To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

Warning! This Motion Picture Contains The Most Shocking Scenes This Side Of Hell!

An excommunicated priest leads his own cult and convinces a man to sign his newly-born daughter’s soul over to them to so that she can become the devil’s representative upon her eighteenth birthday. As the day approaches, the man seeks the help of an American occult novelist to try and save his daughter from the evil that is about to manifest itself.

 

The last horror film to be made by legendary studio Hammer before it closed doors (and its penultimate theatrical release), To the Devil a Daughter attempts to replicate the success of The Devil Rides Out, widely considered one of Hammer’s best films. Adapted from another Dennis Wheately novel, To the Devil a Daughter seemed like it would be a sure-fire hit. After all, Hammer had a hard time in changing with the times with the rise of the supernatural and occult horror films of the 70s in the likes of The Exorcist and The Omen and their period horrors seemed hopelessly out of fashion. The Devil Rides Out, back in 1968, had been released slightly before the fad came along so tapping back into the same well in the hope of striking it lucky twice seemed like a no-brainer. Whereas The Devil Rides Out seemed genuinely supernatural and sinister, To the Devil a Daughter seems overly forced, contrived and desperate to latch onto the occult bandwagon.

To the Devil a Daughter is slow, plodding and dull and Hammer sprinkles in plenty of it’s usual ingredients in a doomed bid to save the flick – namely some gore, some nudity and a towering performance by Christopher Lee – Hammer certainly doesn’t hold anything back as it goes down with a fight. There’s plenty of nasty imagery on display here with a pregnant woman’s legs being tied together during childbirth and Natassja Kinksi pushing a demonic puppet into a place where only certain things should be pushed. Hammer’s gamble on out-goring and out-sleazing its competitors used to work but in this instance, it fails badly. The film worked a lot better as a straightforward occult thriller, grounded in reality and managing to create something of an atmosphere and mood. But in their desperate attempts to find a winning formula, Hammer badly mis-judge just how much to show and how much to hold back and the gore and nudity comes off as gratuitous, not essential.

Just like the studio itself, the script seems to have run out of ideas. To find out that they began filming without a finished script gives the film another notch of desperation and apparently the writer handed over the script of what was to be shot the very next day, leading to all manner of mistakes and goofs. It also makes a lot of what happens perfectly understandable, as the film veers in different directions in any attempt to find success. There’s an underlying sense of incoherence throughout the film, right from its muddled opening, through poor build-up and then towards a flat finale. Separate plot threads are started but never manage to converge later on. The final confrontation between good and evil is a huge let down, considering something of similar note like the pentagram scene from The Devil Rides Out.

There’s a very good cast with Denholm Elliot, Honor Blackman and Kinksi providing great support to the two leads. Richard Widmark’s low key performance contrasts perfectly with the towering theatricality of Christopher Lee as the sinister, snarling Father Michael. It’s another great show from one of Hammer’s greatest servants and fitting that one of the instruments of success was there in its final moments. Though the film was a success at the box office, all of the profits went to investors and creditors and Hammer didn’t feel the financial benefits. The film was also considered such a failure by Dennis Wheatley that he told Hammer they could never film another of his novels ever again – a point made mute by the studio going out of business shortly afterwards.

 

 

To the Devil a Daughter is a historically important film as it signalled the end of an amazing era in not only horror but British filmmaking. With the death of Hammer, the British filmmaking industry lost one of its biggest exports and horror in this country would die a slow death until recent revivals thanks to the National Lottery. But that has nothing to do with the film itself which, quite frankly, is a load of poo.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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