To the Devil a Daughter (1976) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Hammer's last film seemed like a sure winner on paper.

  • Dennis Wheatley is one of the most respected authors of occult novels, perhaps the most famous author in the history of the genre before Stephen King came along, assuming that Poe and Lovecraft were better known for short stories rather than novels. Although Wheatley is largely forgotten now, his books were best sellers from the 1930's until the 1970's,  He was born at the end of the Victorian age, to a successful old merchant family. Both his characterizations and his prose style were strongly influenced by the era which defined his youth. His gothic/romance/occult books were popular even with women who would not normally read occult fiction.
  • Hammer Films was the most successful producer of British horror films in the 60's and 70's.
  • Hammer had already successfully adapted two Wheatley books, including Wheatley's most popular work, The Devil Rides Out, the filmed version of which is rated 7.1 at IMDb. That's one of the strongest ratings in the genre.
  • The cast included Richard Widmark, Denholm Elliott, Pussy Galore (Honore Blackman), veteran Hammer star Christopher Lee, and beautiful newcomer Nastassja Kinski, who was the daughter of another horror veteran, Klaus Kinski.

All the stars and planets seemed to be perfectly aligned for Hammer to end its existence with a screen adaptation of another Wheatley best-seller: To the Devil, a Daughter.


To begin with, Widmark was difficult. He hated everything about the film from Day 1 and never seemed to develop his character.

But the real problems hinged on the script. The earlier Wheatley/Hammer collaboration, The Devil Rides Out, had been brought to the screen as an old-fashioned gothic romance by Richard Matheson, who was himself a successful occult and fantasy novelist (What Dreams may Come, A Stir of Echoes, The Shrinking Man, I am Legend), and screenwriter (16 episodes of the original Twilight Zone, several episodes of Star Trek, Steven Spielberg's Duel, The Night Stalker, and lots more). When it came time to do To the Devil, a Daughter, Matheson was not involved in the project, and the script suffered immensely. I'm not even sure I understand when went on in this movie, or why it ended. The confusing narrative and the hasty ending were caused by the ad hoc development of the script by different writers during the filming.

It went something like this:

A man (Elliott) cuts a deal to turn his daughter (Kinski) over to the devil on her 18th birthday. As that magical day approaches, when the other guys' daughters all seem to be thinking about their first car and their first day at college, the dad starts to think that maybe his plan for Kinski's life is not a wise one, and maybe it would be better if she explored other, less evil, career avenues, like chartered accountancy.

Well, that would be less evil unless she works for Enron. 

So the old boy does what you and I would do in the same case. He hires an American novelist (Widmark) to help him rescue his daughter from the satanic priest (Lee) who is acting as Satan's agent here on earth.

Hey, I know that being Satan's agent sounds like a sinister and pretty cushy job, but have some sympathy for the guy. It isn't easy to be Satan's agent. You think J-Lo is temperamental? The Lord of Darkness makes her seem as amiable and undemanding as Tom Selleck. Plus, you think Satan pays his agents 15%? Hell, no. It's 1%, take it or leave it, and you better not leave it, because, as mild Bruce Banner used to say, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Anyway, the dad ignores the obvious kind of heroes like cops and bishops and swordsman and such, and wisely hires a novelist to help him defeat Satan, perhaps because the pen is mightier than the sword. All I can say is that the pen may be mightier than the sword, but the ol' Bic  would sure get its ass kicked by an AK-47.

We see a bunch of flashbacks and dream sequences. Kinski's mother dies in childbirth. Kinski's baptism is the occasion for a special satanic orgy, with all the trimmin's.  Then there is a baby who gets his throat slit, and a lady who drains all the blood from her body and stacks it neatly in little bags. Kinski dreams of giving birth to a baby, then shoving it back inside her. Then there is a whole bunch more of satanic mumbo-jumbo, all as dictated by "The Grimoire of Astaroth", a book which includes everything from Satan's middle name to the secret formula for Love Potion Number 9. I knew I should have read that grimoire. I always seem to read those third-rate grimoires, and I really should know better. I mean it's obvious that it could be a valid grimoire if it is written by someone named Astaroth, but the one I read was written by a guy named Phil. And most of his so-called "ye olde magickal inckantations" had to be accessed by calling 1-900 numbers at $4.00 a minute.

