Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Final Girl Film Club - The Devil's Daughter (1973)

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Viewers invited the devil into their home in 1973.

The Devil was one of the biggest pop culture stars in the first few decades of the latter half of the 20th century, adding to his résumé classics like Rosemary's Baby, Race with the Devil, and The Omen. 1973 was a year bookended by Satanic activity on the big and small screens - while the year would end with the release of The Exorcist, it began with the airing of a television movie entitled The Devil's Daughter.

Written by Colin Higgins, who was fresh off the success of Harold and Maude and would go on to work primarily in the comedy genre with the likes of Silver Streak, Foul Play, Nine to Five, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and directed by Jeannot Szwarc on his way to making movies like Bug (1975), Jaws 2, Somewhere in Time, and Supergirl, this TV movie plays like a mystery where the audience is a good 40 minutes ahead of the lead character, just waiting for the moment when the metaphorical bomb will be dropped that will cause her to realize what sort of movie she's in.

The film begins with a middle-aged woman named Alice who, after returning home from spending a large part of her day praying in church, is confronted by some stern-faced toughs led by a man who walks with crutches and whose face is kept offscreen. The man with crutches is the father of Alice's daughter, and now that their offspring is twenty-one years old, he intends to be part of his daughter's life... something which Alice clearly doesn't want to happen. She is so determined to keep her daughter's father away from her that she pulls out a gun and shoots at him. But given the title of this movie, we can assume that the man with crutches is the devil, and shooting at the devil doesn't work out well for Alice at all - the bullet she fired at him breaks the laws of the universe and strikes her in the chest.

We meet Diane, the daughter the parents had their deadly dispute over, as she attends her mother's funeral. Alice cared so much for her that she was willing to kill to keep her safe, but we learn that Diane feels she never really knew her mother. While she grew up at boarding schools, Alice was travelling around the world and they would only see each other once or twice a year, although she would often get letters from her very Christian mother with advice on how to stay on the straight and narrow. As far as Diane knows, her father died when she was a child.

Alice's old friend Lilith shows up at the funeral after the religious services and quickly starts working to reconnect with Diane, who she hasn't seen since she was a baby. Hearing that Diane is planning to stay in the area to pursue a career as a commercial artist, Lilith offers to let her move into her mansion with her for a while. Perhaps for the chance to learn more about her mother from this old friend as much as anything else, Diane accepts the woman's seemingly kind offer.

Things go south for Diane from there. While living with Lilith and interacting with her mute butler/chauffeur Mr. Howard and innocuous but unnerving neighbors the Poole sisters, Diane notices strange behaviors and patterns - a ring Lilith gives her, which she got from Alice, bears an insignia that she starts seeing all over the place. It's on a wind chime, on the cigarettes Lilith chain smokes, on the cover of a scrapbook, on the robes Alice and a group of friends are wearing in an old picture, on a man's cuff links, and most notably on the staff of a man in a painting that looks like a depiction of Satan himself that would appear in an awesome Marvel comic book.

When Diane moves into an apartment with a roommate against Lilith's wishes, things get even weirder. She has nightmares, goes into trances, children and animals act odd around her. And is she being followed?

At the 40 minute point, Diane attends a party Alice's old friends are having, and it's at this event that she finally figures out that she is The Devil's Daughter, destined to marry the demon of Endor*, who is known for his glowing yellow eyes.

*Keep in mind that this was ten years before George Lucas told us Endor was a planet populated by Ewoks.

Once the information is out in the open, there's only roughly 25 minutes of the movie's 72 minute running time left for Diane to try to move on with her life while keeping the cult members out of it and disregarding this demon of Endor nonsense that they're so determined to make come true.

Despite the feeling that Szwarc and Higgins gave away too much too soon, somewhat hobbling much of the story and suspense, I still found The Devil's Daughter to be an enjoyable, harmless little movie to watch, with a touch of nostalgia in there due to how very '70s TV movie this particular '70s TV movie was. It sort of seems out-of-place in Higgins' filmography, but Szwarc brought it to life well enough and there are some very nice shot compositions in there.

The cast is great; TV regular Belinda Montgomery stars as the rather adrift but sweet Diane, Shelley Winters plays Lilith, and Jonathan Frid (just after ending his run as Barnabas Collins on the horror soap opera Dark Shadows) is the mute Mr. Howard, who might have tried to help Diane out of her predicament if only he could speak. Familiar faces like Diane Ladd, Abe Vigoda, Ian Wolfe, Joseph Cotten, Lucille Benson, and Thelma Carpenter also appear in smaller roles.

The Devil's Daughter is certainly not a shining moment in the devil's pop culture heyday, its obscurity is probably just the right amount of recognition for it to get, but there is a faction of horror fans out there who would really enjoy it. It's worth a viewing.

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