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From a historical point of view, this is a memorable film as it is the last of the Hammer Studio films. No more films were made by Hammer after this, though they did make two series for TV, and they have recently reopened and are filming a new Hammer Horror. But this film was the last the studio had to offer from their biggest era, and was filmed in1976. It stars Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Honer Blackman, Denholm Elliot and Anthony Valentine. It has a fabulous plot, but the execution is such that unfortunately it's not a great film at all. This is something that could have been much better.
At the beginning of the film, Father Michael Raynor is being ex-communicated from the Church for reasons that we don't entirely know until later. He is clearly unhappy about it, and soon leaves.
We cut to 18 years later, and he is now living in Germany at a convent. A young woman called Catherine who has been living as a nun and is nearly 18, is leaving the convent to visit her father, Henry, in Britain.
At the same time, an occult writer called Jim Varney is asked by Henry Beddows to watch over his daughter Catherine when she arrives from Germany. Jim asks for more information, but doesn't get it. Henry just asks him to trust him and gives him a little information. Jim in turn decides to help, and goes to meet Catherine. He takes her to his apartment. But she starts to come across as being very disturbed, and is quickly becomes clear that someone is using black magic on her for a reason that we are unsure of.
Soon, Henry Beddows also begins to see hallucinations, and is also seemingly affected by Black Magic. Jim calls in help from two friend, Anna and David, and they also look after Catherine. However, things take a very disturbing turn when black magic is used to kill Anna, and Catherine disappears, leading an unforgettably not so thrilling climax from Hammer.
It's a real shame about this film. It had the potential to be such a superb horror, much like The Devil Rides Out. And yet it never happens in this film. The first half of the film is pretty decent to be fair, and has several chilling moments as the tension starts to build up. But during the second half, the film loses life and becomes unclear, even to the point where the final climax really isn't all that great. A shame, because traditionally Hammer climaxes have always been very good, even if over the top.
The acting, however, is first rate. As you would expect, Christopher Lee is on outstanding form, and does add a welcome touch of evil to the film. Denholm Elliot proves outstanding support as seemingly paranoid Henry Beddows, and Honer Blackman and Anthony Valentine add extra support that is very worthy.
However, Richard Widmark as Jim Varney was a mistake, as he is too soft and has no real effect. And that's not good when you have a film that needs a strong lead hero.
So, sorry to say that for me this is a weak Hammer Horror. If you're a fan of Hammers, you'll enjoy it enough to watch. But don't expect much to be honest.
Film's Title - To The Devil A Daughter
Year of Release - 1976
Director - Peter Sykes
Stars of the Film - Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Nastassja Kinski, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott
MPAA rating - USA R, UK 18
To The Devil a Daughter is the last of the twenty-one films in The Hammer Collection DVD boxset and I began watching it with some trepidation, as I had heard it was rather gory and the 18 certificate certainly suggested that. I have really enjoyed the Hammer films overall and hoped to end the collection on a high note.
This film is another one based on a Dennis Wheatley novel and I had recently seen and enjoyed the first Hammer/Wheatley one The Devil Rides Out. To The Devil A Daughter has an all-star cast with Hollywood actor Richard Widmark, a young Nastassja Kinski and the usual impressive list of British actors - Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliott, Honor Blackman, plus smaller roles for Derek Francis, Brian Wilde and Frances De La Tour.
The plot is an intriguing one. Catherine Beddows (Nastassja Kinski) is a young nun living in Germany, who has always been part of the church, which is overseen by Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee). As it comes towards her 18th birthday, Catherine travels to England, but her father Henry (Denholm Elliott) fails to pick her up at the airport.
Instead, she is collected by John Verney (Richard Widmark), an author who writes books on the occult. He agreed to pick up Catherine as a favour to her father and continues to look after her at his house, assisted by his friends Anna (Honor Blackman) and David (Anthony Valentine).
Soon, events take a more sinister turn. Father Michael and his associates are in attendance at a bizarre and disturbing birth, and at the same time, Catherine feels the woman's pain while in John Verney's house.
I found it an interesting and involving storyline and it made me want to know how things would turn out for the characters. There is some ambiguity for a while, so you aren't sure which of the characters are good and bad and you wonder who should be trusted, which imbues the film with a good deal of tension.
The film is quite difficult viewing at times, not really due to the obvious gore (which didn't bother me too much), but as a mother, I found some of the labour and birth scenes quite hard to sit through. I especially found the idea of a woman in labour having her legs tied together (albeit with pretty white satin ribbons!) to be very cruel - but of course, you are supposed to feel outraged and disturbed.
The famous baby scene itself didn't upset or offend me, but I found it interesting and thought it was fairly well done. (I won't detail it here, for fear of spoiling it for new viewers.) I felt the sex scenes and nudity were rather gratuitous, but brief enough not to let it bother me or ruin my enjoyment of the film.
