This review totally needs to begin with a qualifier: I enjoyed The Devil's Daughter (1973) way more than The Devil's Daughter has any right to be enjoyed. It's familiar and derivative and the ending is telegraphed from 50 miles away and it's anything but scary. I don't know if was the Shelley Winters-ness of it all or the fact that it felt comfy (most likely due to the aforementioned derivative-osity), but I was delighted by the entire affair.
The film begins with Alice Shaw (a cameo-in' Diane Ladd) worriedly gettin' her prayer on. She heads home only to find two weirdo goon/thug-types waiting in her apartment- they're after her daughter! Alice makes with the requisite "You'll never get your hands on her!"s, but then the door opens and someone comes shuffling in, leaning on two canes. This fellow insists that Alice's daughter is his daughter as well and now that she's 21, oh my yes, he will have her! Who is this dude, and what does he have to do with the title of the movie? Hmm...I wonder.
Alice points a gun at her baby daddy, but when she fires, somehow she shoots herself! Ta ta, Alice.
At Alice's funeral we meet Diane (Belinda Montgomery), the daughter in question. We also meet Lillith (Shelley Winters) and her mute (but not deaf!) man-servant Mr. Howard (Jonathan Frid)- I'm pretty sure this is the point when my heart began to go pitter-pat for The Devil's Daughter. Lillith claims to be an old friend of Alice, and she simply insists that Diane come to stay with her. Diane is new in town and has nowhere to go, after all; besides, Alice would have wanted it that way.
Soon after her arrival at Lillith's pad, Diane notices that things might be a little...shall we say, off-center? First of all, there's Lillith's choice in art. Maybe you or I would have a painting of Satan hanging above the mantle, but I wouldn't expect my gramma to, you know?
Or would I?
Then there's the matter of Lillith's neighbors, the Poole sisters.
Yes, sisters. You can tell they're related because they wear matching outfits! Let me just state for the record, I fucking loved the Poole sisters. They were so weird and Janet (Lucille Benson of television's Bosom Buddies; yes, Bosom Buddies- Wendie Jo Sperber FTW!) was so hilarious, I wanted them to be in every single scene of this movie. How can you not love the Poole sisters? Anyone who doesn't love them is clearly a jerk.
Then there's the matter of the ring Lillith gives Diane, a ring that purportedly belonged to Alice. Diane notices that the strange design on the ring- sort of a cross with an X through it (clever branding, there, Satan)- appears all over the place. It's on the band of Lillith's fancy cigarettes, it's on cufflinks, it's dangling from windchimes, it's on Satan's staff in the painting- I wonder what that means? When questioned, Lilith claims she simply never noticed all those symbols before, which is good enough reasoning for the mildly-perplexed Diane.
The symbol is also embossed (embossed!) on the cover of a photo album Diane finds tucked away in a drawer- an album that contains pictures of both her mother and herself! It's the memory book of The Private Club of the Satan's Helpers!
Eventually things get a little too strange for Diane and on the recommendation of her priest, she moves in with someone a little closer to her own age and a little less weird than Lillith and the gang. Lillith loses her shit and flips out at the news, as any rational person would.
The weirdness doesn't stop when Diane moves out, though- her very presence makes horses nervous and makes children almost wander into traffic! Of course, Diane has no knowledge of her arcane and mysterious new powers.
Lillith plans a big party for Diane so she can meet all of her mom's old pals- hooray! An old person party, just what every 21-year-old wants. Diane shows up, however, and is greeted with a shot right out of Rosemary's Baby.
They give Diane some booze, they all start dancing, and before you can say "Yes, I'd love another Zima!", everyone starts chanting "Hail Diane, Princess of Darkness!" Diane is informed that she's the daughter of Lucifer and she's destined to marry the demon prince of Endor; imagine my disappointment when he shows up later and he's not an Ewok.
At this point, Diane is a little bit overwhelmed by the news and flees. The next day Lillith and Abe Vigoda pay her a visit to apologize for their antics at the party; what I like is that it's not "Yeah, sorry- we got a little too drunk and crazy. Sorry if we weirded you out!", but rather it's "Yeah, sorry- we got a little too drunk and crazy. Sorry if we weirded you out! But no, really- you're the daughter of Satan and you're marrying the demon prince of Endor." They don't try to hide anything, and it was refreshing to see such honesty in Lucifer's minions. Diane decides they're all kookadooks and asks them to kindly fuck off. But are they simply kookadooks?
Diane's roommate goes on a date with her kinda-boyfriend, the guy who was one of Sue Ellen Ewing's paramours on Dallas, but there's a terrible horse-related accident during the date and Diane's roommate is killed. The kinda-boyfriend promptly heads back to Diane's apartment and asks her on a date...and SHE PROMPTLY AGREES! At this point, I knew exactly how The Devil's Daughter would play out, but I was having so much fun that I didn't really care. The whole film has an air of inevitability, and as is the case with Satan's Helpers, it's kind of refreshing. There's no pretense and the film has nothing to hide- yeah, it makes for a predictable movie, but when the movie features Satan and Shelley Winters and the Poole sisters, who really cares?
Diane and the kinda-boyfriend go away for the weekend and they're already so in love! We watch them fall in love and we're reminded that this film came out in 1973 because there's the obligatory falling-in-love-to-gentle-music montage, complete with sunset.
These two crazy kids are so in love, in fact, that they're going to get married ASAP! Yeah...figured it all out yet?
After the "I do"s have been done, the kinda-boyfriend busts out his yellow demon eyes, Lillith and the gang show up decked out in their Lucifinery, and Diane's dad himself shows up to gloat.
For all its predictability, the scene is still a bit cool- the "priest" performing the ceremony cleverly omits the use of the word "God" from his spiel, and having Satan show up in a Catholic church- cloven feet and all- took some balls back in '73. And then there's the kinda-boyfriend's yellow eyes! Oh well. If you have to marry a demon prince, it'd might as well be the same one who had an affair with Sue Ellen on Dallas, am I right?
The Devil's Daughter is nothing more than a made-for-TV cash-in on the Rosemary's Baby/Exorcist/Satan craze of the late-60s/early-70s. So what? It never tries to be anything else, and I think that has a lot to do with why it's enjoyable. That and the Shelley Winters-ness of the thing- she totally steamrolls through every scene she's in, and it's awesome. And let's not forget about my two most favoritest new ladies, the Poole sisters.
Despite its derivative nature- I mean, right down to the title sequence, which apes the famous Rosemary's Baby poster- the film is well made. Writer Colin Higgins (Harold and Maude) seems to be in on the joke, shamelessly cribbing at times from Rosemary's Baby and laying it all out for us, plain and simple. Director Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2, Bug) is more than capable behind the camera, setting up some fantastic deliberate shots- even if he, too, cribs from Polanski's work. The technical highlight is Laurence Rosenthal's score, which actually adds some sinister atmosphere.
The film transfer, however, is crap. The blacks are decidedly not-black, the colors are washed out, and the thing snaps crackles and pops more than your average bowl of Rice Krispies. Somehow, it seems fitting.
Film Club Coolies, y'all!
*it seems that this film was much more difficult to find than I'd anticipated. Boo! I'm going to continue the conversation (mostly about Shelley Winters, I expect) over at The Final Girl Seven's new headquarters on Facebook. Have you joined yet? What's the matter with you? Christ, I thought you were cool.