Saturday, January 24, 2009

Horror Movie Review: To the Devil a Daughter

To the Devil a Daughter

Starring: Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott, Nastassja Kinski, and Anthony Valentine

Directed by: Peter Sykes

Written by: John Peacock, Christopher Wicking, and Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, based on Dennis Wheatley's novel

Production Companies: Hammer Film Productions, Terra-Filmkunst, and Charlemagne Productions

Ah, the Hammer Horror Films. Beautiful, British forays into dark suspense and Gothic tales of terror and from the late 50's to the 70s, they were the goto company for if you wanted to watch something scary. But in the 70s, they were having trouble and To the Devil a Daughter was one of their last films...until recently.

John Verney is an occult writer who is approached by Henry Beddows. Henry entices Verney to assist him with a tale of Satanists who are going to sacrifice his daughter, Catherine. Verney quickly learns that this isn't some mumbo-jumbo as Father Michael Rayner turns his malevolent gaze on Verney and his friends Anna and David to get to Catherine. Can Verney stop the Satanic priest before he summons the Devil with Catherine's blood?

To the Devil a Daughter seems to find itself often compared with earlier films Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, which is a disservice to this film. It is not as scary as the two earlier films, but then having a human antagonist is never as scary as the unseen, demonic influences from the other films, so accept that this is more of an adventure and less a spiritual struggle.

So, accepting that...To the Devil a Daughter is an excellent film. Richard Widmark, who plays protagonist John Verney, is compelling as the writer who has to come to grips with the fact that he's living the fiction he's been writing about and has to face the consequences of his arrogance in getting involved. Widmark apparently hated working on this film, but maybe he better appreciated his later foray into horror working on The Swarm.

Anthony Valentine plays Verney's friend David who get impassioned in Verney's quest to stop Father Rayner. Valentine does a fine job, but there wasn't anything compelling about his performance. Valentine had opposed the forces of evil earlier in 1972's the Tower of Evil.

It was interesting seeing Denholm Elliott as someone other than Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies. With this role either I'm learning that he frequently got cast as a kind of bumbling guy who tends to be in over his head. But here he splices in some creepiness not seen in the innocent Brody character and does so quite well.
Elliott starred in Clive Barker's Underworld.

Nastassja Kinski plays the sacrifice Catherine. It was fab watching young Kinski i9n this early role. She played the doe-eyed innocent wonderfully and...well, she gets naked. Kinski also gets hot in the controversial 1982 film Cat People.

But more exciting than watching Kinski was watching Honor Blackman as Anna, Verney'd friend and David's lover. You know Blackman most likely as Pussy Galore from Goldfinger. Not only was she beautiful, but smoothly portrayed the flippant Anna. Blackman also starred in Fright, a British horror film about a babysitter which predates When a Stranger Calls.

Most notable, however, was the intense gaze of Christopher Lee as Father Michael Rayner. It's Christopher Lee...what is there to say...Of course he did great. On the commentary from the disk he commented that the bloody demon newborn was too much, but I do have to disagree with him. It may not have been very realistic, but the concept was very disturbing that helped create a feeling of unease.

My main complaint, other than there could have been more Honor Blackman, is that the ending was abrupt. You are geared up for the climactic end battle and...nothing...It's a good film with some minor flaws. Give it a rent.

Related Trailers

The Swarm starring Richard Widmark

Cat People starring Nastassja Kinski

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