Sunday, October 16, 2011

TO THE DEVIL ...A DAUGHTER

The film has been released in the UK : Warner Terror Vision S038175, in 1995, 88 min, rated 18, fullscreen, and reportedly badly presented..
There is also another European version, which is in widescreen. And also it has been released in the US : Continental Video, Cat. # 1002, in 1984, 93 min NTSC. Clearly the British release is cut. However the US tape is in fullscreen as well, though in great quality. The US version, also contains a longer version of Kinski walking past the camera apparently.

Based, apparantly somewhat loosely on the Dennis Wheatley novel (I have a copy of the novel, but haven't read it yet), To the Devil... is Hammer's last horror film, and I feel, a long awaited return to form.
Occult novelist John Verney is approached by a paranoid Henry Beddows at a book signing in London, to look after his seventeen year old birthday. It is soon apparant that she is heavily involved in a bizarre 'satanic' church, headed by Father Michael in Bavaria, where she has spent her life as a nun in The Church of Our Lord. Following a hideous nightmare Catherine reveals that her Lord is Asteroth, a demon. John Verney then faces a very real battle with the dark forces to prevent Father Michael from rebaptising Catherine on her 18th birthday on 31st October (All Hallows Eve), and making her Asteroth incarnate...

Following the successful adaptation of The Devil Rides Out, Hammer had planned in 1973, to produce an anthology of Wheatley novels for tv in a series entitled The Devil and All His Works. Christopher Lee's company, Charlemagne, owned the film rights to the novel, and gave Hammer the go-ahead in 1974, after the motion to make the film followed a preview of The Exorcist. There were many scripting problems, and in the final film this still shows, as all too often we are left slightly bewildered of events. Dennis Wheatley was also unhappy about the script, regarding it as "a hopeless mess, the ending of which could not possibly be more unsatisfactory" and an "appaling travesty". Wheras he had been more than happy with The Devil Rides Out, it seems, that To the Devil... had no real resemblance to the book. Dennis conveyed his annoyance to Hammer in a letter dated 30th June 1975.
Further, casting the film had also proved difficult. Anthony Perkins was just one of the names who proved beyond Hammer's reach. Richard Widmark is truly excellent as John Verney, with a suprising aloofness, though the actor found the shoot a disaster and threatened to leave the production on several occasions. Company director, Michael Carreras was busy trying to gain finances for Vampirella, Hammer's next planned film, causing yet more tension for the crew.
Natassia Kinski, daughter of horror film veteran Klaus Kinski, was a mere fifteen years old, yet gives a frightening performance as the young Catherine, even stripping down for a full frontal at the film's climax, despite being under age!.
Christopher Lee meanwhile gives perhaps his finest Hammer horror performance. Sinister, evil, chilling, and percise, performed with great relish.
The supporting cast are all good with guest appearances from ex-Bond/Avengers girl Honor Blackman, and a cameo from Frances de la Tour (of Rising Damp).
The humour and seriousness of the piece are weel reached, though the conclusion, is as Dennis Wheatley stated, less than satisfactory. More material was filmed than is in the final print. In the final print, Lee just disappears, but originally shot, Lee regains conciousness and goes for Verney with a knife, forgetting the rules of the circle, and as he reaches the edge, the gods intervine, and there is a lightening flash and Lee is thrown to the ground in a crucified position. Then the shooting script called for a succession of metamorphoses to different creatures for Father Michael, before finally dying.


The film did fairly well on its initial release, premiered on 19th February 1976, and on general release on 4th March. The film was an expensive venture at £360,000, some £70,000 less than the initial projecture. Dennis Wheatley was however, distraught at the treatment his novel had received. Lee was too, upset by the turn of events, for the result was not his intention when his company gave Hammer the rights to the picture. Wheatley vowed that Hammer would never be allowed to film another one of his books. Thus plans to film The Satanist, with Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland never saw fruition. Wheatley died in 1977. Also of note, the location used for the climax, the dashwood estate, is part of the land belonging to Lady Francis Dashwood (Maria Landi, the actress who played Cecile in The Hound of the Baskervilles).


It is fitting that Hammer's last horror should star perhaps its most famous foe, Christopher Lee, and the performance is one of his best. The film is wondrously sick and macabre, with Les Bowie's terrible demon child and plenty of blood. The film is worth watching simply for the concluding scenes as Lee and Widmark confront each other in the circle, with glorious surreal colours.


To the Devil... A Daughter
original duration : 93 mins, colour
original cert: X
today's cert: 18
filmed at EMI Elstree and German republic, September 1st to October 24th 1975



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