|To the Devil... a Daughter|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 08 October 2002|
The distinction of "To the Devil a Daughter," part of Anchor Bay's admirable Hammer Collection series, is that it is the very last Hammer horror film. The pioneering British company simply ceased making such films at this point (1976), and petered out to where it had a legal existance only. It would be grand and appropriate if this movie were one of the best Hammers, but despite good production design (Don Picton) and nearly epic photography (David Watkin), an interesting cast and a higher budget, thanks to it being a coprodocution with a German studio, the climax of the film is so mishandled that Hammer Horror ends with a whimper and not the desired bang.
The movie begins as Catholic priest Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee) is excommunicated for heresy. The story leaps ahead 20 years, and we meet young Catherine (Nastassja Kinski in one of her first roles) as she leaves the convent-like establishment for England. She's been sheltered from the world, apparently under the orders of Father Michael, who still wears his Roman collar. In a separate story thread in London, we meet researcher John Verney (Richard Widmark), whose investigations into the occult soon brings him into conflict with the goals of Father Michael. Denholm Elliott plays Catherine's father, whom she has really never known, and Honor Blackman is a friend of Verney's.
There are various ghastly scenes: a woman in labor willingly has her legs bound together, so her fetus (a highly unconvincing puppet) bursts out of her belly. Later in the story, a woman commits suicide in a manner that I do not believe has been shown in any other movie: she exsanguinates herself, drawing off her own blood until she dies. Verney takes Catherine under his protection, but late in the film, she leaves on her own (with murder involved), the point at which the movie begins to collapse. Although the climax features full frontal nudity of Kinski, a spectacular sight, it's not enough; evil is defeated by, lamely, a thrown rock.
Hammer had done well with "The Devil Rides Out" (aka "The Devil's Bride") from a Dennis Wheatley novel a few years previously that they adapted another Wheatley novel for this film. But whereas "The Devil Rides Out" was faithful to the novel, screenwriter Christopher Wicking came up with what amounts to an original story.
Wicking was the guy to go to for horror scripts for several years; he had a way of coming up with shocking scenes, but his propensity for disjointed, almost puzzle-like scripts, ostensibly resolved at the end, was not a match for the story here. Instead of the story all coming together, "To the Devil a Daughter" remains stubbornly fractured.
One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is apparently a Wicking addition. The evil people here, headed by Christopher Lee, are not truly Satanists, but pagans whose work, they hope, will result in the personification of a god that would renew the vital spirit of the world; these cult members believe that man's brain is partially programmed for catastrophe, that without God, Chaos is the absolute capability of man." This is interesting, if rather opaque; the bad guys are still equipped with Satanist-like magical powers, and their efforts include torture, murder and naked women.
The cast is very good. Even though, as the interesting documentary included shows, Widmark did not like making the film, and was frequently uncooperative, he's professional enough to deliver a good performance. Christopher Lee has played similar roles before, but he brings authority to the role, and never presents the evil priest as a self-aware villain, but rather a zealot in a destructive cause.
The DVD is a welcome effort. The print is excellent, and presented in a widescreen image. The compression, as with all Anchor Bay releases, seems faultless; there are no video artifacts, and the color is rich and true. The disc's documentary, "To the Devil... The Death of Hammer," is very well done by director David Gregory. Lee, Blackman, director Peter Sykes, screenwriter Christopher Wicking and producer Roy Skeggs, among others, are interviewed. A trailer, some stills and some poster artwork are also included. The digital but mono sound is crisp and professional.
Those who are fans of Hammer, Lee or Widmark will find this a worthy purchase; others might also be entertained, but for them, this perhaps should be a rental.