Diane’s date with a devilish destiny…
After her mother’s death, a young woman finds out she’s now the Princess of Darkness. As you do, if your dad is the devil.
DEVIL’S DAUGHTER (1973) – USA Network promos and photos © ABC
A father returns to claim his 21 year old daughter, in an early 1970s horror TV Movie named The Devils Daughter (1973). The film starred Shelley Winters, Joseph Cotten, Robert Foxworth and Belinda J Montgomery. These acting names already prove this film is already a better than average TV Movie. So get a cushion, to hide behind when – and if – you need to and I’ll tell you more…
A woman Alice (Diane Ladd) is praying in church. She’s crying and a kindly priest comforts her. On returning home, she’s confronted by two sinister heavies who demand that she settle her debt. A third man joins them after we hear his footsteps at the door.
We only see his feet and we learn that he’s on crutches, but that’s all we see of him. His booming voice tells this woman that he’s stayed away for 21 years and he now wants to reclaim what’s his… his daughter. Alice shoots him but somehow is shot dead herself… with this same bullet.
After the James Bond type silhouette themed blood-red credits, the film starts at the woman’s funeral, where this woman’s young daughter Diane (Belinda J Montgomery) is mourning her. Diane seems on first instincts and appearances quite sweet, naive and unworldly.
It’s later revealed that she didn’t know her mother that well, and only knew her as being quite religious. Diane tells how she had a sheltered life and was brought up in a series of convents, and she now wants to settle down and get a job.
Lilith Malone (Shelley Winters) turns up after the funeral service in her Rolls Royce, driven by Mr Howard (Jonathan Frid), her mute (but highly expressive) driver. In her friendly way, Lilith convinces Diane that she grew up with her mother and they were good pals.
Lilith insists Diane join her for lunch and Diane joins her. We learn Lilith hasn’t seen Diane since she was a baby. Lilith didn’t come to the religious bit of the funeral as it was not her thing (but Lilith adds nonchalantly, that Diane’s mother would understand her reasons).
Lilith appears an apparently well-meaning woman. She invites Diane to move in with her until her mother’s estate is settled. Lilith seems very keen she accepts this offer, even telling Diane that her mother would have wanted this. Diane accepts her offer.
Lilith introduces Diane to her neighbours, the Poole sisters. The Poole sisters are two sinister ladies who dress the same way and they also claim to have known Daine’s mother. Diane finds the sisters a wee bit odd, and she talks about it with Lilith who ignores her concerns.
Lilith gives Diane a ring that belonged to Diane’s mother, which has a cross type symbol on it. The same symbol is eerily also seen in a portrait that Lilith owns – of a man who resembles the Devil (but this fact appears to go over Diane’s wee head) – and the same symbol is seen on Lilith’s cigarettes. Diane asks Lilith about this symbol. Lilith is rattled briefly and then tells her it’s a quite common symbol for that part of the world.
Diane starts to have nightmares and after overhearing Lilith lose her temper with her driver, she’s a wee bit perturbed by this. Diane accidentally opens a secret desk and learns that Lilith has a photograph album (with the same spooky symbol on it) with pictures of Diane as a baby, a child and as she grew up to the present day. There’s also a picture of her mother with her friends in this book.
The priest suggests to Diane she moves in with someone her own age and finds a man (!). On hearing Diane wants to move out, this news immediately riles Lilith. Lilith totally loses her rag with her house guest. Lilith apologises, saying she thinks of Diane as her own daughter as she never had kids.
However, as she watches Diane leave for her new home, it’s clear Lilith’s not a happy woman. But Diane promises to return later that week for a get together with her mother’s friends that Lilith has organised.
Diane then shares an apartment with a kindergarten teacher, Susan (Barbara Sammeth) who loves horses. One day, Diane waits for her to finish work and she watches a child walk into a busy road. The child almost gets run over, but Diane saves him in the nick of time. She tells Susan that she had been thinking about this near accident before it happened.
On meeting Susan’s horse, it rears up in fear. These two freak near-accidents frighten Diane. Lilith visits Diane and her new flatmate. She is more than a wee bit interested in Susan’s horse-riding hobby and Lilith’s increasingly overbearing behaviour during visits, upsets Diane even more.
Diane goes to Lilith’s party and during this, she is invited (as a guest of honour) to take part in a dance organised by a ṕarty guest. During the dance, we discover that Lilith and Diane’s mother’s old friends are part of a devil-worshipping group. This is as they start to chant about Diane’s true identity. Diane is hypnotically lost in the dance rhythm, and through their chanting, we learn Diane’s the Princess of Darkness.
