For this week's Movie Monday we'll be talking about Hammer's last horror film To The Devil...A Daughter!
TTDAD was released in 1976, and was the legendary Hammer Films' last gasp at a horror film, which was their bread and butter. With the massive success of The Exorcist and The Omen, devil possession movies were all the rage.
Hammer had actually been planning on making this movie for several years, but various financial and creative difficulties kept stalling production, so that by the time it was released, Hammer looked like it was following a trend, not making them, as they had done in the 50s and 60s.
The film opens in a sparsely-attended church service of some kind. Within a few moments, we see Father Michael (Christopher Lee), so we know there's probably something sinister afoot.
The center of everyone's attention is a young "nun" named Catherine (Nastassja Kinski), who is about to turn eighteen. Her father, a man named Henry Beddows (the late great Denholm Elliott), looks nervously on.
We soon learn that Father Michael has, at some point in the past, convinced Beddows to "turn over" his daughter to the church, so she will be the host for the Devil himself (or Astaroth, as he is called here) when he returns to Earth...on Catherine's eighteenth birthday!
But Henry gets cold feet just a few days before this is all to commence, so he contacts an expert in Satanism, an author named John Verney (Richard Widmark), and convinces him to look after her when Henry sends her away.
A sort of henchman of Father Michael tracks down Henry, and tries to kill him. But Henry isn't quite the pushover he seems to be!
While Father Michael and his coven (which includes a grim-faced woman named Anna, played by Honor Blackman) try and find Catherine, they oversee the birth of another baby to use in their sick rituals.
There's a fairly lengthy birth scene, and as the pregnant woman thrashes in agony, Father Michael looks on in glee:
...gee, what woman wouldn't want to see this leaning over them as they gave birth?
Catherine begins to act all wonky under Verney's care. She has weird dreams, tries to escape, and acts like she's hypnotized. We get a glimpse of Asteroth in a mirror, which almost single-handedly dispels the mood the film is trying to create. More on that in a moment.
In the middle of the film, there's a big orgy/ritual sacrifice scene that involves Christopher Lee's naked butt (actually a stand-in), Kinski getting mounted by a giant gold replica of Asteroth, fellatio, and more fun.
Later, Verney and Father Michael have a confrontation in a church, where the latter seems to have some otherworldly powers:
Father Michael finally apprehends Catherine, and prepares for the big sacrifice. Laying on a stone slab, she has some sort of weird dream(?) where Asteroth appears, in the form of a really bad puppet.
Not only is it a bad puppet, but we get to see said puppet crawl up the stone altar, climb onto Catherine, and make its way up her scantily-clad body:
Catherine seems to be in something resembling sexual glee over this, and she grabs Asteroth by both hands and...let's just say places him somewhere very private.
As Catherine waits, Verney gets the drop on Father Michael, who is in the middle of slicing open the sacrificial infant (in a throwaway scene, kind of surprising so little of it is made, considering how horrific the act is). Verney stands outside the weird little circle Father Michael has made:
Father Michael tries to tempt Verney into "taking" Catherine, who appears to him completely naked, in a bit of nudity so gratuitous it made me laugh. It also made me shudder, realizing Kinski was only fifteen when she made this movie: and yet here she is, doing full frontal--not to mention the whole devil puppet gynecologist scene. Did Nastassja Kinksi not have parents?
Anyway, after this, Father Michael gloats his power is such that Verney cannot enter the sacred circle, or whatever. In a scene so anti-climactic its startling, Verney says something about this rock he's holding has some special properties. He throws it at Father Michael, seemingly killing him! He grabs the unconscious Catherine, and departs. The End.
According to various articles on the web, To The Devil...A Daughter was a troubled production, with last-minute script rewrites, casting problems, and lack of funds. The first half of the film works fairly well, but the devil puppet is almost Ed Woodian in its cheeziness, and the ending is so abrupt it really brings the film to a crashing halt (apparently an alternate ending was even shot, but it does not survive).
I enjoyed watching TTDAD, but to me it doesn't rank anywhere near Hammer's best. Its kind of too bad such a legendary film studio went out with a bit of a whimper, not a bang.