One of the last Hammer productions to grace cinema screens (before a long hiatus that ended with the 2011 release of The Resident), To the Devil a Daughter, originally released theatrically in 1976 is getting a revival through Studio Canal as part of their Anniversary celebrations of the original release of The Curse Of Frankenstein in 1957.
Directed by Peter Sykes and adapted from the novel of the same name by Denis Wheatley, the film tells of American expatriate occult writer John Verney (Richard Widmark) who, whilst at a private business party, is approached by Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) to try and rescue his teenage daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski), a practicing nun from a mysterious group called the Children Of The Lord, which is presided over by Father Michael Rayner, a priest who has fallen from the true faith. Verney succeeds in intercepting Catherine at the airport and takes her to his flat near Tower Bridge.
However, Rayner has devilish clever black magic in his midst, which he uses from afar on Catherine to try and regain her for his own dastardly ends - and the future of the group, whom Verney suspects have more sinister ideas about the beliefs and faiths of organised religion….
As a film that was made in the twilight of a golden era of Hammer production – and released in the same year that Richard Donner’s original version of The Omen was causing a stir at US and UK box-offices, To the Devil a Daughter is one of the key gems of the Hammer catalogue and filmography.
Upon reflection, the producers were clearly aware that the ground-breaking successes of films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist alongside The Omen were gaining on them and attempted to at least put something that had a lot more commercial and cross-over appeal to the international market. Originally, the film was not a great success and was the second of two Wheatley novels to be adapted by Hammer for the big-screen, the first being The Devil Rides Out. According to online reports, Wheatley allegedly disliked what Hammer had done with his work and refused permission for future books to get translated to the cinema.
Like Kubrick’s The Shining, another adaptation that the author Stephen King clearly under-appreciated, To The Devil A Daughter works on its own terms and has a compelling style about it. This writer has not read the original source material, so can only judge this film on what is in front of him.
The performances are great, led with conviction by Widmark and Kinski, in one of her early roles, evokes great presence as the innocent teenage girl who is the focus of Lee’s priest. Lee remains simply incomparable in another of his excellent performances for the Hammer brand. Honor Blackman and Brian Wilde (from the UK TV classics Last of the Summer Wine and Porridge) also form part of a good ensemble.
To the Devil a Daughter is a fitting tribute to a legendary horror production slate and one that fans new and old should seek out.
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: PETER SYKES / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER WICKING / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER LEE, RICHARD WIDMARK, HONOR BLACKMAN, NASTASSJA KINSKI / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 29TH