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16 February, 2008

DVD Review: TO THE DEVIL... A DAUGHTER

Title: TO THE DEVIL… A DAUGHTER

Year of Release—Film: 1976

Year of Release—DVD: 2002

DVD Label: Anchor Bay





THE MOVIE

This movie has the distinction of being Hammer Studios last Horror Film, and perhaps it’s most controversial. Directed by Peter Sykes, it’s a fairly average post-ROSEMARY’S BABY plot, dressed up by Hammer’s usually good production values; and made enjoyable by a superb cast, featuring Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliott, and Nastassja Kinski in her first major role. It was Miss Kinski who was the source of the controversy, as there was some question as to her true age at the time of production. Ordinarily this would be a minor matter; however, the fact that she appears fully nude in a rather significant scene precipitated the scandal. The question was settled to the satisfaction of those concerned, thus we are free to enjoy this unusual entry into Hammer’s filmography.

The plot is simple and familiar to fans of the mid to late ‘70’s, and was based (ostensibly…) on the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley, though totally disavowed by him as bearing no resemblance to his work. It features Widmark as an American author and, in today’s terms, parapsychologist, who’s in London for a book signing. He’s approached by Elliott, the father of a young novitiate who’s returning from a convent in Germany. He’s asked to intercept her at the airport and bring her safely to her father’s home. What seems to be a fairly routine task soon plunges Widmark into direct confrontation with a satanic cult, led by Lee.

The cast, as befits the great Hammer’s swan song, is excellent. Lee had a personal stake in the production, having been given the rights to the novel by Wheatley himself, and he turned in his usually deft performance. Widmark, by all accounts a terror on the set, nevertheless proved worth all the trouble… it would be hard to imagine the picture without him. Denholm Elliott chews his way through the scenery with appropriate energy and histronics; and Honor Blackman, as Widmark’s agent, gives a credible and workmanlike performance. But the young Miss Kinski definitely makes the biggest impact as Catherine, the nun fated to be the Devil’s Bride.

As I previously mentioned, this film was Hammer’s last, though that had little to do with the film’s controversy, Box-Office take, or anything at all involving the movie itself. In fact, it was hugely successful in Britain. However, the British film industry was completely moribund by this time, staggering towards the grave. Hammer, never able to mount much in the way of financial clout, depended on financing from other studios, especially American studios, to produce their pictures. In exchange, these American studios received the right to distribute the films in the U.S.

The problem lay in the fact that, while Horror had changed since Cushing and Lee first brought Hammer to the forefront of the Genre, Hammer itself had not. The studio was still making essentially the same type of films that it was in 1957, when THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN premiered. But American audiences were watching films the likes of ROSEMARY’S BABY; NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE; LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT; and THE EXORCIST. Hammer’s product was seen as old-fashioned, and the addition of a little more blood and some female nudity wasn’t enough to change that impression. This film, despite having more gore and sex than any other Hammer film (with the possible exception of 1970’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS…) was still tame in comparison to the average American drive-in fare of 1976. American audiences simply didn’t want Hammer movies anymore, and American financing soon evaporated. When it did, the legendary Hammer Films died on the vine.



THE DISC

The Anchor Bay DVD release is nice, as is the norm for the company’s offerings. Anchor Bay knows Horror fans, particularly classic horror fans, want the movies they love treated with the respect they deserve, and for the most part, they do an excellent job at that. This disc is no different.

The print used for the transfer is beautiful, as fans have come to expect from this company, and overall the design is good. The lack of subtitles is a real hindrance for me personally, but otherwise the disc is excellent.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

Once again, the special features are where Anchor Bay really shines. Chief among these is the documentary TO THE DEVIL… THE DEATH OF HAMMER. Featuring interviews with Lee, Sykes, and Blackman, screenwriters Christopher Wicking and Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, and Producer Roy Skeggs, this is one of the best “making-of…” documentaries I’ve had the pleasure to watch. Not only do they discuss, in great detail, the making of this picture, they provide a fascinating look at the end of the Hammer era, and the virtual death of the British film industry. Also included, as is standard on most Anchor Bay offerings, is a comprehensive set of stills and publicity photos, a talent bio section, and the theatrical trailer.

The only complaint I really have about the DVD is the lack of a commentary track or two. With as many of the principals still alive; indeed, interviewed for the above documentary, this seems like a truly significant oversight.



IN CONCLUSION

Anchor Bay, well known for resurrecting classic horror, delivers the goods again in this disc, and I was certainly happy to add it to my collection when it came out. It’s not Hammer’s best; but it is their last, and as such, just as significant. With a list price under ten dollars, (as low as $5.99 at DeepDiscount DVD…) there’s no good reason for this not to be in your collection.









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