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  To The Devil A Daughter Born To Be Bad
Year: 1976
Director: Peter Sykes
Stars: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Nastassja Kinski, Denholm Elliott, Honor Blackman, Anthony Valentine, Michael Goodliffe, Eva Maria Meineke, Derek Francis, Isabella Telezynska, Brian Wilde, Frances de la Tour
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: American occult writer John Verney (Richard Widmark) is attending the launch party of his latest book, when he is approached by an uninvited guest, Beddows (Denholm Elliott). As his friends look on, wondering what they're discussing, Verney and Beddows make a deal: Verney will look after Beddows' teenage daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) who has just emerged from a convent where she has spent her whole life. But there are dark forces at work, instigated by excommunicated priest Father Michael (Christopher Lee), who has big plans for the mysterious girl...

All good things must come to an end, and this Satanic chiller, scripted by John Peacock from the novel by Dennis Wheatley, was the last ever Hammer horror movie. It doesn't look much like the Hammer films we are used to, and obviously was an attempt to drag the studio's most lucrative genre into the seventies, with a contemporary setting and extensive location work. Following on from Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen, the story has a possessed young girl being hunted down by Satanists, but despite trying to appeal to the modern audience, it takes far too long for the plot to be explained.

It's almost as if the film makers are reluctant to make anything clear, which is all very well for preserving a sense of mystery, but leaves the first time viewer confused for much of the story. The film is nearly over before we're told what exactly the significance of Catherine is. To conjure up the appropriate atmosphere of the profane, there are many scenes of Satanic rituals led by Father Michael, who seems to spend most of his days holding up various objects in front of an unusually sculpted image of Astaroth, the demon that is behind the evil, so that by the time the climax arrives, you're thinking, "not another ceremony!"

In another effort to appeal to the largest audience, American Widmark plays the hero, but he's out of place and never convinces as a intellectual scholar of the dark arts. Much better is the suave Lee, representing the monolithic evil with silky smooth villainy; he would perhaps have been better in Widmark's role, to favourably remind us of The Devil Rides Out. As the innocent Catherine, the blank-faced Kinski is supposed to embody an innocence corrupted, but lacks any discernable personality to spark the sexual charge that she is supposed to carry.

The first scene of real nastiness is pretty potent, featuring a woman giving birth to a baby Astaroth, with her legs tied together so that the offspring claws its way out of her. The depravity of the baddies is laid on pretty thick, as seen in the awkward orgy visions that Catherine suffers, but the plot trundles along with uninspired inevitability to the "was that it?" finale, in which the previously underwhelming Verney is unexpectedly the master of devil vanquishing. It says a lot that the creepiest character is the Salvation Army Major played by Frances de la Tour. After this, Hammer turned to television, which is not surprising on the strength of To The Devil A Daughter. Music by Peter Glass. Beddows wasn't very good at keeping Catherine's hiding place secret, was he?
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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