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TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER ***
Directed by Peter Sykes. Starring Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Nastassja Kinski, Anthony Valentine, Honor Blackman. UK/Germany, Horror, 89 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Doubleplay (BluRay and DVD) by StudioCanal on the 29th January, 2018.
Hammer's final horror film (discounting the company's semi-revival from 2008) is a definite weirdie that doesn't feel much like Golden Age Hammer. Even though they had already made two Dracula movies (amongst others) set in modern England rather than historical Europe, the villages, castles and burgomasters are what the Hammer name brings to mind when Hammer is mentioned, rather than airports and American novelists. Not only does it not feel like Hammer, it doesn't sound like it either: instead of the thundering music of, say, James Bernard, it boasts a non-melodic, borderline experimental score by Paul Glass. If it wasn't for the presence of the ever-magnificent Christopher Lee you'd be hard-pressed to ever identify it as a Hammer production, albeit one in partnership with a German company.
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is the one end result of an abortive attempt to make a TV anthology series from the writings of Dennis Wheatley. Lee might have been on the angels' side in Hammer's first stab at Wheatley, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, but not here: excommunicated for refusing to recant his heresy, Father Michael Rayner has a literally diabolical plan to bring forth the demon Astaroth and use the especially-born Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) as its avatar on Earth. But she's been placed by her desperate father (Denholm Elliott) in the care of novelist and occult specialist John Verney (Richard Widmark)....
Just as the cosy, comfortable Carry Ons died out because they couldn't compete with the smuttier, filthier product from elsewhere, so cosy, comfortable Hammer struggled against more explicit and graphic horrors such as THE EXORCIST and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER tries for a more adult approach, with a repulsive baby creature, brief nudity from Kinski (underage at the time of filming), and an impressive man on fire sequence in a church. And it's certainly more serious in its approach to witchcraft and devil worship, but sadly it then undoes some of that seriousness by casting familiar TV sitcom faces like Brian Wilde, Derek Francis and Frances De La Tour in smaller roles. But for all its pleasures (the German location footage is gorgeous) it's still a bit of a mess: the climactic confrontation in particular is a let-down in which evil is surprisingly easily vanquished. In the end Wheatley himself hated it and refused Hammer permission to make any more films from his writing; he died the following year but it was thirty years before anyone adapted his work again (a TV film of THE HAUNTED AIRMAN).
Curiously, great chunks of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER's audio are muffled and distant: whether badly recorded or deliberately indistinct it's hard to say but it only affects noises (background ambience as well as foreground sounds like car engines and footsteps) and not the dialogue. (The same issue was present on the previous Optimum DVD release, so presumably it has always been that way.) It's an odd little film: the Satanism stuff is genuinely creepy and unsettling, and Lee is as magnetic as ever, but chunks of it don't really work, either through lack of money or script rewrites, leaving it unsatisfying as a whole. The disc also includes a brand new talking-heads featurette about the film, but doesn't have the one from the earlier release that included Christopher Lee himself, director Peter Sykes and others.
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