Thursday, July 15, 2010

TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER (Peter Sykes, 1976)

Sister Catherine is a victim of her own innocence: raised in an isolated conclave, she is deceived into worshipping the Lord of Lies, a Lovecraftian horror whose fate is attached like an umbilical vein full of brackish hemoglobin. Director Peter Sykes deftly evokes the eerie specter of Roman Polanski’s classic ROSEMARY’S BABY while inflicting the narrative with the devilishness of William Friedkan’s THE EXORCIST: unfortunately, Sykes loses focus and the tense drama devolves into hysterical theatrics.

Richard Widmark is the occult writer John Verney who attempts to save Catherine from the hellish Cult; led by a wonderfully one-dimensional Christopher Lee as the excommunicated priest Michael Rayner, whose leering close-ups and searing eyes reflect the Elder horror that awaits the na├»ve teenager. Nastassja Kinski is the waifish nun soon to be claimed by her fiery mentor, her womb filled with the creeping flesh of nightmare, her pallid beauty corrupted by Astaroth, a Prince of Hell. Sykes is able to sustain the suspense for most of the film as Catherine is subdued and secreted away by Verney while Rayner’s black magic seeks his god’s puerile bride.

The film opens with a splash of colors upon a church floor, like Yahweh’s rainbow promise prismed through the stained glass windows, then cutting to Rayner’s demented soliloquy as he’s diminished by the wooden cross: this beautifully forebodes a supernatural dread of lustful and selfish deeds. Sykes’s use of crosscutting, especially during the birthing scene, as a bloody fetus carves itself unseen from its mother’s womb, to Catherine thrashing about in pain (ecstasy?) in her unknown dreamworld. But two scenes in particular are riotously faulty and one occurs shortly after this episode, as Verney attempts to calm her: we are shown a demonic presence haunting a broken mirror…but it looks like a grinning Elmo. The other scene ruins the final act as the aforementioned infant is sacrificed for Astaroth, so the blood can summon the hellchild to crawl into Catherine’s womb, creating an infernal pregnancy…but it again looks like a sinister Elmo slathered in ketchup.

What could have been a despicable scenario of dark magic turns gut-wrenchingly laughable. Finally, Verney defeats the diabolical Rayner having discovered the Grimoire of Astaroth, and with blood and stone saves the nubile Catherine from certain damnation.

Final Grade: (B-)

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes.....the Muppet hellspawn! Any semblance of suspense or horror was completely destroyed by that pathetic sock puppet from hell! The whole movie was pretty pathetic actually. The ending was one of the most anti-climactic endings I've ever seen in a horror film. Nothing really happened! And....exactly WHY was Kinski completely nude for those 5 seconds? It was some kind of bizarre hallucination, wasn't it? Anyway....this was the last Hammer film and, unfortunately, by this time it was well past time for the chaps to hang it up!

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