To the Devil a Daughter

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To the Devil a Daughter
To the devil poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Sykes
Written by
Based onTo the Devil a Daughter
by Dennis Wheatley
Produced by Roy Skeggs
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited byJohn Trumper
Music by Paul Glass
Distributed by
Release date
  • 26 February 1976 (1976-02-26) [1]
Running time
95 minutes
  • United Kingdom [2]
  • West Germany [2]
Budget£360,000 [3]

To the Devil a Daughter, sometimes stylized as To the Devil... a Daughter, [4] is a 1976 horror film directed by Peter Sykes and starring Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Nastassja Kinski, and Denholm Elliott. Based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley, it follows an American occult researcher in England who attempts to save a young girl preyed upon by a Satanic cult led by a fallen Catholic priest.


Produced by Hammer Film Productions and the West German studio Terra Filmkunst, the film was originally devised by Hammer as a television episode in a series based on Wheatley's novels, which never materialized. Wheatley's book was subsequently adapted as a feature film co-written by Christopher Wicking. The film was shot in Bavaria and London in 1975, and features an original musical score by Swiss-American composer Paul Glass. It premiered in London in February 1976, and went on to become one of Hammer Studios' most profitable films of the 1970s.

It was the final film produced by Hammer Films before the studio was revived in the 21st century, [5] and the last film by the studio to feature Christopher Lee until The Resident in 2011.


Father Michael Rayner, a Catholic priest, is formally excommunicated from the church for heresy.

Twenty years later, Rayner oversees the Children of the Lord, a mysterious religious order headquartered on a small island in Bavaria. Catherine Beddows, a teenage girl, has been raised in the order at the urging of her late mother, who was a dedicated member. Catherine is formally released from the island convent by Rayner days before her eighteenth birthday.

Meanwhile, John Verney, a famous American writer and occult expert residing in London, is approached at a book release party by Catherine's father, Henry, who asks Verney to pick up Catherine from Heathrow Airport and temporarily entrust her in his care, claiming the Children of the Lord is in fact a Satanic cult from which he wishes his daughter to be saved. While Verney's literary associates find the request strange, Verney agrees.

Upon arriving at the airport, Verney finds Catherine, who is in a habit, and manages to intercept her from a member of the order who is escorting her. Verney brings Catherine back to his home, where he gleans information about her upbringing in the cult.

Henry phones Verney's residence and tells Catherine he will come to get her, only to be interrupted by the member who escorted her; wielding a gun, he attempts to stop Henry before Henry shoots him dead. Meanwhile, at a private residence, Rayner, along with a nurse, oversees the pregnant Margaret, a member of the order who is going into labour. After she gives birth, he has her killed with a morphine injection.

The next morning, Verney is visited by his friends Anna and David, and informs them he believes that the cult intend to use Catherine in a ritual on her birthday the following day, which happens to be Halloween. Verney leaves Catherine in Anna and David's care while he attempts to locate the London headquarters of the Children of the Lord, only to find it has been sold to a Christian organization.

Meanwhile, the cult use black magic in an attempt to draw Catherine to them. She visits the St Katharine Docks, where Verney happens upon her, sabotaging the cult's efforts by ripping a sacrilegious Astaroth pendant from her neck. Verney attempts to convince the impervious Catherine that Astaroth is evil, triggering memories of the sex magic rituals the cult subjected her to, during which Rayner impregnated Margaret.

Verney gleans from the bishop who excommunicated Rayner that the cult are aspiring to prepare Catherine to become an avatar of the demon Astaroth, whom Rayner believes to be a route to perfecting human power, and thus the true God. Meanwhile, under Rayner's influence, Catherine murders Anna before wandering the city streets, only to be led directly to the cult, who have welcomed the birth of Margaret's demonic infant child.

Verney and David visit a dishevelled Henry, who directs them to a church to locate the metal "pact" he made with Rayner, which threatens Henry's life. The two men find the ghost of Catherine's mother rising from the church altar where the "pact" pendant is hidden. David bursts into flames and burns to death upon touching the pendant, though Henry is saved.

Verney tracks Rayner to an abandoned mausoleum yard where Rayner has laid Catherine on an altar and encircled it with human blood from another cult devotee, Eveline, who gives her blood, and life, for the purpose. Verney witnesses Rayner sacrifice the demon child in preparation of baptizing Catherine to become Astaroth's avatar. Verney confronts Rayner, critiquing his beliefs and warning Rayner that he has misinterpreted the grimoire of Astaroth. Rayner asserts his confidence, and offers Catherine, who appears as a nude spirit, to Verney, who refuses the temptation.

Verney uses a rock, which is covered with the blood of a security guard Verney defeated, as a talisman to defeat the protection of the circle of blood. Then Verney throws the rock at Rayner, vanquishing him; Rayner vanishes into nothingness. Verney manages to save Catherine, carrying her away, as the two flee Rayner's circle of blood. However, Catherine has been partially baptized with several drops of blood, leaving her status in question.



