TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER
With To the Devil a Daughter, Hammer adapted a 1953 novel by British occult writer Dennis Wheatley. Hammer had earlier adapted Dennis Wheatleys occult works with The Devil Rides Out/The Devils Bride (1968), which is considered one of their best films, as well as the lost world film The Lost Continent (1968). They announced plans to film several other Wheatley works such as The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1948) and The Satanist (1960) around the same time. Comparison between The Devil Rides Out and To the Devil a Daughter shows just how much Hammer was trying to jump onto the Exorcist bandwagon The Devil Rides Out, which came out before Rosemarys Baby and The Exorcist, offers a very literate depiction of black magic but when it comes to all the obscenities, its orgiasts remained chastely clothed and their diabolic depravities discreetly unmentioned; To the Devil by comparison shows full-frontal nudity and contains several nastily sadistic set-pieces with a pregnant womans thighs being bound and a demonic foetus tearing its way out, and another scene with a woman hand-pumping the blood out of her own veins.
Most people hate To the Devil a Daughter but I enjoyed it. It strays widely from the Dennis Wheatley source work. The original is a demented piece about a defrocked Anglican canon who conjures up various homunculi in a war against Devil-worshipping Communists for the soul of an English girl. There is almost nothing in common in the finished film version, which was widely subject to script revisions during shooting only the names of about two of the characters and the character of the virgin girl who has been intended as a sacrifice. (Wheatley was so annoyed with the end result that he wrote a letter to Hammer saying he did not wish to be associated with any further adaptations of his works).
For all the abandonment of the source, the films demonology is still literately written, much better than the usual occult films of the period. There has also been the addition of a number of German locations and actors to accommodate the fact that the film was a West German co-production. The classical Hammer Gothic surroundings are left behind and the story well integrated into the modern world, where the characters have much more flesh than usual Richard Widmark does well enough with his role and a seventeen-year old Nastassja Kinski brings her customary earthy Gypsy sensuality.
Peter Sykes, a minor latter day Hammer director (see below for his other films), directs some effective scares like the scene where a rope draped over a phone turns into a snake. Particularly standout is Christopher Lee who gives a performance of towering, lascivious evil that dominates the whole film. The only part where the film disappoints is at the climax, where Richard Widmarks struggle against a demonic wind proves a far cry from the clash of forces of light and dark promised. Comparison to the epic psychological war between the forces of light and darkness that came at the climax of Hammers The Devil Rides Out makes this seem all the more disappointing.
Director Peter Sykes also made the likes of Venom (1971), Hammers interesting Demons of the Mind (1972) and the Old Dark House comedy The House in Nightmare Park (1973). The script was from Christopher Wicking, one of the most intelligent writers to emerge during the Anglo-horror era, responsible for Anglo-horror items such as The Oblong Box (1969), Scream and Scream Again (1969), Cry of the Banshee (1970), Blood from the Mummys Tomb (1971), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) and Demons of the Mind.