An American author who specializes in the occult (Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death) tries to rescue an innocent teenage girl (Nastassja Kinski, Cat People) from the clutches of a coven of Satanists, who are planning to unleash hell on Earth.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“It is not heresy, and I will not recant!”
Without any fuss or loud fanfare, To the Devil… a Daughter entered the history books as the very last horror movie produced by Hammer Film Productions (by the way, the beloved horror factory was resurrected in 2008). It’s a real pity that the legendary British film company’s last scream isn’t a better movie.
Although more than technically competent, To the Devil… a Daughter has an insurmountable problem: The movie lacks focus. The narrative is interesting enough, but it’s all over the place — it’s just too scatterbrained to be completely effective.
The story is told from several points of view, a technique that isn’t all that engaging. Perhaps the fact that To the Devil… a Daughter went into production without a finished script — many scenes were written the day before they were shot — accounts for the film’s undisciplined structure. The ending is particularly unsatisfying.
As I said before, the movie does have some good technical elements. Given all the behind the scenes problems, director Peter Sykes (Demons of the Mind) is able to inject the film with a sense of dread. To the Devil… a Daughter has many eerie sequences courtesy of David Watkin’s (Chariots of Fire) beautifully atmospheric camerawork.
The outstanding cast also helps keep the movie afloat. Richard Widmark is effective as the story’s hero, an occult novelist (a cross between Professor Van Helsing and reporter Kolchak). Unfortunately, To the Devil… a Daughter never delves into the character’s motivations. Allegedly, Widmark wasn’t happy with the script, but he gives it his all — there is so much you can do with a severely underdeveloped character.
The great Sir Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) plays the leader of the devil worshipers. Lee is, of course, excellent as the ex-priest who has been seduced by “the dark side of the force.” The cast also includes Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), Denholm Elliott (Trading Places) and Michael Goodliffe (A Night to Remember) (sadly, Goodliffe committed suicide shortly after completing his work in the film).
Nastassja Kinski is good, if a bit cold as the unwitting pawn in the evil scheme. Kinski’s performance has been tainted by her now-infamous nude scene. Because of her age, 14-year-old Kinski’s full-frontal nude scene is hard to justify. I’m still amazed that this completely unnecessary scene — it only lasts a few seconds and adds nothing to the story — hasn’t been edited out of the movie. This is child exploitation, plain and simple. Lee’s brief nude scene was done with a double, so, yes, there’s a double standard.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
To the Devil… a Daughter is based on Dennis Wheatley’s 1953 novel of the same. Hammer had previously adapted one of Wheatley’s books, The Devil Rides Out, with great success. I’m afraid lightning didn’t strike twice. The script is uneven. That being said, this horror movie isn’t as bad as some critics have made it out to be. I liked the actors and some scenes were good. Nastassja Kinski’s icky nude scene notwithstanding, To the Devil… a Daughter is deserving of at least one watch. Color, 95 minutes, Rated R.