Diane is told she is destined to marry the Demon of Endor, aka the man with the golden eyes. It’s revealed that Diane’s mother left this group, and found religion. However, she was allowed to leave by Diane’s father, who is the Devil, on the provision that he could reclaim Diane at 21.
All of this news of her parentage naturally freaks Diane out, and she talks over her fears with the kindly supportive judge (Joseph Cotten) who is settling her mother’s estate. Susan goes on a date with a new neighbour Steve Stone (Robert Foxworth) – a man who literally bumped into Diane earlier – then during their date, he phones telling Diane, that Susan died in a freak accident with her horse.
Diane then spends more time with Steve and they fall in love, and she meets his mother (Martha Scott). This romance is seen in a sappy montage and later in a proposal of marriage. which Diane accepts. She hopes to get away from the controlling Lilith and her friends.
This with her new life, the love of her life, and her sweet mother-in-law. Diane, although she has accepted her father as the devil has decided to have nothing to do with him. She asks the judge to give her away at the wedding, but he calls to say he’s been involved in an accident…
I did enjoy Szwarc’s direction of this film, with his use of camera shots showing the plot and actions, as seen in mirrors and through windows. These creative tactics remind me of their use in his later film, Somewhere in Time (1980). In The Devil’s Daughter, these shots added to the eerieness and were quite unsettling at times.
The early script and plot often hinted at the darker story with a hint of humour written by Colin Higgins. It reminded me of those dark and black comedy moments in his film script, Harold and Maude (1971). I also loved his multi-layered script, with some of the lines and characters appearing innocent. These were later believed to have more sinister undertones.
The script dropping clues and the symbolic props seen at Lilith’s home in early scenes set up the later scenes of horror. It was also a nice distraction as this plot switched from a horror film to a romantic storyline complete with a by the numbers (or tongue in cheek) montage. Before these scenes led to more chilling moments.
The accompanying soundtrack was just as sinister and eerie, chilling side with lots of ominous drum beats as required. This music designed to scare added to the atmosphere during the more chillingly dramatic moments of the film. However, the romantic montage and its accompanying music almost lull you into believing it’s turning into a different movie.
The film was wonderfully cast and Shelley Winters gave it her all as Lilith. Like Diane, at the start, you believed this well-meaning woman had all but good intentions for Diane. Winters, however, added a subtle subtext to her actions and in her script performance in those scenes leading up to the get-together.
Lilith’s neighbours the Pools, her friends and those henchmen present at the start also added to the unease. Later, as more of the tale revealed I even questioned the role of that kindly priest and judge.
Once the true nature of Lilith’s role in ensuring Diane’s destiny is fulfilled, Winters’ role is seen as more strong, controlling and manipulative. This is as we see her character reveal more of her true nature in later scenes. When she loses her temper I believe it’s as if she feels she has lost control of Diane’s character.
Later on Lilith’s visit to Sandra and Diane’s flat and her questioning, this scene raises your paranoia of her motives. When we learn Lilith is part of a cult that follows the devil and this combined with her dominating and overbearing character in this film, she is established as a true villainess. Winters shows these different sides to her character easily, subtly and in full force as demanded by the script.
Belinda J Montgomery also seemed a good casting choice with Diane seemingly a sweet character and quite meek. However, I was happy to note, that she appeared stronger at times. Joseph Cotten as the judge appeared as a parental figure for Diane, his support was much needed after the stifling control from Lilith.
Foxworth, as Diane’s charming romantic interest also seemed to have Diane’s best interests at heart. Even if it was a bit creepy that the couple got together so soon after Susan’s death. These romantic moments leading directly to the final scenes of the movie seemed a wee bit rushed where they didn’t need to.
But if you’ve 75 minutes to kill, and want a sinister 1970s horror to watch, I’m recommending this TV Movie with a delightfully devilish Shelley Winters as one hell of a choice. If only to cotton on just who it was as the third man in those beginning scenes, and the devil in disguise.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Shelley Winters Blogathon 2019
This post was added to this blogathon run by myself and Erica from The Poppity Talks Classic Film. Other reviews with this cast on this blog include Shelley Winters in The Visitor, Buona Sera Mrs Campbell, The Love Boat, Hotel, SOB, Batman, He Ran All the Way andThe Poseidon Adventure. Robert Foxworth stars in The Astral Factor, Airport 77, Murder She Wrote, Columbo and Damien: Omen II. Belinda J Montgomery in Magnum PI, Dynasty and The Man from Atlantis. Joseph Cotten also starred in Airport 77 and in an episode HERE of The Love Boat and HERE for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Martha Scott appears in Dallas and Airport 75.