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To the Devil a Daughter (1976)


Main image of To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
DirectorPeter Sykes
Production CompanyTerra Filmkunst (Munich)
 Hammer Film Productions
ProducerRoy Skeggs
ScreenplayChristopher Wicking
From the novel byDennis Wheatley
CinematographyDavid Watkin

Cast: Richard Widmark (John Verney); Christopher Lee (Father Michael Rayner); Honor Blackman (Anna Fountain); Denholm Elliott (Henry Beddows); Nastassja Kinski (Catherine); Michael Goodliffe (George De Grass)

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An occult writer attempts to prevent a young nun from falling into the hands of a satanic priest and his heretical religious cult, who plan to use her as the human host for their dark god.

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Peter Sykes' To The Devil A Daughter was Hammer's last theatrically released horror film, co-produced with the German company, Terra Filmkunst. Released in 1976 to an indifferent response, it was nevertheless an interesting attempt to make a commercially successful film.

The film exploits the resurgence of interest in the occult, which surfaced in counter-culture music and literature during the late 1960s. Dennis Wheatley, author of the source novel, experienced renewed popularity. Legendary occultist Aleister Crowley (whose novel The Moonchild bears a striking resemblance to the film) appeared on the record sleeve of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Two extremely successful films, Rosemary's Baby (US, d. Roman Polanski, 1968) and The Exorcist (US, d. William Friedkin, 1973), had already made a dramatic impact.

The film seems a far cry from Terence Fisher's more understated, visually lush horrors The Devil Rides Out (1968, another Wheatley adaptation), Dracula (1958) or The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The audience is treated to bizarre, almost psychedelic dream sequences, and a gory childbirth scene that imitates some of the more gruelling moments of The Exorcist and foreshadows the 'chest burster' from Ridley Scott's Alien (US, 1979). Even with added nudity and bloodshed, To The Devil A Daughter never quite approaches the soft-core titillation of Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy or the garish gimmickry of the later Dracula films. For the first time here is a Hammer film that feels comfortable with its contemporary setting and more extreme levels of sex and violence.

Shot completely on location, the set-bound feel of earlier Hammer horror films is entirely absent. Instead of an imaginary Central European village, the film is set in and around contemporary London. Heathrow Airport, Tower Bridge and the Thames are all backdrops to the unfolding events. In some ways this break from the studio set adversely affects the film. The minutely controlled atmosphere of the earlier films is sacrificed, and the incongruous scenes set in Bavaria suggest that concessions were made in the name of international co-production.

To The Devil A Daughter, despite its 70s trappings, takes a wilfully old fashioned approach to its material even though it jettisons much of Wheatley's 1953 source novel. The delineation between the forces of light and darkness is always clear and lacks the moral ambiguity suggested by a film like Rosemary's Baby. In that sense, more than any other, it feels like a 'classic' Hammer horror film.

George Watson

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Video Clips
1. Excommunication (1:24)
2. A serpentine phone (1:47)
3. Forbidden books (3:08)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Satan's Slave (1976)
Witches, The (1966)
Blackman, Honor (1925-)
Elliott, Denholm (1922-1992)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
Hammer Horror