1976 Hammer Films were on their last legs. After the end of their
lucrative Seven-Arts co-productions in the late 1960s, the budgets
available were cut in half and their output was split between popular,
but unexciting exploitation films, and their well written, but less
popular horror-thrillers. In a last attempt to recapture the
mainstream, Hammer even combined forces with the Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers to shoot Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) and Shatter
(1974) hoping to capitalise on the newly popular martial arts genres,
but neither film performed well. Meanwhile, the sucess of The Exorcist (1973) had sparked public interest in devil worship horror films, and with The Omen (1976)
in production in Britian, the German producers Terra-Filmkunst saw a
chance to make their own production, with the now dormant Hammer Films.
For their source they chose to adapt the novel To the Devil a Daughter from popular horror writer Dennis Wheatley, the rights for which Hammer already owned.
(Nastassja Kinski) is returning to Britain from her German monastery to
celebrate her birthday. Before she arrives, her father (Denholm
Elliott) makes a deal with black magic author John Verney (Richard
Widmark), that he would keep her safely hidden away for a few days. It
soon becomes clear to Verney that he is delving into dangerous waters
as Father Michael (Christopher Lee) starts to go to extreme lengths to
get hold of Catherine, and they learn of his wicked plot...
the opening titles list Dennis Wheatley's book as the source of the
film, this credit is as much a fantasy as the story. While Wheatley's
story is a gripping and well researched Satantic horror, with elements
of spy thriller and socio-political commentary, the
by John Peacock (later rewritten by Gerald Vaughan-Hughes) is a
predictable, by-the-numbers "horror" full of
gaping holes and completely lacking in tension or excitement.
Presumably to ease his writing chores, Peacock turns Catherine (called
Christina in the novel) into a nun in a demonic convent (although how
much the staff there are involved we never find out as they mostly disappear
for the rest of the film). She is sent home for a holiday, presumably
so we can then have the typical "girl in peril" story; although why
Father Michael would go to the risk of sending her home, then arranging
to meet her for the ritual, when he could easily have taken her with
him a day later, or held the ritual in Germany, and avoided all the fuss/risks, we never know.
Catherine's father is largely unexplained in the film, his motives to
renege on the deal with Father Michael are never explained, nor
are his wife's links to the Satanic worshippers (again, these
factors are carefully, and plausibly explained in the book). Anna and
David Fountain (based on the book's lead characters) get to do very
little and could easily have been written out of the film.
the film's discredit, while Wheatley went to great lengths to study black magic for inclusion in his novels, even meeting with many famous satanists, Peacock
seems to have decided to make up his own laughable religion based on the demon
Astaroth (although it is clear that he has made but the most cursory
study of the mythology behind this demon), and gives the devil worshippers a
typical 'seeking power to rule the world' motive, compared to the far
more plausible and achievable goal behind Wheatley's villains. The film's climax is simply bad - gone is the exciting
chase, and massive rituals of the book, instead replaced with a
horrible, rushed and poorly explained anti-climax
that ruins what was left of the film. The only positive aspect of the
script was the alteration of the ex-military Verney of the book into a
Wheatley style author, although even this is not elaborated on as much
as it should have been. In keeping with the film's
exploitation roots, there are several completely gratuitous violence
and sex scenes that do nothing to help the plot and are not in keeping with the book's tone at all.
Peter Sykes gives a decent directoral turn, especially considering that
much of the film was shot very quicky with a limited budget, and
without a finalised script. The camerawork is effective, if rather
plain, and does work well with the limited special effects. The
soundtrack is notably effective - some very strange dischordal choir
music from little known composer Paul Glass (unrelated to modern
classic composer Phillip Glass) that does help to create an effectively uneasy atmosphere and is well edited into the film.
its low budget, the film is very well cast and generally well
acted. In a return to the style of their 1950s films, Hammer were
forced by their backers to import an American star to help sell the
film, Western star Richard Widmark was sent over and immediately
disliked the production - finding the haphazard scripting and
production to be an unnecessary burden. Although he gives an
acceptable performance, it is clear that he is unsuited to the role and
uncommitted to it - it is easy to imagine that there were many other
suitable candidates who could have performed better. Hammer's own star,
Christopher Lee, who
secure the rights to the film, takes the lead villian role and performs
very well - looking sinister and plausible throughout, with the best
performance in the film. Denholm Elliott gives a wonderfully nervous
performance as Catherine's father, while Bond babe Honor
Blackman gives a good, but similarly underwritten performance as Anna
Fountain. For the role of Catherine herself, the producers were forced
to cast a German acress, part of the co-deal with Terra-Filmkunst.
The young Nastassja Kinski, daughter of infamous actor Klaus
Kinski, was chosen based on her only previous screen appearance, in Wim
Wenders' The Wrong Move (1975) - she gives an admirable performance here, with many tough scenes, but never quite convinces.
Ultimately, To the Devil a Daughter
(1976) proved sucessful with audiences, but author Dennis Wheatley was
so shocked with its butchery of his novel, and distastefully gratuitous sex,
that he instantly denied Hammer the rights to shoot any more films
based on his books. To anyone who has read the novel, this film will
doubtless prove similarly disappointing, for newcomers to the story,
the film might prove more enjoyable, but is still heavily flawed and
unoriginal - only the effective soundtrack and the good cast help to
keep this film away from being an abject failure. Unsurprisingly, it
was Hammer's last cinematic horror outing to date. Not recommended.
Anyone famous in it?
Christopher Lee - Hammer's big name, star of the Dracula films, as well as a whole host of euro-cult cinema. Richard Widmark - a lesser known American actor who starred in many Western, film-noir and war films. Denholm Elliott - a well known British actor, best remembered for his roles in two of the Indiana Jones films. Honor Blackman - best known as Pussy Galore in James Bond adventure Goldfinger (1964). Nastassja Kinski - daughter of Klaus Kinski, and star of Paris, Texas (1984) and Cat People (1982)
Directed by anyone interesting?
Sykes - little known director, who also shot Hammer's late
psychological thriller, Demons of the Mind (1972) and also shot The Jesus Film (1979), believed to be one of the most widely seen films ever made.
Is it scary?
Several bloody deaths and a lot of blood.
Some sex and brief nude scenes.
Who is it for?
Not recommended. For Hammer and Christopher Lee completists only.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour The
print quality is very strong with good detail and only mild grain and print damage.
English mono - sounds fine for the most part, although a few short
scenes are rather muffled which does rather distract from some
important sequences. A similar problem was reported on the ABUS disc.
The disc includes:
To the Devil... the Death of Hammer
an interesting mix of interviews and clips about this film and the
situation in which it was made. As included on the ABUS disc. (24
Interesting interview clip from a film festival with
Christopher Lee's regular stuntman Eddie Powell about his work on this
film. As included as an easter egg on the ABUS disc. (7 minutes)