This movie has had a large amount of criticism aimed at it, yet I did enjoy it overall. Similarly, there are many tales (some on the documentary on this disc) detailing Richard Widmark's appalling attitude and rudeness whilst filming, but I felt he did well enough in the role and carried the film competently. He seemed convincing as John Verney and delivered a believable performance, if not sparkling.
I know Nastassja Kinski is a very talented actress, as she was outstanding in Tess. This is one of her earliest movie roles and she plays Catherine slightly woodenly perhaps, but this fits the character as she is innocent and naïve and has led a sheltered life.
Honor Blackman and Anthony Valentine are very good and probably play the nicest characters, which the viewer relates to, as they react the same way as many of us would - being sceptical of any "black magic" and fearful of the consequences of getting involved with this kind of thing.
Denholm Elliott is wonderful as the terrified Henry Beddows and his breakdown is beautifully played across the film, as you see him descend into madness. Many actors would have delivered a performance that would have been over the top, but Elliott reins it in perfectly.
The star of the film for me is Christopher Lee though, who turns in another great performance here. His physical build and deep voice combine to bring just the right mix of authority, power, sexuality and control. He is always a joy to watch and gets the most out of any material he is given to work with.
The documentary explains how the script had to be rewritten at a late date after the filming had started, even though the script had not been completed. I found this final script to be pretty good overall, but the documentary explains that the ending needed to be changed. The climax filmed was deemed too similar to another of the Hammer films starring Christopher Lee, so it had to be altered, but by then, the filming had been completed, so Hammer had to cobble together something from the footage they already had!
The ending is rather weak and seemed a bit forced, but I found it didn't detract too much from the film as a whole. While not being the best Hammer film ever, I did enjoy it and would recommend it. I found it was very well paced and I never felt bored. The acting was good, the build-up of tension was excellent and there were plenty of surprises and shocks throughout.
The 18 rating seems a fair one though and I wouldn't let children or younger teens watch this, as there are some disturbing images in it. But for any adults who enjoy Hammer films, it is a "must see" movie.
The DVD extras are an interesting trailer, which is worth seeing, as well as a documentary and interview.
To The Devil... The Death of Hammer is a wonderful documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew. This is full of fascinating titbits and includes some good still photographs and film clips too. The analysis of the film is a fair one and certainly not always complimentary, but really interesting.
There is also an interview with Eddie Powell, who was a stuntman and Christopher Lee's body double in this film's nude orgy scene. He also performed the fire stunt for Anthony Valentine. The interview footage was taken from a convention some years ago and Powell comes across as a very funny man with many interesting anecdotes to share.
The single DVD can be bought for £3.99 at Amazon UK, but I would recommend the 21-disc The Hammer Collection to any fan of their films.
Occult book writer John Verney (Richard Widmark) is visited by the nervous father of a young nun living in Germany. Catherine (Natassja Kinski) is a nun with The Children of the Lord, a weird Catholic order and is allowed once a year to return to England to meet her father (Denholm Elliot) on her birthday. Catherine is taken in by Widmark, but is soon being possessed by the evil Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee). He wants her to bear the child of the devil.
To the Devil a Daughter is a pretty poor and lacklustre affair that bears very little relation to the excellent earlier Hammer Wheatley adaptation 'The Devil Rides Out'. That film had the charm and the capacity to be a good horror film without relying on too much 70's blood oozing from women's uteruses. It also did not feature the world's worst devil hand puppet that this film does.
The ending was also a little strange and ended very abruptly. Having read on the web the reasoning behind this I'm still a little confused about why they decided with the way they did end it. In all fairness, its not a particularly fitting end to a great legacy of horror films, but I guess the Hammer studios had really run their course and found it difficult to keep up with its competitors.
Chris Lee looks old and tired of starring in this sort of film and can't really rise above the dross of the script. Similarly Richard Widmark is his usual uninteresting self and is possibly the worst kind of doddering action hero the world has ever seen. Honor Blackman looks tired and decrepid and when she starts demanding sex from her boyfriend after a 70's game of table-top Mastermind you can't help but wince.
Natassja Kinski plays the young nun Catherine, but apart from her obvious good looks is a little disappointing. She seems to just be bemused throughout the entire film and unsure about what she is meant to be doing.
In the end, To the Devil a Daughter is a pretty poor horror film. That it marks the end of Hammer horror is also a shame because it bears none of the quality that the studio did put out during the previous three decades. I suppose the film could not compare with the films that were being made at the time - The Exorcist and The Omen et cetera. Hammer horror had lost its winning campness here and was not is the slightest bit scary.
To The Devil A Daughter is available now from amazon.co.uk for £3.99.
A review of the Hammer Collection DVD.
This was Hammer's last film. Released in 1976, it was the last gasp of a company that had which had slipped out of fashion as horror trends moved on and they didn't. After this they managed to churn out a TV series, but there were no more real Hammer horrors.
The hero, John Verney, is a writer of occult thrillers (the film is based on an occult thriller by Dennis Wheatley). He ends up looking after a young nun, Catherine, who belongs to a church full of stop-at-nothing Satanists. They want her for their own fell purposes, of course, but instead of turning to the church, say, or even the police, Verney is helped out by his agent and her boyfriend. Can Verney find out what the Satanists are up to in time to stop them?
