Devil on Earth.
WARNING – This review contains SPOILERS!
The death throes of the once mighty Hammer Studios produced the disappointing horror thriller To the Devil a Daughter, a blatant attempt to cash in on the vogue for demonic possession movies started by The Exorcist a few years before. It was an act of desperation by the studio, and the chaos amidst which the shoot for To the Devil a Daughter took place made sure that any possibility of something good coming out of the project was pretty much doomed from the outset.
Richard Widmark plays John Verney, an occult novelist to whom desperate father Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) goes for help in extracting him from a pact with heretic priest Father Michael (Christopher Lee) who plans to have a demon enter the body of Beddows innocent young daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) when she turns eighteen.
The film, based on a Dennis Wheatley novel, begins quite well, but as the minutes pass and the story stutters and stalls, you begin to see just how ill thought out the scenario is. Apparently, the script was still being written as the movie was shooting, and while in the past such situations have resulted in classic movies being made, this time we’re forced to endure the more probable outcome. The pace of the story is eccentric to say the least, with a number of scenes that explain nothing and go nowhere, and while it does throw up an occasional effective and original idea, for the most part it gets bogged down trying to unravel its convoluted plot.
To the Devil a Daughter’s ending is truly one of the sorriest ever committed to film. After all the protracted build-up and bigging up of Lee’s powers, all Widmark has to do is throw a rock at his noggin to overcome all that glowering evil. It’s a shame, because the performances are fairly solid, and the direction is ok – it’s just that awful screenplay that overshadows everything. Even the sight of the luscious Ms. Kinski in – and, memorably, out of – a nun’s habit isn’t enough to salvage matters.
(Reviewed 23rd March 2012)