Cult Movie: Great cast but To The Devil A Daughter is a proper satanic stinker

Honor Blackman, Nastassja Kinski and Christopher Lee in To The Devil A Daughter
Ralph McLean

SATAN was big business in 70s cinema. Roman Polanski had paved the way for the horned one to hog our screens with Rosemary's Baby, a phenomenally successful adaptation of Ira Levin's tale of demonic possession in the Dakota building that wowed audiences at the end of the previous decade, and William Friedkin had completely blown the doors off the coven with the game-changing sight of Linda Blair's spinning head and projectile vomiting in The Exorcist in 1973.

Suddenly, after a spell in the cinematic shadows, Beelzebub was box office gold again and every production house worth its satanic salt was after a piece of the lucrative action.

Hammer films tried, and failed pretty miserably, to snatch their share of the spoils with To The Devil A Daughter in 1976. The studio had taken a stab at onscreen Satanism before, of course, with the splendid The Devil Rides Out in 1967 and, to a lesser extent, with The Witches, an interesting rural horror written by Nigel 'Quatermass' Kneale in 1966, but as the 70s unfolded they'd been left behind by their American counterparts and were floundering around, making mostly diabolical films of the wrong kind.

This was to be their final attempt at tapping into the horror zeitgeist, and watching the brand new Blu-ray of the film from Canal Plus it's hard not to feel that they shouldn't have bothered.

That's not to say there isn't anything to enjoy here. It's a relatively lavish production from a studio famed for its frugal film-making, it's got a chilling central performance from Christopher Lee as a corrupted priest Fr Michael and any movie that can boast both Denholm Elliott and Honor Blackman in its cast is worth an hour and a half of anybody's time.

Adapted – as The Devil Rides Out had been previously – from the work of ageing pulp novelist Dennis Wheatley, the story of an occult writer (Richard Widmark) who must save the teenage Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) from a fate worse than death at the hands of a satanic group who plan to sacrifice her to the devil on her 18th birthday is certainly intriguing.

Where director Peter Sykes really fails to deliver is with the telling of that story. Working from a screenplay by British fantasy film regular Chris Wicking, he fumbles around trying to instil an aura of the occult into proceedings without ever delivering thrills or tension. There are some wild scenes of sexual frenzy and enough tasteless imagery to tick all the boxes of 70s horror but it never convinces as a real chiller.

Widmark, clearly cast to appease American backers, grumps about like he can't wait to get on the next flight home and Kinski is clearly too young to be in such a sordid world.

Worst of all is the famously ham-fisted attempt at an ending that I won't spoil by revealing here but which still stands as one of the great anticlimaxes in fantasy film history.

There are numerous extras on here but they can't save the film itself from being a proper satanic stinker.

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