Judge Jim Thomas should have broken out the goat leggings and drugs before watching this movie. Especially the drugs.
Satan has returned for her!
Back in the '70s, made-for-TV movies were a staple on the three networks. The Movie of the Week and similar showcases generally alternated theatrical releases with made-for-TV movies. There were a lot of classics back then—Brian's Song, Bang the Drum Slowly, etc.
This movie is not one of those classics.
What this movie is, though, is a perfect example of copycat programming. If a theatrical movie had a lot of buzz, the networks would try to knock out a made-for-TV clone, in many cases broadcasting their movie before the theatrical release hit the big screen (so that they wouldn't suffer by comparison). In 1973, the stunning success of The Exorcist revived an interest in the occult last tapped by Rosemary's Baby in 1968. So Paramount told writer Colin Higgins (Harold and Maude), "Go on and write us one of them there Satanic cult type movies." And thus was begotten The Devil's Daughter.
Facts of the Case
In the opening sequence, Alice Shaw (Diane Ladd, Wild at Heart) finishes a rosary at church and returns to her apartment, only to be accosted by two intimidating men. They tell her that it's time to fulfill her promise, but she protests, clutching a photograph to her chest, "She's my daughter!" They are interrupted by the sound of odd, irregular, dare I say, inhuman footsteps approaching the door. The door opens, and a man—whose face we never see—drags himself in on crutches. Bit of an anticlimax, actually. In desperation, Alice grabs a pistol from her desk drawer, aims at the man, and fires—only to have the bullet strike her squarely in the heart. As she falls to the floor, the picture of her daughter falls, and comes to rest with shards of broken glass from the frame distorting her attractive face.
Diane Shaw (Belinda Montgomery, Doogie Howser, M.D.) is in town for her mother's funeral when she runs into one of her mother's old friends, Lilith Malone (Shelly Winters, The Poseidon Adventure). Lilith takes her in while Diane looks for a job, giving her a ridiculously gaudy ring that used to belong to her mother, a ring with a design that looks remarkably like the emblem on a staff held by Satan in a portrait over Lilith's mantelpiece. (For some reason, it never occurs to Diane to ask why Lilith has a portrait of the Prince of Darkness, leading one to wonder if this is the same branch of Satan's family tree that resulted in Little Nicky.)
At a party at Lilith's, Diane gets caught up in a dark ritual masquerading as a primitive dance, and when she regains control of herself, she is surrounded by the guests, hailed as Satan's Daughter, the Princess of Darkness. The next day, she is visited by Lilith and several others, who claim that Diane's mother was a member of their satanic cult, and that she, Diane, is in fact, the daughter of Satan himself. Furthermore, now that Diane is all grown up, it is time for her to embrace her heritage, marry the nice demon that Satan has selected and settle down. (Perhaps the movie is really just a cleverly disguised allegory on arranged marriage…)
Predictably, Diane freaks. But since she has not seen Rosemary's Baby, she fails to reckon with the fact that Satan's minions are legion. And then she starts seeing Lilith's black cigarettes in ashtrays, and she realizes that someone is trying to set her up. Who can she turn to? Maybe she can trust Judge Weatherby (Joseph Cotten, Heaven's Gate), the executor of her mother's estate? Alikhine (Abe Vigoda, The Godfather) tried to betray Michael Corleone, so he can't be trusted…sorry, got carried away there.
Anyway, she desperately tries to escape her fate. She finds solace in the arms of Steve Stone (Robert Foxworth, Transformers), who had been seeing Diane's roommate, until said roommate got suspiciously trampled to death by her own horse. When the two fall madly in love, she pushes for an immediate wedding, thinking that the holy sacrament of marriage will free her from Satan's clutches.
Or will it?!?!?! [cue dramatic chord]
I remember seeing this movie when it was first broadcast; at the time, I thought it was kind of neat (In my defense, I was only 10 and had not seen Rosemary's Baby). Basically, this movie is just a reworking of the same basic idea, with not a lot of imagination. It's not particularly bad, but it's not particularly good, either. Its strongest asset is that the brisk 73-minute runtime prevents you from thinking too much about the plot. Back in the day, though, I suspect that more than a few viewers gave up on the movie during a commercial break.