Oh, well.  

I think the way the deal works is this: a baby is sold to the devil before it is born. Apparently Satan is willing to buy on spec. When the birth happens, the mother is killed and the baby is s baptized in the blood of its own mother. 18 years later, the grown-up baby is re-baptized in the blood of Astaroth, and thus becomes Astaroth. Or something like that.

Before the ultimate transference can be realized, it is imperative for the satanic priests to play the Satanic plate-flip and card game. (Right) Here's a tip: never pass when your partner makes the strong two death opening and you hold a minimum of five sin points. Particularly if your partner is Satan.

Somebody in the movie spontaneously combusts when he touches something from Kinski's late mother, then Satan/Astaroth shows up personally, and it turns out he's actually one of the muppets, possibly even more evil than Bert, albeit cuter. He's just so gosh-darn cute that Kinski can't resist petting him, like a collie puppy. (Left)

Finally, the evil muppet and the Satanic priest, representing the combined power of all the known evil in the universe, are driven completely from this plane of existence when Richard Widmark simply skips a stone toward them.

Of course -  the ol' stone-skippin' trick - the oldest known defense against evil.

As well as an excellent way to pass a lazy summer day on the Mississip' with Tom and Huck. 

The dialogue in the final stone-skippin' scene went sorta like this:


Christopher Lee (or a body double) shows his butt

There is full-frontal nudity from Nastassja Kinski

There is a shot of a woman's crotch in a satanic ritual

Widmark: You think a circle will protect you?
Lee: It will, because the ground is made of flint, and flint is the stone of Asteroth.

(NOTE: Demons need a favorite stone? I understand Satan likes topaz, although most of his minions prefer amethyst. With his lust for an unflashy stone like flint, Asteroth was an especially dowdy demon.)

Widmark: Yes, but this chunk of flint has the blood of one of your disciples on it, thus breaking the circle's power. (Throws stone)
Lee: (unspoken) Oh, OK, well I guess I surrender then. Sorry to have caused any trouble.

This film came out in 1976. The author of the source novel, Dennis Wheatley, the tough old bird who had survived two world wars, could barely survive this film. He watched it, hated it, and died within a year, but not before getting out some grimoires of his own, and muttering some anti-Hammer curses in the forgotten languages of the Old Ones.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

To the Devil a Daughter (1976) is one of the last Hammer films, and, despite being based on a famous mystery novel, and a great cast, is a total disaster. It is a satanic cult wants to turn Natassja Kinski into the devil (she was born and bred for the purpose) versus an author of fiction about Satan worship who wants to save her and make a fortune on the resulting book sort of story. They started the film with a script they knew was terrible, and kind of made the thing up as they went. This worked some of the time in the first two acts, but, by the third, they had such an improbable set of loose ends to tie up that act three is a total shambles. By the time they neared the end, it was pretty clear that they were making a stinker, which is probably why they had Kinski take off her clothes and give full frontal nudity to us on the flimsiest of excuses in broad daylight.

The cast includes Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman and Denholm Elliott, but they weren't nearly enough to save it. The author of the novel was so upset by what they did to his work that he told them they were forbidden to even think about adapting another of his stories.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen, 1.66:1

  • there is a fascinating 24 minute documentary on what went wrong with this film, and the subsequent demise of Hammer, much of it from the mouth of Christopher Lee himself

They had the talent, they had a best selling novel, but they badly needed a budget and a script. Hammer studios was in deep trouble by 1976, and they got some German co-production money for this film, which was part of the reason for casting Kinski. The film looks ok from a technical standpoint, and for that, and great exposure, I will say D+. 

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • It was a tremendous commercial success in England, but Hammer had almost none of its own money invested, saw none of the profits, and went under when their sources of financing subsequently dried up
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D+ (both reviewers). Beautiful photography and nudity, however.

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