APRIL 8, 2012
I swear I had forgotten today was Easter when I started watching To The Devil A Daughter, because I started at 2am and thus wasn't really thinking clearly. And of course I fell asleep five minutes in and thus watched the rest after I woke up, now knowing the date and feeling guilty as the film went about its sacrilegious plot while my family was probably at church. Hopefully God has a sense of humor or at least doesn't hold it against me when I die (which will be soon given how much candy I've eaten lately; why are Valentine's Day and Easter so close together?).
Far more interesting anecdote - this was the final Hammer horror film for quite a long time, as their financial situation had gotten fairly dismal in the 70s thanks to increased competition and other factors. In fact there would only be one more feature (a remake of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes) from the company at all until Let Me In! Sadly, this was not the best "swan song"; it's a good thing that Woman In Black turned out so well, hopefully extending the brand for a while and putting this one further down in its filmography.
Now, it's not a terrible movie by any means - it's just dull; an overly talky Exorcist wannabe sans any real scares and only a few out of nowhere batshit moments keeping it from being totally forgettable. You'd think a Hammer film starring Christopher Lee as a Satanic priest would be one of their most exciting and delightful movies ever, but it's like director Peter Sykes was hellbent on rushing through the action moments so he could get back to the yammering. Perfect example - there's a scene where our beleaguered heroine needs to cross a bridge that is pulling apart (so a boat can pass) and thus needs to jump the gap. We see her run toward it, then they cut to an onlooker, before cutting back to when she's already on the other side. Come on! Show the jump!
It also has a rushed climax (apparently it went on longer at one point but I can't find a reason as to why it was cut down), and a low body count even by the standards of these sort of films. Plus there's no real mystery - it's pretty obvious what Lee wants with the girl (Nastassja Kinski) from early on, and everything gets spelled out earlier than necessary. Kinski is the daughter of Denholm Elliott's character, and after about 25 minutes or so the only question is why they chose her for their ritual, and it is answered out of nowhere by Lee a few moments later (he made a pact of some sort when she was born). In Exorcist there wasn't much interest in explaining why the demon chose Regan, nor did it matter since the movie was Karras' story. But Kinski is our lead here, since Lee and Richard Widmark (as her guardian) get about the same amount of screentime and have no ambiguity about them. So the movie is basically "Will she go along with the Satanic folk, or fight them off?" and since you know you won't get an answer until the climax, it becomes a bit of a chore. They could have at least made it a surprise that Lee's priest was actually a Satanist, but since the film opens with him being excommunicated from the church, there's no question that he's the film's villain.
But again, there are some good batshit moments, and they are a huge relief when they appear. "Finally, something besides people talking!" The best is when Kinski begins hallucinating in her room, seeing this little demon fetus thing in a mirror and shrieking hysterically until Widmark smashes the thing. And later, the thing reappears and they join forces in what can only be described as a reverse birth scene. Oh, and Kinski was only 15 at the time, which means I've now inadvertently seen two Exorcist ripoffs in the past month that feature underage nudity. Only at HMAD...
And to be fair, I was told about those nutty moments before I saw the film, so I was expecting something a little more consistently gonzo. Someone on Twitter told me that he liked the film more upon a second viewing, and I'm sure I would probably feel the same. You can't argue with the quality of the cast, and even though they were trying to cash in on the post-Exorcist craze (it's based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, but apparently it bares no resemblance to his work whatsoever), it's still a bit of a refreshing departure for the studio, who by this point were just churning out variations on their vampire movies more often than not. However, I can watch the film 30 times and still feel that the script is awkward and lacks any real momentum, and the rarity of any real horrific/scary elements is a hurdle that its assets can never quite overcome. Worth a look more for its significance in the studio's history than its actual content - not really a ringing endorsement!
What say you?