(vt To the Devil . . . A Daughter) UK/West German movie (1976). Hammer/Terra Filmkunst. Pr Roy Skeggs. Dir Peter Sykes. Spfx Les Bowie. Mufx Eric Allwright, George Blackler. Screenplay Chris Wicking, adapted by John Peacock. Based on To the Devil – A Daughter (1953) by Dennis Wheatley. Starring Anna Bentinck (Isabella Beddows), Honor Blackman (Anna Fountain), Denholm Elliott (Henry Beddows), Michael Goodliffe (George De Grass), Nastassja Kinski (Catherine Beddows), Christopher Lee (Father Michael Rayner), Eva Maria Meineke (Eveline De Grass), Anthony Valentine (David Kennedy), Richard Widmark (John Verney). 93 mins. Colour.
Movies like The Exorcist (1973) had toppled Hammer from its throne as the "House of Horror", bringing new sophistication into the Horror-Movie subgenre. This was Hammer's last-gasp attempt to strike back, trying, in conjunction with Terra Filmkunst, to recreate the success of the Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out (1968). The result was a curious mixture of the Hammer tradition with more modern tropes concerning Black Magic and Satanism, plus overt sexuality.
Renegade priest Rayner has turned to the dark side and seeks to incarnate Astaroth. His disciple Isabella Beddows agrees to bear the child who through various blood Rituals will become Astaroth's Avatar, knowing she herself will die in the process. 18 years later that child, Catherine, reared as a nun in Rayner's sham-Christian organization, The Children of Our Lord, is sought by Rayner for the second baptism on her birthday, on All Hallow's Eve (> Hallowe'en). Her natural father, Henry, enlists writer of bestselling occult books Verney to extricate her from her fate, even though he believes his Pact with the Devil (reified as a metal quarter-Moon) will consume him in flames should he breach his original promise of silence. In the end, Verney succeeds.
Widely decried on release as muddled, the movie was a failure. In fact, although there is some muddle in the plotting, most of what the critics disliked was sophisticated storytelling. Of particular interest is the use by Rayner of sympathetic Magic to gain his ends; e.g., in a phone conversation with Henry he wraps a rope around his receiver, which is manifested as a Serpent around Henry's wrist. Overall, this is quite an impressive piece of work, despite exploitational aspects (e.g., the sexy nude scene involving Kinski, who was only 16 at the time). [JG]