Peter Sykes (director)
06 February 2018 (released)
06 February 2018
It should have been inevitable that Hammer would make another film based on a Dennis Wheatley black magic novel after the success of the tense and excellent THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. For some reasons it was nine years before this occurred and the result is the inferior TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER from 1976.
One can only imagine there were a number of reasons for this; raising the necessary money being the major problem. After THE DEVIL RIDES… (arguably Wheatley's best in this genre) this was perhaps not the ideal follow up. As it was, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER was fraught with problems and is German co-production. This probably explains the presence of a 15-year old Nastassja Kinski (daughter of enfant terrible Klaus Kinski) in the lead and some, if little, filming in Bavaria. Now quite what went wrong here? ‘The Satanist’ would have a made a better film surely but it would have been costly. Both the films stars, Widmark and Lee wanted to wash their hands of it. One story is that Richard Widmark had to be brought back from London airport as he had enough of being involved in this nonsense. The premise and a numbers of the scenes depicted in the film would no doubt have been highly offensive to the devout Christian. But the movie disappeared without much controversy… The Exorcist it wasn't.
John Verney (Richard Widmark), an American ex-patriate, is a popular writer of the occult and early into the film is cornered at the London launch party for his new book by a rather unkempt looking individual, a certain Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott, doing his nervous bit as only he could). We hear nothing of this conversation but it transpires that Beddows wants Verney to pick up his daughter Catherine from London airport. Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) is a nun with the secretive ‘Children of the Lord’ - a heretical order based in Bavaria (where the opening scenes takes place). The religious splinter group is headed by struck off and excommunicated Priest Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee) who has steadfastly refused to recant. Beddowes is allowed to visit Catherine only on her birthdays and it’s her birthday coming up. What’s more, the Children of the Lord dabble heavily in Satanism and have brainwashed Catherine to become an avatar of the demon Astaroth upon her 18th birthday. This child has been reared by Rayner and his sect. Furthermore he has a psychic link with the girl and she will do his bidding. Catherine’s mother was a sect member and these acolytes give birth with their legs tied together and the child then bursts out of their stomach, obviously killing the mother in the process. Beddows was unaware of all this and was both forced and blackmailed into joining the sect. No wonder that Beddows gets more than a little edgy at the prospect of his daughter’s arrival in London and no wonder he asks Verney to put up Catherine in his flat, if only temporarily. This is of course no easy task for the author because Father Michael and his disciples will try everything to get the young nun back into their clutches and they won’t stop at murder.
Sure enough it doesn’t take long before all hell breaks loose in Verney’s fashionable Tobacco Dock apartment and the first unfortunate victim is his publisher Anna Fountain (Honor Blackman). Realising just how serious the Satanists are, Verney and Anna’s distressed partner David Kennedy (Anthony Valentine) are confronted with a desperate race for time to save Catherine and possibly the world. Meanwhile, the sect’s bloody birth process has been repeated and there is something in an incubator that will, combined with a naked Kinski on a sacrificial slab, create a new 'abomination'. Unfortunately, the film’s climax must be one of the biggest anti-climaxes imaginable!
Peter Sykes (who did a good job with Hammer’s nutty DEMONS OF THE MIND) direction is deft and there are some good camera shots although they are a little superficial. Lee is his usual self - no stretch required (but who could do it better?). A pity that Richard Widmark's return to London after 26 years couldn't have been in a better film and he tries hard to overcome the silly script (courtesy of Chris Wicking, John Peacock and Gerald Vaughan-Hughes). Honor Blackman and Anthony Valentine may have wondered what on earth they were doing in this mess.
At least the restored print looks very good and we get the usual Bonus Features dominated by horror ‘experts’ Kim Newman, Jonathan Rigby etc etc and their invaluable opinions. Shame Studiocanal can’t seem to think of a different bonus material for a change!