TV Terror Guide: The Devil's Daughter (1973)
Air Date: Jan. 9, 1973 (ABC Movie of the Week)
Production Companies: Miller-Milkis Productions, Paramount Television
Running Time: 74 min.
Available on: DVD (CBS MOD)
Written by: Colin Higgins
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Cast: Shelley Winters, Belinda Montgomery, Robert Foxworth, Jonathan Frid, Martha Scott, Joseph Cotten, Barbara Sammeth, Diane Ladd, Lucille Benson, Thelmb Carpenter, Abe Vigoda, Ian Wolfe
Until I watched The Devil’s Daughter (1973) and did my subsequent research for it, I didn’t remember that Shelley Winters had appeared in so many 1970s TV movies. I count at least ten. Her B-movie appearances at the time in theatrical films like What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972) are non-guilty pleasures of mine. Here, she’s more restrained than she was in Revenge! (1971), but her trademark over-the-top moments do occur once or twice.
The movie could use a couple more of those moments, but is nevertheless a terrific thriller. Trained by watching three years of 70s TV horror movies before it, it’s all predictable, but only in the best way. It may not surprise, but it pleases. When Diane Shaw (Belinda Montgomery) arrives for her mother’s funeral, Lilith Malone (Winters) and her friends offer her a home. Little does she know that the father she thought died when she was a child is actually Satan and they’re plotting to marry their “princess of darkness” to a demon prince.
I like that Diane never doubts her heritage; instead, she consciously chooses to reject it. At one point, she even threatens the coven to unleash the power they believe she wields. Therefore, she’s not only fighting external forces, but also internal ones. The question becomes if she’s strong enough to do that. Enter Steve Stone (Robert Foxworth), and a sudden romance blossoms, resulting in a wedding different from the one Lilith and her cohorts in crime had in mind for her.
Fans of my beloved Dark Shadows will be interested to note that Jonathan Frid appears as Lilith’s “chauffeur and companion,” Mr. Howard. He’s mute (not deaf) and lurks mostly in the background. He delivers a great performance, though, through only facial expressions and hand movements. So good is his presence that you never doubt his true intentions. I can only imagine his backstory... I bet his voice was stolen from him and he has been forced into servitude against his will.
The rest of the cast is filled with familiar faces (Joseph Cotten, Diane Ladd, Abe Vigoda) and contributes to its theatrical feel. The Devil’s Daughter was written by Colin Higgins (Harold & Maude, Silver Streak, 9 to 5) and directed by Jeannot Szwarc (Bug, Jaws 2, Somewhere in Time.) That’s a lot of talent represented in a tight little package. TV movies are often a reflection on theatrical film successes; but, while this one may have been influenced by Rosemary's Baby (1968,) I can see some influences of this on a movie like The Omen (1976.)
For more of my thoughts, listen to me and Richard Chamberlain discuss it on episode 47 of The Classic Horrors Club Podcast.