CAPSULE: This is not great, but it is an unexpectedly satisfying supernatural suspense film. A schoolteacher nearly hits a very old man on the road. She invites him into her home only to find out he seems to know more about her house than she does. He seems to know about some sort of demonic sewer she never knew was there. The film is co-written and directed by Michelle Soavi. It was also co-written by Dario Argento. Both men produced. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
At some point the Italian horror film took what I consider a wrong turn. They went in big for the "giallo" film. These are not so much horror films but serial killer films with a slasher killing off (not well developed) characters one by one. But so frequently the characters are not very well developed. They are just sort of fungible targets for the killer. The films are big into sex and violence, but somehow there are no characters in the film worth investing much empathy in.
When I saw that THE SECT was made in 1991 it seemed very likely that it would be just another serial killer film. But what a surprise that it turned out to be a supernatural suspense with two or three characters whom we come to have a feeling for. The original 1991 title was at least a hint that it might be a more interesting film. The title THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER conjures of two Hammer films on Satanism, THE DEVIL'S BRIDE and TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, both based on horror adventures by Dennis Wheatley. The film, which I will call by its current release name THE SECT, makes some effort to look like an American horror film. It is dubbed in English, has a large part for British actor Herbert Lom (who would be in only two films after this one). However, any pretense that this might be an American film quickly fails as we get a title that says "South California. 1970." Somehow we do use the name "Southern California", but we never call that area "South California." The film has a short prolog with hippies in a small group of friends who are visited by a Charles-Manson-like figure.
After the prolog the setting moves to Frankfort, Germany, 1991. Schoolteacher Miriam Kreisl (played by Kelly Curtis) accidentally nearly hits a very old man Moebius Kelly (Herbert Lom) on the road. She is not sure if he is hurt or not, and so she brings the man to her house. She indeed had reason to worry since the man does appear to die. Then he returns from the dead. Then he returns to it. For a while he treads the boundary between life and death. During one of his living periods the stranger discovers in Miriam's basement something that seems like a demonic sewer, decorated as Expressionist.
There are touches that remind one of other films. There are moments of Lovecraftian horror and others with a satanic rabbit and a more satanic rabbit hole. (It cannot be easy for a writer to wring horror from a rabbit or from a stork.) The whole plot could be considered homage to a certain other well-known horror film--not that the viewer is likely to guess it in advance.
Herbert Lom, incidentally, made only two films after this one. This was his last role of this size in a 1991 film. He died September 27, 2012 (He was age 95).
Writer-directors Michele Soavi and Dario Argento try a number of experiments in horror. Some work and others do not. But I would rather see a film with a few experimental horrors that fail than one that has no new ideas. I rate this low a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
THE SECT will be on Blu-ray and DVD February 27. It has been remastered in high definition with more than 45 hours of color correction.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100581/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1035862_devils_daughter?
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper