Sunday, July 5, 2015

Off Script: The Devil's Daughter (1991)

Film: The Devil’s Daughter (The Sect; La Setta; Demons IV)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

One of the things I love about Italian horror and gialli is that the producers are never content with a single title. In the case of The Devil’s Daugther, the film is equally known as The Sect or La Setta. It was also marketed under the title Demons IV. It certainly makes it confusing from the point of view of someone looking to watch the film; which title is the one to search under?

In fact, I initially started watching a made-for-TV movie called The Devil’s Daughter before I realized that it wasn’t the one I was looking for. No, the Fangoria 101 Unheralded Horror Movies list is going to focus more on the gore, which means we’re instead looking at a film from the early ‘90s produced by Dario Argento. Let’s be straight here—the Argento-backed film is going to appeal to Fangoria fans a lot more than something made for television.

Put at its most simplistic, The Devil’s Daughter is a sort of reimagining of Rosemary’s Baby, at least on the most basic level. In essence, a woman is targeted by a Satanic cult to be the bearer of Satan’s child. Of course, since this was written by Argento rather than being a Polanski project, we’re going less for subtlety and more for confusion and upsetting visuals. We start in the late 1960s or early 1970s with a group of hippies in California. A man walks out of the desert and misquotes “Sympathy for the Devil.” Then, he kills everybody as a sacrifice to the Dark Lord. A man arrives in a car and tells the desert dude that he’s done well, but that what they want will take a long time to come, perhaps years.

Flash forward to the film’s present. We witness a murder, with the perpetrator attempting to flee on a subway. A pickpocket reaches for the necklace he stole off this victim only to discover that it’s wrapped around the victim’s heart, which was in the murderer’s pocket. The murderer is captured by the police, but rather than be arrested, he grabs an officer’s gun and shoots himself.

Jump forward again and we meet a crazy old man on a bus. This is Moebius Kelly (Herbert Lom). He has a fit on a bus, puts an weird colored liquid in his eyes, and when the bus stops, he almost gets run over by a car. The car is driven by Miriam Kreisl (Kelly Curtis), who takes the old man to her house and puts him up for the night despite the old man being supremely weird. That night, the old man sneaks into her room and literally puts a bug up Miriam’s nose. Then he has a fit and dies, although he does this while Miriam is off getting a doctor. And before he dies, he puts a piece of cloth over his face and makes his own budget Shroud of Turin, which later attacks one of her friends.

It’s also surprisingly important that Miriam has a pet rabbit named Rabbit, which seems to observe everything going in (it follows Moebius into the basement and watches him die). At one point, Rabbit watches television and changes channels with a remote. This is pretty much when I decided I didn’t give a shit about the movie anymore, which is a shame because certain aspects of it started to get interesting. Like, Miriam starts getting phone calls from the old dead man and her friend who was attacked by the Shroud of Herbert Lom makes someone attack her with a knife (no, really), dies on the operating table, and then comes back to life, accuses Miriam of what has happened, and slits her own throat with a scalpel. But at this point, I’d already lost interest in anything that was happening, even when I could see the jump scares about to happen. Oh, and there’s a cistern and a woman getting her face ripped off with hooks, and the hippie murder dude from the start shows back up.

I think. Honestly, I was pretty confused by all of this, which is often a common theme when it comes to Italian horror movies. Coherence is often ignored for the sake of setting up gory deaths, and the print I was able to watch was pretty grainy, so I’m not always sure I’m talking about the right people.

There’s a decent gore moment with about 25 minutes left in the film, but this is a confusing mess of a movie whether it’s calld The Devil’s Daughter, The Sect, or under any other name. It’s stylish, but ultimately confusing and nonsensical.

Why to watch The Devil’s Daughter: Argento-produced Italian horror in the grand tradition.
Why not to watch: As is often the case with Italian horror, the screenplay makes no sense.


  1. "At one point, Rabbit watches television and changes channels with a remote. This is pretty much when I decided I didn’t give a shit about the movie anymore..."

    Maybe it's the rabbit from "Donnie Darko."

    1. Sadly, no.

      That's the third or fourth time you've referenced Frank in comments, I think. This probably would've been more interesting had it been Frank, and it wouldn't have been any more nonsensical.

  2. This is the only one of Soavi's horror films I haven't seen yet, though I do gather it's the weakest of the four. His previous film, The Church, is as loopy as hell, but I thought it was actually the least sensible bits where he did his best work.

    1. I don't mind loopy. This was more just mish-mash and confusing. It lost me, as I said above, with the rabbit using the television remote.