"It is not heresy...and I will not recant!" says Christopher Lee in Hammer Films' curtain call, To the Devil a Daughter. My sentiment exactly in choosing the number two Hammer Glamour actress, Nastassja Kinski, who appeared in only one Hammer movie but left a lasting impression on audiences. Already ancient by the time my young and impressionable eyes found it, this film was an introduction to what would become my unhealthy addiction to nunsploitation sinema.
The power of Christ compels me to tell you more about the 1976 film that was adapted from the 1953 novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley. Hammer and Wheatley had already been pals since 1968 when another one of his novels was brought to life by the studio, The Devil Rides Out. This happens to be Sir Christopher Lee's favorite role with Hammer and an excellent film. Much more so than the oversimplified Daughter which comes in such an attractive package that I have no trouble embracing its exploitation. What Daughter lacks in coherence it makes up for in atmosphere alone.
Richard Widmark (who can't help but sound like a cowboy no matter what) plays occult novelist John Verney who is asked by Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) to save his daughter Catherine (Kinski) from a nefarious cult led by Father Michael Rayner--a Satanist in priest's clothing. You see, Catherine has been living as a nun with The Children of the Lord. They worship the demon Astaroth, hold Satanic group orgies and terrorize Verney and company with black magic tricks in order to get Catherine back in their clutches. Their mission is to baptize Catherine on her 18th birthday as an avatar of the devil. Oh, and I'd totally hang out with them.
Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore!) and Anthony Valentine deliver a fun performance as a cheeky couple who tries to help Verney. Christopher Lee is wicked as usual. I'd join any cult he was the leader of. Such greatness doesn't deserve the anti-climactic ending Lee gets but the hilarious banter during the circle of blood standoff is good stuff. Creep factor, level medium but effective. Watch for what looks like the most painful childbirth in the history of woman.
The film isn't shy about taking advantage of Kinski's allure. The actress writhing on a bed during a dream sounds more like a porno than a girl having a nightmare. A terribly constructed demonic puppet gets naughty under her nightgown and simulated sex with an obnoxious gold statue are just a few of the film's titillating moments. Every scene with Kinski and Widmark feels sexually tense as Widmark guffaws at his own nun jokes. It's amusing to watch.
Kinski convincingly plays the jailbait, doe-eyed nun--a perfect role since she really was a teenager. And a nude teenager at that. There's controversy over Kinski's true age as American records cite her two years older than German records. We all know that when you're an attractive teenage girl doing full frontal nudity on film, those two years matter a lot. She told journalist Louise Farr in 1997, "If I had had somebody to protect me or if I had felt more secure about myself, I would not have accepted certain things. Nudity things. And inside it was just tearing me apart." Her father was the beloved but unstable Klaus Kinski, so I think she did ok all things considered. Eerily enough her estranged father almost had a role in Daughter. Kinski's start with Hammer led to roles in Paul Schrader's Cat People and Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, but sexy nuns trump all else, every time.
You can read more about Nastassja Kinski and other Hammer vixens in Titan Books' Hammer Glamour.