31 Days of Horror: To the Devil a Daughter

I had an eye issue plague me for a few days that made it impossible to work at a computer, but didn’t prevent me from watching the TV from across the room. Here’s the first in a few entries about the watch-fest to bring me current for the month.

I somehow made it a week into this year’s plan to watch mostly British films from the 1960s and 1970s without managing to encounter Christopher Lee. I had to correct that immediately with a hefty dose of the one-and-only Mr. Lee. We begin with To the Devil a Daughter (1976), a film which features both a hefty cast of recognizable faces, but perhaps the greatest ratio of on-screen phone calls to running time in cinema history.

The plot involves Catherine Beddows, a young nun raised by a churchfrom childhood, played by a 14 year-old Nastassja Kinsky. Catherine is on her way to London to see her father, Henry (played by Denholm Elliot, perhaps best known among viewers in my age group as Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films). The trip has all been arranged by Father Michael Raynor (Christopher Lee), who, when we last saw him, was in the process of being excommunicated by the Church. Surely, that must have been reconciled since we see him still parading about in his vestments and collar and leading the church that young Catherine was raised by.

As Catherine flies to London, we meet American occult novelist John Verney at a book signing organized by his agent Anna (played by Pussy Galore, herself, Honor Blackman). A desperate-looking Henry crashes the signing, looking to speak with John, and a hushed conversation later, Verney is on his way to the airport to pick up Catherine in Henry’s place. He takes the naïve novice back to his apartment, where Henry is supposed to come for her, but a phone call from him reveals its best if Catherine lay low at Verney’s place for a while. It turns out there’s some angry Satanists after John—or so he claims. The truth might be they’re actually after Catherine.

 Suffice to say, with a title like “To the Devil a Daughter,” you know there’s some sketchy progeny involved in the plot. It’s the most convoluted case of birthing the Antichrist I’ve ever encountered. No, really. I’ve watched the movie and apparently the means to manifest the Devil on Earth involved a whole lot of steps, including giving birth to a Guild Navigator from Lynch’s Dune. The birth of the Beast in Good Omens is a cakewalk comparatively.

Despite this, which if you just go with a “ah, whatever” attitude and let things unfold, the movie is entertaining. It’s always good to see Chris Lee as the heavy, and, man do his eyebrows deserve a supporting role credit in this film. Kinsky does OK in her role as Catherine, mostly because Catherine is utterly naïve and unacquainted with the world at large. “Slack-jawed” isn’t always a great adjective to be associated with, by Kinsky makes it work. I will say this about the movie, though: there are a lot of phone calls in this film. Characters calling characters calling characters, and even Raynor and Verney’s initial faceoff is done thanks to British Telecom. It takes a lot to make a phone call dramatic in film and unfortunately, To the Devil a Daughter can’t quite pull that off.

To the Devil a Daughter would be Christopher Lee’s final film for Hammer until 2011. For the man who helped build the studio, it would have been kinder is he’d left on a stronger note. To the Devil a Daughter isn’t a bad film, but it’s not Hammer (or Lee’s) best work, earning it a rating of 2.5 skulls out of 5.

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