To The Devil... A Daughter (1976)
Hammer's last foray into the world of horror films is a very nasty little number indeed. It's so far removed from everything else they've ever done it can hardly be lumped in with the rest of them, but it's undoubtedly a classic. It also paves the way for the Hammer House Of Horror TV series in both look and tone.
What's more, there's actually very little humour in it, intentional or otherwise. It's a very po-faced film, which attempts to deal with the idea of satanism in a realistic way (it fails, of course) whilst punctuating the narrative with a variety of very gorey, violent, nasty deaths - and a couple of equally revolting births.
Writer John Verney(Richard Widmark, in fetching "old man" hat) is approached by nervey Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliot) at an arts exhibition, and for some reason agrees to look after the obviously unhinged man's daughter. Beddows is then menaced by a hired thug-type, who gets shot. This first death shows how far Hammer have come since the previous effort (Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires) - it's uncompromising, realistic and very gory, something that the last film completely wasn't.
Verney lays his cards on the table by proclaiming: "98 per cent of so-called 'satanists' are pathetic freaks... then there are the other two per cent... I'm not so sure about them..." and this from a so-called expert on the occult! Way to not know what you're talking about, John!
We're then treated to a bit of top 70s lifestyle, as Anthony Valentine and Honor Blackman indulge in a quick game of "Mastermind".
Meanwhile, Denholm's daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) - who appears to be some kind of Satan-worshipping nun - has been brought to England from an island run by Father Michael (Christopher Lee), and taken in by Verney, who has managed to outwit the people who were supposed to be meeting her at the airport.
Back at the island there's something truly horrific going on - a heavily pregnant woman has had her legs strapped together before she gives birth. Kinski is seen writhing around on her bed and getting very sweaty and we're treated to close-ups of the pregnant woman's front bottom, as something attempts to break free of her swollen stomach. I tell you, Alien's got nothing on this...
Eventually, of course, something has to give - and I assume it's the poor woman's stomach. Everyone (including the cinema audience, I'd imagine) turns away, disgusted, apart from Lee, who leans in grinning maniacally. "You shall die now..." he tells his unfortunate acolyte. That's one way to deal with post natal depression, I suppose.
The "baby" (which appears to glow green) is taken to England in an incubator, and Kinski confides with Verney: "I had a... horrible dream. I dreamt I was being born... I was clawing my way out... I was hideous... they were sickened when they saw me..."
Verney is now shitting himself. "I have a feeling I'm dealing with that other two per cent..."
Father Michael phones Beddows in an attempt to find out where his daughter is: "I'm so close I can hear you pulse beating... it's beating very fast, Henry..."
We then have a flashback to Catherine's (equally gory) birth in which Beddows' wife died and which the poor sod witnessed. Father Michael's as comforting as usual: "She died as she wished to die... you were nothing to her. I will not have this sacrament destroyed by any drunken tears."
It turns out that the "pact" Beddows and his wife have made is actually a piece of jewelry, which is hidden in a church (aren't they always?). "Live in dread, Henry Beddows - I watch my servants carefully."
After Verney foils Father Michael again we get to see Catherine's baptism, which involves a distinctly un-Hammer orgy (real sex? I think I prefer the crap ones in The Devil Rides Out and The Witches) and the very young Catherine being raped by Father Michael (quick flash of Lee's arse), who declares: "I am Catherine - Catherine is me!" Eh?
Verney manages to stop Catherine coming under Father Michael's spell by slapping her about a bit. We're then told that Father Michael chose to worship "the absolute capability of men" and that he wants to create an Avatar through Catherine - the ultimate personification of the god Astaroth - he can only do this by baptising her in the blood of Astaroth, who was the baby born earlier on. Aha. With me? No, I didn't think so...
Catherine murders Blackman by sticking a metal comb through her head, and Valentine burns to death when he grabs Beddows' pact of Henry's dead wife. Why? Who knows - but it looks good.
Want more nastiness? We have a woman draining all the blood out of her own body and arranging it in neat plasma bags, Lee slitting baby Astaroth's throat, and Catherine attempting to shove the same baby into a place which should really be a one-way street as far as babies are concerned (yes, it is that revolting - thankfully it's just a dream).
Luckily, after some 15-year-old girl nudity, Verney's on hand with his trusty rock to stop all this silliness - it turns out that Father Michael was treading a very fine line demon-wise by killing one of them so it could be re-born.
A bizarre film, which is actually far more of its time than something like Dracula AD1972 because of the serious approach it has, To The Devil... A Daughter may be occasionally unwatchable, but it's a fine way for Hammer to bow out. It's just a shame they did, as for a last film, it promises much for the future.
The film ends with a quote from Dennis Wheatley's bumper book of made-up bollocks: "In light all things thrive and bear fruit... in darkness they decay and die. That is why we must follow the teachings of the lords of light."
Incidentally, Wheatley didn't like this film much - which shows what he knew.
Last updated: February 22, 2010
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