Title: To the Devil A Daughter (1976)
Director: Peter Sykes
Cast: Christopher Lee, Nastassja Kinski, Richard Widmark
If you know Hammer Studios history, then you should know that this was Hammer Studios last film. And as they say, it was “too little, too late”. With this film, Hammer wanted to steer away from their outdated Dracula/Frankenstein films, and go into new ground. You know, to keep in touch with modern movie goers. Where movie goers back in those days wanting to see Christopher Lee in a black cape and fake fangs? Nope. They had outgrown and tuned out of that. What were audiences curious for back in those days? Satanic worshipping films! Anything with demons! You see, in the 70’s satanic films where the talk of the town, and they were getting made left and right. All thanks to the success of films like The Exorcist, The Omen, Beyond the Door and Rosemary’s Baby. So Hammer, looking for away to help the studio survive, decided to jump on the satanic band wagon and made To the Devil...A Daughter based on Dennis Whitley's 1953 novel of the same name. This is the second adaptation done by Hammer Studios of a Dennis Whitley book, the first one being The Devil Rides Out (1968). Was Hammer’s last attempt to stay afloat any good?
To the Devil a Daughter is about this demon worshipping cult, who wants to bring their demon Astaroth to our world so he can rule humanity and bring hell on earth. In order to do so, they raise a young girl named Christine (played by a very young Nastassja Kinski) as the vessel for this demon. When push comes to shove, the young girls father gets a case of cold feet, so he decides to back out of the deal and tries to protect his daughter from the cult. This proves to be very difficult since the girl herself thinks this is her destiny and something she was born to do!
This film is interesting because you can see Hammer trying to get away from the old look and feel of previous Hammer films. Dracula isn’t here, neither is Frankenstein, and there’s no castle at the top of the hill, there’s no angry/scared villagers suffering, all these things that represented what a Hammer film was during the 60’s and early 70’s is gone. Hammer had tried to update Dracula for our day and age, but it just didn’t work, as evidenced by films like Dracula 1972 A.D. (1972) and Satanic Rites of Dracula (1974). So Hammer decided to drop those characters (which had been done to death anyways) and went the way of what American films were doing, namely, scaring the pants off of audiences with Satan, demons and demon possession films! As a result, this film ends up feeling a heck of a lot like a mix between The Exorcist (1973)and its Italian rip off Beyond the Door (1974). The main parallel between this film and The Exorcist is that we have a young girl about to be possessed by a demon. Nastassja Kinski plays the young girl, Catherine, who is more then willing to go forward with everything! And it’s a lot like Beyond the Door because it has a woman about to give birth to a child who’s body will be inhabited by a demon.
In my opinion, though this movie tried to get away from what Hammer films always did in the past, it still remains a Hammer film. We still get Christopher Lee playing the major villain, and no matter how much you tell me that this guy is the leader of a Satan worshipping cult, if he is a villain and he is dressed in black, he is freaking Dracula. Also, old Hammer films always had black masses and rituals with women on top of altars, and we get a lot of that on To the Devil a Daughter as well. The dungeon like place where the cultist unite feels and looks much like Dracula’s castle did. So in reality, this film tried to get away from the old formula, but ultimately, it really isn’t all that different from the old Hammer films. The making of this film was a fiasco, they couldnt find the right director, the film was offered to damn near every director even Ken Russell (who directed The Devils) was contacted, but he declined because he hated Hammer films! They finally decided on Peter Sykes because he'd directed Demons of the Mind for Hammer in 1972. They couldnt find the right actor to play the main character. Hammer wanted an American actor, to pull in american audiences, so they decided upon Richard Widmark, who ended up being a complete asshole during the whole shoot of the film. They even started shooting without having a completed script! The screenwriter would write pages as the film was being shot! Peter Sykes would shoot things that werent in the script! And finally, since they started without a completed script, they didnt know how to end the film! Which is probably why the film falls apart in its last 10 minutes. Dennis Whitley, who wrote the novel on which the film was based hated the completed film because it wasnt his book!
The movie does have some interesting moments in it. Like for example, the Satanists do this ritual where they rip the baby out of a woman’s womb. Though most of it happens off camera, just the idea of this happening and all the blood make it more shocking then it is. And let’s not forget Nastassja Kinski. She was 16 when she made this movie, yet somehow they managed to get her to do full frontal nudity! During the last sequences of the film she takes of her robe and walks around naked! Doesn’t that make this movie illegal or something? I don’t know, somebody check that out. There’s a laugh inducing moment when Astaroth invades her body, where we can obviously see the creature is a pathetic looking hand held puppet! I mean, they could have done that better. Or avoided it all together somehow, because it just brings the movie down. Also, I have to warn you guys, Christopher Lee bares his 50 year old ass on the screen while having sex with a cult follower! Just a warning. Speaking of Lee, he gets to act a whole lot more then he did on any of the Dracula films.
Don’t know what it is, but to me Satanic movies always end up being kind of laughable. Mayb it’s the fact that I don’t believe in the devil at all. To me, true evil lies in the hearts of men, not some invisible evil force we've never seen. I can never take these movies seriously, specially if a demon or Satan himself shows up and its done in a laughable manner. I mean, in order for me to take a movie of this nature seriously, it has to be done well, and avoid any cheesy factors whatsoever. For example, dont know how many of you guys and gals have seen The Devils Rain, but god, when Ernest Borgnine shows up as Satan, I couldnt help bursting in laughter! This movie was going well, until that hand puppet showed up, and until we see Nastassja Kinski having sex with a golden statue of Astaroth, that’s when I stopped taking this movie seriously cause the first thought that pops into my mind is, wow, what a bunch of buffoons! What a bunch of idiots! And these guys are supposed to be the villains? They aren’t menacing, they are just loony! Unfortunately for me, just when Nastassja was being humped by a golden statue was the exact moment when my girlfriend decided to walk in and see what kind of a movie I was watching. That my friends, is another story.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 5