Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Baby Born In Hell

Horror star Christopher Lee tried to film an adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s 1953 novel TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER for several years, and it turned out to be Hammer’s last horror picture of the 20th century. 

The film of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is surprisingly sleazy for a Hammer film with an on-camera murder of a newborn baby, a naked Lee (actually his longtime stunt double Eddie Powell) going doggie-style in an orgy, a bloody rubber puppet fetus crawling around, and the sexualization of young Nastassja Kinski (TESS), who performs a full-frontal nude scene at the age of fourteen.

In the film’s favor are its intriguing premise, strong production values (it was filmed mostly on location in Germany), good photography, and strong performances, particularly by Lee, who likely relished playing this character, and Denholm Elliott (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) as a weak-willed lapsed cultist.

Against the film, however, are a confusing screenplay credited to Christopher Wicking (SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN) and John Peacock (but heavily rewritten during shooting by THE DUELLISTS’ Gerald Vaughan-Hughes), a miscast Richard Widmark (who seems reticent), and a terrible ending that gives every evidence of being improvised on the set by a director with his hands flung into the air.

Widmark is American John Verney, a horror writer living in London, who is caught up in a master plan by ex-communicated priest Father Michael (Lee) to baptize nun Catherine (Kinski, whose casting came at the behest of the German financiers) in the blood of a baby on her eighteenth birthday and bring to life a demon called Astaroth. Catherine’s father (Elliott) had signed her over to Michael’s Satanic cult when she was born, but has developed cold feet as she approaches Judgment Day and asks Verney the occult expert to save her.

TO THE DEVIL moves along well enough under the direction of Peter Sykes (DEMONS OF THE MIND), and with a better script might well have sent Hammer out with a bang; the studio’s next and last film (until being resurrected in the late 2000s) was the desultory Hitchcock remake THE LADY VANISHES.

Watch the trailer, and see what you think.

1 comment:

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