To their credit, Hammer's last film is a concerted effort to move away from their familiar old gothic style. It's set in modern London, so no period costumes or wobbly castle sets. The music is severely reined in and the colour scheme, although Technicolor, is restrained. They even manage some foreign location filming. They were trying to tap into the popularity of films like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby, but even in 1976 Hammer look like they're making films from another era. Apart from a couple of scenes, there's nothing here to match the kind of visceral nastiness of The Exorcist.
This has Hammer's best cast ever (there was a lot of money available from various co-production companies). Verney is played by a bona fide Hollywood star, albeit a rather old one. Richard Widmark had been in a bunch of film noirs back in the 40s and 50s, even if he's far from well known today. He was reportedly unhappy about working on this film, and it shows in his listless performance. He bears a strong resemblance to a Star Wars figure I used to own ('Prune Face', but with hair and no eyepatch). He brings none of the camp enthusiasm to the film that Bette Davis brought to her OAP horror roles, and is a bit of a liability.
But the rest of the cast are top notch. Christopher Lee, as the chief Satanist, gives one of his better performances. He manages to be genuinely sinister, and his shark-like grin is used to great effect in various scenes. Denholm Elliott is fabulous, as he always was, as a boozy shambles of a lapsed Satanist. Honor Blackman and Anthony Valentine are good as Verney's friends, making their characters and their relationship likeable enough. Frances de la Tour even turns up in a brief comic role, and Foggy out of Last of the Summer Wine appears as a librarian.
Young Catherine is played by Nastassia Kinski before she became famous. She's pretty good, although the character requires a level of ambiguity that she can't quite manage. She does do a full frontal nude scene, which was wildly exciting when I was a teenager, although it turns out that she was, at most, 16 when she made the film, so probably shouldn't have been letting it all hang out (and some sources claim she was as young as 14. Yoinks!) Her dad, krazy Klaus, was apparently considered for the film too, but was deemed too unstable to be worth the risk. Shame.
The director was Peter Sykes, who made a few other Hammer films (including the inventive Demons of the Mind). The direction does have a few more ambitious and imaginative touches than was usually the case, although they do rather stand out, as most of the film is reasonably ordinary in that respect. As with Hammer's other Dennis Wheatley adaptation, The Devil Rides Out, the story is more of a thriller than a horror film, consisting of Bond-style chases in which the gadgets are magical, rather than anything that makes a sustained effort to be scary. Apart from one nasty childbirth scene there's nothing even remotely horrifying here (and that scene works as much because of Christopher Lee's acting as anything else). It doesn't let the audience know what's happening for quite a while, which I found mildly annoying - this is not the kind of film that needs to try and play silly buggers with its plotting. And the dreadfully clumsy way that no one seems to know what All Hallows' Eve is surely disqualifies the film from any pretensions about its own intelligence.
This is one of the few Hammers that still gets an 18 certificate. There are a few genuinely nasty bits. There's even a sequence (in which a skinned baby hand puppet smears blood all over Ms Kinski's body double's nether regions) which lapses into undeniable bad taste. As such, it's probably my favourite scene in the film, because of its peculiar wrongness and sheer ineptitude. Oh, and there's a Satanic orgy, too - this is a first for Hammer, in that it shows actual humping and what looks like some fairly explicit lesbianics. Unfortunately a stunt double did Christopher Lee's sex scene - like Britt Eckland in the Wicker Man, we don't get to see the star's real arse.
The main problem with the film, apart from the lack of horror atmosphere, is that it has probably the worst ending of any film Hammer made. It's a muddle - the original ending was vetoed for unknown reasons and they had to try and cobble something together from available footage. It's a stunning anticlimax. Which is a shame, because prior to that, even if the horror content is low and the leading man appalling, the film is still a decently entertaining, reasonably fast moving thriller.
The disk has a few extras. There's a trailer which isn't too bad, although as always it gives things away that it shouldn't. There's a 25 minute documentary about the making of the film, which is pretty good - it includes interviews with Christopher Lee (who seems to believe in Satanism), Honor Blackman, Anthony Valentine, the director and other backstage people. There are some very funny anecdotes about what a jerk Richard Widmark was. And there's a few minutes of interview with Christopher Lee's stunt double at a horror convention in which he describes his stunt work on this film, including a hilarious description of the orgy sequence.
Amazon offers this for £6. It's also available as part of the 21-film Hammer Collection (HMV still has it on sale for a very reasonable £40). It's not essential viewing by any means, but it's a decent enough supernatural thriller, and is worth a look next time it turns up on telly.
Dennis Wheatley's occult chiller which tells of two men locked in deadly battle over possession of a young innocent for the 'Children Of The Lord' cult. A devil worshipper needs her sacrificial soul to form the satanic homunculus of the demon god Astaroph. And a supernatural specialist must stop the ghastly ritual before the powers of the Dark envelope the universe.