Retro Review: TO THE DEVIL, A DAUGHTER (1976)

Review of the late Hammer Horror film, that contributed to it’s down fall. – Bleeding Dead

 

Catherine, a young naive nun, is traveling from her monastery in Germany to visit her father in London for her eighteenth birthday. Shortly before Catherine’s plane lands though her father asks occult author John Verney to retrieve his daughter from the airport and to keep her safe, letting on that he’s in trouble with a group of satanist. As it may be the satanists are the church Catherine was raised on, as her mother died during childbirth, and run by an excommunicated priest, Father Michael. Her father Henry, who has been more or less harassed in to the religion by fear since her birth, is hoping that Verney’s expertise into the occult will save his daughters life. But as Verney uncovers more of Father Michael’s practices and his intent with young Catherine he realizes that’s he’s up against very powerful black magic.

TO THE DEVIL, A DAUGHTER is the lovechild of Rosemary’s Baby and Alice Sweet Alice, if such a relationship ever existed. Though the plots generally differ, the films are common in their gritty ninety seventies (sixties for Rosemary) grain and religious horror that I kind of actually enjoy. This film isn’t as good as it’s parents but does have an appeal in unique story archs and plot. My interest and curiosity was never a question as the film kept me wondering and managed to grab my attention early on in it’s demonic birth sequence. It lags at parts, espeically towards the end, but ultimately perturbed me in what was to occur next. It has an odd sexual quality to it that goes unaddressed, the rape scene in this exploits the act of voyeurism and participation found in Rosemary’s Baby as they show you the members actively engaging in sex acts during the rape. Maybe its my mood-set but I’ve recently been appreciative towards the eerie build of films and this was no exception, suspense was present and if not the most successful element of horror in it. The film’s weakest element is undoubtedly it’s special effects where after paying for it’s bulky cast they were left with enough to create a devil puppet. However, it was an fun bit of cheesiness that I liked, having watch it in a heightened disposition.

The casting for the film though is quite impressive. I quite liked Richard Widmark as Verney, an enjoyable older male lead who despite having selfish alterior motives to his early actions is likable and kind. The fabulous thing about Christopher Lee is I rarely ever see him smile, so when the act does occur it’s so unnatural in scope that it adds a layer of creepiness to his performance. Not that it isn’t naturally disturbing on it’s own, as of course it is being played by Lee, who masters the satanic priest without hesitation. Supporting cast members Honor Blackman and Michael Goodliffe are almost adorable in their side story love that I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed them when they came on screen. The luscious use of blood is stunning and paired with the stain glass windows of the church opt for an impressive use of cinematography. Director Peter Skyes and DP David Watkin also do lovely architectural shots from their set location. However Hammer fans will notice a lack of gothic overtones to the films air.

TO THE DEVIL, A DAUGHTER is one of Hammer Horror films later releases towards the end of its reign. For that the film has a lot of hate as it’s not like the studio’s other loved films. That being said I went in blind and liked it mostly for that reason, not worrying about how it measured up to Horror of Dracula (that’s like comparing every Universal film to each other). That being said I’ll likely never watch it again, as it was alright and kept my interest but wasn’t anything fantasic outside it’s performances and photography. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend it but I don’t see how too, unless your out to watch all of Hammer’s films, love Christopher Lee, or the the occult plot appeals to you there’s really no need to watch it. But that being said it’s not a waste of time if you do.

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