A brief prologue introduces us to Father Michael (Christopher Lee), holding court over the church-based birthing of an infant destined to live a life devoted to his own church, The Children of God.
Fast-forward twenty years and we're now in the mid-70s. American author John (Richard Widmark) arrives in England to promote his latest occult-themed bestseller. At a book signing, he's greeted by his affable manager Anna (Honor Blackman) and her boyfriend David (Anthony Valentine). He's also accosted, mid-signing, by the frantic Henry (Denholm Elliott) - who asks a very special favour of the writer.
Against Anna and David's advice, John honours Henry's wishes and rushes to the airport to meet the latter's daughter, Catherine (Nastassja Kinski). She's a nun who's lived her whole life in the confines of a convent in Germany, and now she's making her maiden journey to England at the request of Father Michael. Henry evidently wants John to intercept any such rendezvous, and promises there will be a good story for him to base his next book on if he does so.
Hiding Catherine in his swanky apartment, John gradually learns that Father Michael is the head of a Satanic cult - and Catherine is required as a sacrifice in two days' time which will result in the coming of the antichrist.
With Anna and David's help, John determines to stay one step ahead of Father Michael and his evil mob, and keep Catherine safe from harm over the next couple of days...
Released in 1976 just as the original Hammer Studios were winding down their production of feature films, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is very much a product of its time. Taking its cue from modern hits such as ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST, the film not only embraces an occult theme but places it very firmly in the present tense, as well as offering an unusual amount of nudity and violence by the studio's standards, and even going so far as to proffer a downbeat finale typical of cinema at the time.
Keenly edited and paced, the film benefits from luscious cinematography which makes fine use of some wonderful British and European locations. Paul S Glass's eerie score perfectly complements these evocative, atmospheric visuals.
Christopher Wicking's pulpy script - based on a Dennis Wheatley novel - is trashy but fun. A game cast help it rise above its B-movie mechanics, with Widmark and Lee taking top honours on opposing sides of the moral spectrum. Lee, in particular, clearly relishes a role that requires complete malevolence from him.
Kinski, meanwhile, is demure and mysterious: an image of innocence outwardly, but brimming with tension just crying to be released. She was fifteen at the time this was made, hence there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding the climactic scene (although it's all rather cleverly edited and therefore more discreet than you perhaps at first think)...
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER gets a most welcome re-release onto UK DVD, as well as its maiden blu-ray outing, courtesy of this fine dual-format edition from Studiocanal. We were sent a copy of the DVD for review purposes.
The film looks extremely good in this new transfer from a remarkably clean print, presented in its original 1.66:1 ratio and totally uncut (89 minutes and 11 seconds, though 19 seconds of that is the newly tagged-on Studiocanal imprint). Colours are impressively bold from the start; blacks are deep and consistent; a thin layer of natural grain retains an authentic filmic texture throughout; images are bright without seeming boosted, sharp but with no evidence of edge-enhancement.
English 2.0 audio does its job without cause for complaint: dialogue is clear at all times, and that eerie score has never sounded better. Optional English subtitles are provided for the hard-of-hearing, and prove to be a well-written, easily readable proposition.
The disc opens to a subtly animated main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features are limited but enjoyable.
Marcus Hearn's "Dark Arts" is an 18-minute documentary detailing the making of the film from the perspective of several academics: Kevin Lyons, John Johnson, Alan Barnes, Jonathan Rigby etc. They speak of the film's genesis - originally proposed as an episode of an anthology series which never manifested - and its expert use of locations. The cast are discussed with affection, of course, even though it transpires that Widmark was "difficult" to work with and looked upon Hammer films with disdain. Wheatley hated the film; the BBFC were unexpectedly lenient on the film ... there's a lot of interesting info on offer here.
The film's original theatrical trailer plays heavily on TO THE DEVIL's international casting and its efforts at cashing in on the Satanic horrors of the aforementioned ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST. It runs for an enjoyably grainy 2 minutes.
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER has aged well, retaining its power to shock and provoke. Lee delivers one of his finest - and most malevolent - roles; the supporting cast are great; the photography aids the film tremendously. And it looks particularly great here (the blu-ray presentation must surely be gorgeous).
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Studiocanal|