Twitter Plot Summary: Good and evil fight for the soul of a soon to be 18 year old nun. My money’s on Christopher Lee.
Released towards the latter end of Hammer’s domination of the horror genre, Christopher Lee’s priest finds himself excommunicated after engaging in Satanic activities, planning on kidnapping Nastassja Kinski’s nun Catherine and using her for Satanist purposes. So begins To The Devil A Daughter, a film which not only covers many of Hammer’s favourite tropes, but also makes obligatory comments about modern society at that time. Catherine is protected by her father and an American novelist who specialises in the occult. Rather a convenient turn of events to have this man as her protector, I’m sure you will agree. A battle of wits ensues between good and evil, with the girl’s soul the prize for whomever ultimately wins.
The cast list should indicate the level of power Hammer held at that time. Christopher Lee is an obvious star given his longstanding links with the Hammer studio, but we also have the delight of seeing Denholm Elliot, Honor Blackman (post-Goldfinger, but long before the mostly average sitcom The Upper Hand) and Richard Widmark in the main roles.
Lee exudes sinister intent, tonally somewhere between his performances in Dracula and The Wicker Man. He’s the strongest part of this production without question, but Lee could do a role like this in his sleep if need be. Widmark is given the straight role, barely stepping out from this to give his character any personality. There’s a little more for Denholm Elliott to do, stressing over his daughter’s safety and getting into a couple of scrapes with the bad guys.
For those not in the know, Nastassja Kinski is the daughter of the brilliant but incredibly hot tempered Werner Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski. Fortunately it seems that her father’s angry outbursts were not carried over to his children, who it seems were fearful of him and barely had any contact. She is an interesting presence as Catherine, portraying religious naivety yet having the ability to turn this completely on its head when the possession kicks in. This being the 1970s, Honor Blackman is seriously underused and is here apparently just to bulk up the female quota.
The problem is that the plot is nonsensical and doesn’t end in a satisfactory manner. Most of the events taking place are not told in a clear and concise manner and gives the impression that they made up most of it on the spot. The inherent Britishness of the locations and Hammer’s previous skills in the horror genre do little to save this, and that ending really needed fleshing out some more. The preceding events wouldn’t be as badly received had they bothered to provide a decent ending. Instead the story peters out and it’s not clear what the outcome really is.
When you take into account the number of other, better possession films that had already been made by that point it highlights just how bad To The Devil A Daughter really is. On the strength of this effort, it’s clear to see why Hammer Productions went belly-up shortly after.