Sunday, 18 December 2011
'A LIFETIME OF DREAD' - HAMMER's 1976 classic of demonic debauchery; TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, shown on THE HORROR CHANNEL.
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976)
Directed By: Peter Sykes
Starring: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Nastassja Kinski
Despite owning the classic 1976 Hammer Horror movie 'TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER' on DVD and VHS many times over, I tuned in last night to support its showing on The Horror Channel (thank you, thank you, thank you!) and because, sometimes, a film being broadcast as you watch it, is often (for me) as exciting as seeing it in the cinema, on VHS or on a disc. Any screening of a movie on TV, especially if part of a season, is date stamped as a part of that film's history. I look back at screenings across channels in the past with fondness; of film seasons of horror double bills on BBC2 in the 70s, Alex Cox's Moviedrome (Razorback being the highlight for me), Channel 4's 'Red Triangle' season of films (also in the 80s) too naughty to be shown without a naughty red symbol in the bottom of the screen (bless - can't all movies come with this red triangle burnt on to the picture, it makes even the dullest movie seem decadent!) and a series of 'naughty but nice' movies on TVS in the 80s (Porky's and Kinski's own Passion Flower Hotel among those being screened).
'TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER' is one of my favourite horror movies; Lee is really, in some close-ups, truly portraying evil in a way that goes beyond 'playing a part' - he truly fills you with a rush to the head of fear; his eyes glow with power and hatred. What must he have been thinking to have conveyed that, I wonder? In one scene he locks eyes with the camera and the image is held for what seems like forever, you have to consider looking away. In an early role, and just her second after The Wrong Move, Nastassja Kinski clearly glows with smouldering confidence and is steadily more mesmerising in the role of Catherine; both innocent and sinister as, well - Hell. The stabbing scene is a real shocker, as is the close-your-eyes-at-this-bit birth. Still a method of birthing not available on the NHS!
If anything, having read the Dennis Wheatley novel, there's a lot of fun stuff on the page that isn't brought to the screen - the creeping around gothic estates and the terrible experiments in life and death and all things unspiritual of Father Michael that in the movie - the crawling mutant baby, slightly ridiculous - are only hinted at. In a strange way, the novel is more Hammer-esque than the film. But 'TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER' is still one of Hammer's finest, most troubling, disturbing and raw movies - with a cast to die for (so many famous faces 'playing bad' or 'playing it straight for a change' that it's like sitting through a demonic Royal Variety Performance at times: hey, there's Mr Barrowclough from Porridge...Miss Jones from Rising Damp..). Of course, these actors appeared in so much else of note, and their cameos in TO THE DEVIL are very blink and miss affairs. But there's something wonderful about British movies in the 70s when actors could go from a Carry On movie, to a spell of Shakespeare on stage, to a horror movie - without any prejudice involved. Sadly, Michael Goodliffe who plays George De Grass, had a breakdown the year TO THE DEVIL was released and committed suicide while in hospital soon after. Ironically, horror wasn't a genre he liked, but his final movie was one of the archetypal horror films of the decade.
The ending of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is a bit sudden of course; an extended sequence was filmed, but since lost. A real shame. So, the film is flawed, but the casting of Kinski, Lee, Richard Widmark and Denholm Elliott in the same movie, based on a classic horror novel, with Hammer playing it straight and sleazy and layering the movie with a sense of true dread and beads of sweat on the brow moments, make this essential viewing for any fan of 70s satanic sinister cinema. It remains, after another viewing, one of my favourite movies. Like Father Michael's talismanic grip on those he wishes to control for life - I think this movie has the same spell on me.
Words: Mark Gordon Palmer