Year - 1973
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, there was no bigger horror film monster than Satan himself. Everyone and their mother seemed to be obsessed with ol' Beelzebub. It pretty much became a craze once Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY was released in 1968, starring Mia Farrow as a woman who had sex with Satan, creating the Devil's baby. The film was a massive success, giving Hollywood a woody for the Devil. William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST was then released in 1973, along with its horrible sequel THE HERETIC: EXORCIST II. And of course, we have THE OMEN in 1976 and DAMIEN: THE OMEN II a couple of years later. You'd think Lucifer had invested stocks into the horror genre just so studios could glorify his evil name!
The Satan craze even went into television. In 1973, a television movie was shown called THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER, now released on DVD by Wild Eye Entertainment. It stars Shelley Winters, Abe Vigoda, and Jonathan Frid about the grown-up daughter of Satan. Obviously capitalizing on the ROSEMARY'S BABY craze, it makes a nice companion piece as we watch an evil child struggle with her roots.
THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER begins with a mother (Diane Ladd) trying to hide from Lucifer himself after backing out of a pact the two created for Satan to raise his daughter after 21 years of existence. As you can guess, the mother opened her legs for the Devil and she still feels his pitchfork since. Anyway, she's killed for her betrayal.
At the mother's funeral, we meet her daughter Diane (Belinda Montgomery). Diane has been quite estranged from her mother for many years, not knowing her mother was trying to protect her from the pact. Diane meets the too kind Lilith (Shelley Winters) who happens to be an old friend of her mother. Lilith, along with the lanky mute chauffeur Mr. Howard (Jonathan Frid), take Diane to Lilith's home for lunch. After talking, Lilith convinces Diane to stay at her home for a while. How Diane stays at that house where a portrait of Satan is hanging right in plain view inside the living room, I'll never know.
The first morning Diane stays, Lilith gives her a ring with a strange symbol on it. Diane pays no mind to it until she notices the same symbol all over Lilith's house. It's in the Satanic painting. It's even on cigarettes! Who knew Satan was part of the tobacco industry?
Anyway, things just get stranger when Lilith and her friends try to welcome Diane into their Satanic cult as the Princess of Darkness, to which Diane wants no part of. Trying to lead her own life, Diane falls in love with her upstairs neighbor Steve (Robert Foxworth) and plans to marry him. However, Lilith and her evil friends plan to make sure they're part of the ceremony whether Diane wants them to be or not.
I didn't really expect much out of THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. After all, it's a TV movie from the 1970s. But I was very surprised at how much I really enjoyed watching this film. The story by Colin Higgins (who also wrote HAROLD AND MAUDE) was straight to the point and didn't try to pull many twists and turns until the end. You knew who the heroine was. You knew who the villains were. You knew what the struggle was. Nothing was thrown into the film that would confuse you or make you want to turn the film off. It reminded me of the days when horror didn't need to rely on left field twist endings to make the film marketable. Yes, there is a twist ending in this film but IT MAKES SENSE! Some of you who watch this film will probably get it. I only got half of the twist and was pretty surprised at the other half. Not bad for a TV movie.
The direction by Jeannot Szwarc (who directed JAWS 2) was also very well done. He didn't try to do anything fancy. He shot what was needed to be shot and used a lot of reds and blacks to get the point across that Diane was involved in a world of evil. I loved Szwarc's use of close-ups, which enhanced the feeling of claustrophobia Diane experienced whenever she was being pressured by Lilith and her friends to join the dark side. These close-ups also had the characters talking straight into the camera, giving one the feeling that they weren't talking to Diane but to the viewers. Pretty effective. I liked it.
The acting was also top-notch. Shelley Winters is pretty much great in anything, and this film is no exception. She seems so nice as Lilith, too nice actually, until Diane decides she wants to live her own life. Winters seems to be having a ball yelling at Diane and others, as well as being a bitch to anyone who may poise a threat to Diane's rightful place in the world of evil. I don't know if she got an Emmy nomination for this role but she should have.
Belinda Montgomery was also very sweet as Diane. She portrayed the struggle of a young woman who didn't want to be Satan's daughter very well. Her character was written more naive than I would want for a main heroine, but I don't think the film would have worked so well if she wasn't. She became a lot stronger at the end until that twist hit her right in the face. Montgomery handled it all very very well.
All the other actors had more minor roles but they all did well too. Jonathan Frid (from DARK SHADOWS) was the more sympathetic servant of Satan. He didn't have a line of dialogue, but his body language and facial expressions worked for me. Abe Vigoda was barely in the film but he spoke with a nice accent! Robert Foxworth was okay as Steve, Diane's lover. His Mike Brady hair did most of the work but I bought the guy. And Joseph Cotten as Judge Weatherby was a joy to watch whenever he appeared. He gave a very warm performance that created an instant likability factor.
My only problem with the film, other than the video transfer which got grainy every now and then, was the length of the film. At only 73 minutes, it didn't really tell as much of the story that I'm sure Colin Higgins would have liked. The whole romance subplot with Diane and Steve was very quick and doesn't let the viewer have enough time to invest him or herself into their relationship. And it all happened pretty much in the last 20 minutes, which made the film feel a bit odd and disjointed. I don't think 10 or 15 more minutes could have hurt here. I also would have liked to know more about the pact between Diane's mother and the Devil. Could have been a very interesting part of the film if it was actually explained. Other than that, I was pleased with THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER is a fun TV horror film that's worth a watch. Gorehounds will be severely disappointed (hardly any blood). But if you want to see a good story involving Satan and his human minions, this film is for you. An interesting camp piece of cinema, they don't make films like this anymore.