Review Date: 3/12/03
Director: Peter Sykes
Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Nastassja Kinski, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliot
One of the last films to be made by Hammer Studios, this is another adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel about satanism and black magic. Father Michael Rainer (a gleefully maniacal Christopher Lee) is an excommunicated priest whose greatest ambition is to bring forth the personification of Asteroth through black magic. The vessel for this ritual is Catherine (a very young and very sexy Nastassja Kinski), a seemingly pure and innocent girl brought up in seclusion by the good priest, and about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday. Her pathetic wretch of a father decides that he can't let this atrocity happen to his little girl, so he goes to John Verney (Richard Widmark), a horror novelist and expert in the occult, for help. Of course, Verney can't turn down such a fantastic opportunity, and he kidnaps Catherine to the relative safety of his apartment (and makes creepy old guy advances towards her as well). At this point it becomes a battle of wills and good vs. evil as Verney and Rainer fight for Catherine's soul, resulting in a confusing and disappointing finale hobbled together from leftover footage.
Overall, the film looks great and is very creepy. Christopher Lee is wonderful as always, and his grim intensity and gleeful insanity keep the film on track. Richard Widmark plays your typically selfish, brash, and arrogant American with a nice flair for dramatic adsurdity. But it's probably Nastassja Kinski who steals the show, whose bright-eyed youthful innocence can turn into the icy gaze of death in an instant. Shockingly, she also gets naked at the end of the film, which by today's standards would surely fall under the banner of child pornography (she was 16 or 17 when the film was made). Overall a fun, but ultimately disappointing outing, and a fitting end to the Hammer era.