None of the characters are developed to the point where we really care that much about her; in fact, Diane is so bland that she becomes almost more pathetic than sympathetic. I'm still trying to figure out what to make of the mute Mr. Morgan (Jonathan Frid, Dark Shadows). For most of the movie we are led to believe that he is somehow not involved in the cult, or at the very least is trying to warn off Diane in some way. But that plot thread is discarded at the end of the movie, with Mr. Morgan joining in with the rest of the cult. If it was a ploy to gain Diane's trust, it was a waste, as there was never any opportunity for Diane to trust him. To his credit, Frid does a good job with what appears to be a poorly written role.
There are plot contrivances, and then there are plot contrivances. Steve is on a date with Diane's roommate Susan (Susan Sammeth) when Susan is killed. Afterwards, back at Diane's apartment, Steve comforts Diane and takes her out on a date that very night. If only the roommate's name had been Fran Liebowitz…
And finally, there is the matter of the mysterious man with the crutches. I'll try not to spoil too much here, but yes, the man is Satan. Who, if this movie is to be believed, cannot walk without crutches when he is passing for human; apparently Lucifer, King of Hell, Prince of Darkness, Lord of the Underworld, can't change his goat legs and cloven hooves into functioning legs. That is never said, mind you—that's just the only explanation that reconciles everything shown in the movie.
The bottom line is that the movie is formulaic from beginning to end. As long as you can accept that, it's not that bad. But credit where credit is due: Even back in the Anything Goes '70s, it took guts to actually show Satan crashing a church wedding (Or was it a church wedding? None of the snippets of the marriage ceremony mention or refer to God—a nice little touch).
Not only did Wild Eye not do any restoration on the print, I suspect that they unspooled the print in the parking lot and let the evening shift drive over it. Scratches, burn-throughs, splices, you name it. Colors are muddy and inconsistent; blacks in particular are prone to a brick-red tinge (and given the subject matter, there's a lot of black). There's also a lot of discoloration around the edges.
The mono sound track is acceptable, though there are some hisses and pops, usually at times when the film appears to be badly damaged. But you can hear all of the dialogue (though that might not necessarily be a good thing).
There are no extras, but I will give Wild Eye five points for including chapter stops.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a touch on the campy side, but the movie has a certain style going for it. Director Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2) does a decent job establishing mood—though to be perfectly frank, many of the shots and angles were shamelessly cribbed from Rosemary's Baby. At times, he goes a little over the top, as in a long shot past a sculpture with a stained glass apple—the people talking to Diane appear normal, while Diane herself is bathed in red. (Foreshadowing: Your key to quality entertainment!)
Shelley Winters throws herself into her role with her usual relish, and both Belinda Montgomery and Robert Foxworth acquit themselves well, though in a bland sort of way. There are a couple of scenes in which Diane starts to demonstrate a little of the devil's backbone, as it were, staring down Lilith and the rest of the cult. The scene almost suggests that Diane's demonic half is beginning to surface. But the idea is never developed further—it could just be me overanalyzing.
The music by Laurence Rosenthal (Becket) is commendable, though—it establishes and enhances the mood without drawing too much attention to itself.
Wild Eye, why such a bad transfer? If you're going to inflict a mediocre movie on us, don't you have an obligation to at least let us see the full bloom of that mediocrity?
Paramount is guilty of making a lame Rosemary's Baby rip-off. After twenty-four years, though, the statute of limitations has expired. Wild Eye on the other hand, has not only brought said rip-off back to life, but did a half-assed job of it. The defendant is found guilty, and sentenced to watch this crappy transfer on a big screen, eyelids peeled open à la Alex in A Clockwork Orange. If the ensuing headache is even half as bad as the one I got, then justice will have truly been served.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wild Eye Releasing
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