The latest Hammer Films production that I have watched was the 1976 occult horror film “To The Devil… A Daughter”, directed by Peter Sykes (“Demons Of The Mind”, “The Jesus Film”).
As with the earlier Hammer production “The Devil Rides Out” (which was released in 1968 and based on the 1934 novel of the same name) this movie is an adaptation of a novel by English author Dennis Wheatley (1897-1977). Wheatley wrote many occult and espionage books. The source novel in this case, also titled “To The Devil A Daughter”, was first published in 1953.
Public tastes had changed since the Hammer heyday of the late 1950s and 1960s, and in some ways the studio found themselves now trying to keep up with mainstream films that were showing more violence and sexuality than found in the celebrated gothic Hammer films. Although there would be success in the 1980s with the TV series “Hammer House Of Horror”, of which I have very fond memories, this movie would be the penultimate feature film from Hammer (“The Lady Vanishes” from 1979, which was unsuccessful at the box office, being the last) until the brand was relaunched in 2007.
The film itself opens as Father Michael Rayner (Christopher Lee – “The Wicker Man”, “The City Of The Dead”) is excommunicated by some Catholic officials, much to his displeasure as he remarks “it is not heresy, and I will not recant!”.
We then jump forward twenty years to a Bavarian island where Rayner is running a convent called the Children Of The Lord. A seventeen year old nun, Catherine Beddows (Nastassja Kinski – “Paris, Texas”, “Cat People”), who is also Rayner’s god-daughter, visits her father Henry (Denholm Elliott – “The Vault Of Horror”, “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade”) in London each year for her birthday.
Beddows was formerly a member of Rayner’s cult and, aware of a fate that awaits Catherine now that she is turning eighteen, contacts occult author and expert John Verney (Richard Widmark – “Pickup On South Street”, “Panic In The Streets”) and asks him to look after her.
Verney enlists the help of his agent Anna Fountain (Honor Blackman – “Goldfinger”, “The Cat And The Canary”) and her boyfriend David Kennedy (Anthony Valentine – “Tower Of Evil”, “Callan”) in the hopes of keeping Catherine from the clutches of Rayner and his followers and their plans to turn her into an avatar for Astaroth in order to unleash Satan’s reign on Earth…
There were reputedly many problems with the production of this film. The script wasn’t finished when shooting began, the original ending was too close to that of one of Lee’s earlier Dracula movies so had to be rewritten and re-shot.
Lee himself was unhappy with parts of the finished film, Widmark remarked on the “mickey mouse production” and Wheatley was so fed up that the film bore so little resemblance to his book (not to mention the gratuitous sex, nudity and gore) that he declared that Hammer would never again be able to make a film from his work!
Lee gives an assured performance with plenty of evil intent evident in his character, whilst Kinski is also impressive in her role. Incidentally, perhaps surprisingly in view of the nudity and sexuality required of her character, Kinski had only just turned fifteen when the film was released in 1976!
It’s fair to say, I think, that this film isn’t a patch on “The Devil Rides Out” and isn’t what one would normally expect from a Hammer film. Equally it doesn’t match up to the likes of “The Omen” or “Rosemary’s Baby”, similarly occult-themed films from the mid 70s. Nonetheless, I did find this to be an enjoyable movie. Granted, that may be partly due to my interest in the left-hand path but largely because I didn’t find this to be the car crash that many seem to view it as…