Writer Christopher Leggett notes in his book Good Versus Evil in the Films of Christopher Lee (2018) that the film's overarching theme is that of the Devil's bargain, comparing elements of it to the bargain with the devil made in the German legend of Faust. [6]



The film was adapted by Christopher Wicking and John Peacock from the 1953 novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley. It was the second of Wheatley's "black magic" novels to be filmed by Hammer, following The Devil Rides Out , released in 1968. The project had originally been intended to be an episode of a television series based on Wheatley's novels, titled The Devil and all His Works. [7] The television project never materialized, but actor Christopher Lee championed the novel, convinced it would make an effective feature film. [7] EMI agreed to provide fifty per cent of the budget, after which the West German production company Terra Kunst Films provided the remaining fifty per cent. [8]

Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg were considered to direct the project, but Australian director Peter Sykes was ultimately hired. [8] When the film went into production in 1975, Sykes derided the notion that the film bore any similarity to William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). [9]

The screenplay notably deviated from the source novel, [8] which Wheatley disliked, finding the finished film obscene. He told Hammer that they were never to make another film from his novels. [10]

Wicking called the film "an awful mess. There was no real focus to it." [11] He wanted to incorporate DNA as part of the storyline but said the film's British distributor EMI refused because they felt this would make the film too much like a science fiction movie rather than a horror movie. [11]

Michael Carreras said the film "simply didn't work ... the people who made it forgot about the ending." Carerras says he asked Nat Cohen of EMI Films for additional funds to do a new ending – "I had it properly written out and we knew exactly what to do" – but Cohen refused. [12]

The film was originally scheduled to begin production in June 1974, but the cameras didn't roll until September 1975, after a German company stepped in to co-finance and demanded that a German performer be cast in a leading role. This opened the door for 14-year-old Nastassja Kinski. [13]


The closing scenes were filmed at the Dashwood Mausoleum in West Wycombe. The Dashwood Mausoleum, West Wycombe - - 412233.jpg
The closing scenes were filmed at the Dashwood Mausoleum in West Wycombe.

In March 1975, it was announced that Christopher Lee had been cast in the film. [15] Sykes cast fourteen-year-old Nastassja Kinski as Catherine after seeing her performance in Wim Wenders' The Wrong Move (1975), while American Richard Widmark was cast as the lead occult writer who attempts to save Kinski's character. [8]

This was Michael Goodliffe's last film, made shortly before he killed himself while suffering from depression.


Filming took place on location in Bavaria and in London. [8] Shooting locations included Heathrow Airport and the St Katharine Docks. [8] Actor Richard Widmark was allegedly displeased with the production during shooting, and several times threatened to leave and return to the United States. [8] Kinski, who was fourteen years old at the time of filming, controversially appeared fully nude onscreen, [16] which she later stated she regretted. [8]


Swiss-American composer Paul Glass was hired to compose the film's score. [8]


Box office

To the Devil a Daughter was released in London on 26 February 1976, [1] and in several other English cities on 29 February 1976, including Nottingham and Bristol. [17] [18] During its opening week at the Odeon Leicester Square, the film earned £13,375. [8]

It screened in the United States later that year, opening in Orlando, Florida on 20 August 1976, [19] and Rochester, New York beginning on 3 September 1976. [20] It had its premiere in Los Angeles on 1 October 1976. [21] The film was overall a financial success, and one of Hammer Studios' most profitable releases of the 1970s. [7]

Critical response


Variety called the film a "lacklustre occult melodrama" that "seems padded and tentative, and though horrific in spots the actual shock value is remarkably subdued." [22] Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times found the story "a confusing vacillation between special effects, hallucinations, psychic trances and ongoing narration," but thought the film was "distinguished by engrossing performances," "superior photography" and "eerie music." [21]

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post felt the film was poorly-made, writing that it "seems to have been scripted, directed and edited with extreme haste and negligence, as if the filmmakers had to keep one step ahead of process servers or the finance company." [23] Critic Roger Ebert echoed a similar sentiment, writing that, "The screenplay has so many characters, and they're in so many different places, that the only way to keep them halfway straight is for them to be calling each other all the time. There are even several scenes in which the phone rings and no one's at home. No one of this Earth, anyway." [24]

Tony Rayns of The Monthly Film Bulletin praised the "expert special effects" and "no-nonsense script," and commented that Christopher Lee played his role "with a gusto absent from his performances for many years." [25] Leonard Maltin's home video guide gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, saying it was "well made but lacks punch." [26] Time Out called it "a good deal more interesting than the rest of the possession cycle, but still a disappointment." [27]


In a 2020 review, Paul Farrell of Bloody Disgusting noted that, though its screenplay is convoluted, the film "works as a potent dive into the occult. It feels as dangerous as it should, built on performances that resonate and visuals that stick in the mind’s eye long after the credits complete their elegy." [7]

As of May 2023, To the Devil a Daughter holds a 40% approval rating on movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 10 reviews. [28]

Home media

Anchor Bay Entertainment released the film on DVD in North America on 8 October 2002. [29] Scream Factory released a Blu-ray edition on 17 December 2019. [30] As of May 2023, the Blu-ray sales had totaled US$144,151. [31]


Lee's line "It is not heresy ... and I will not recant!" was sampled by heavy metal band White Zombie for the song "Super-Charger Heaven". The film's title was also referenced by White Zombie in the song "Black Sunshine" ("To the devil, a daughter comes ...")

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