In this weeks installment focusing on the ABC Movie of the Week, I am going to look at two films with similar subject matters, young women and the devil. Both movies premiered in 1973 with the first being The Devil’s Daughter and later that same year Satan’s School for Girls.
The Devil’s Daughter: While attending her mother’s funeral, Diane Shaw (Belinda Montgomery Man From Atlantis) meets a wealthy woman named Lilith (Shelley Winters), who was a dear friend of her mother’s. Having nowhere to stay while she relocates, Lilith kindly offers her a place with her and her mute companion, Mr. Howard (Jonathan Frid, Dark Shadows). Diane is hungry for information about her mother, since she never knew either of her parents. She was told that her father died when she was a baby, and while she grew up living a sheltered life in boarding schools and convents with her mother traveling only seeing her a couple times a year. Diane is shy and demure and seems a bit confused by everything going on around her, Lilith is a strong personality and a bit overbearing. To Lilith’s dismay, Diane finds a roommate closer to her own age and moves out of the house, but she soon realizes that there is much more to Lilith and all of her strange friends, who are all part of a Devil worshipping cult, as was her mother, and they believe Diane is the daughter of the devil and destined to rule over them as the “Princess of Darkness”. Diane rejects this and runs back to her normal life, but after some tragic events, she meets a man named Steve (Robert Foxworth) and the pair fall in love. With a newfound strength and courage, she confronts the coven letting them know that if they interfere with her life or her upcoming wedding, she will crush them. Can Diane avoid her destiny as the Devil’s Daughter and live a normal life? Watch to find out!
The movie premiered in January of 1973, and the reception was mixed, with the Los Angeles Times saying it lacked suspense and the New York Times calling it “one of the better made for TV movies.” Where I think it definitely had its strengths, I have to agree on the side of the Los Angeles Times. There were a lot of missed opportunities to create tension and atmosphere. Where there are a couple of menacing characters and Shelley Winters is wonderful with her “not so subtle” threats foreshadowing things to come, overall, there was little in the form of terror and it was missing the ominous tone and visuals that could have made this more of a classic. I enjoyed the performances, at first, I thought Belinda’s Diane was a bit too mousey, but as the story moves forward, we see her come into her own strength. Jonathan Frid is an underrated actor, in my opinion, having been pigeonholed by playing Barnabas in the Dark Shadow soap opera, but he expertly conveys tenderness and care for Diane without uttering a word, as his character is mute, using only facial expression and body language. It is clear this film is drawing inspiration from Rosemary’s Baby–the knock-off movie poster, the kooky old people who [surprise!] are secretly part of a satanic cult–but it does so with none of the style and finesse of Rosemary’s Baby. I enjoyed this film, but it could have been so much more.
Satan’s School for Girls: Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin, The Legend of Hellhouse) doesn’t believe her sister committed suicide but she is unable to convince the police otherwise. She believes that something happened to her while she was attending school at the Salem Academy for Women, so she goes undercover to investigate who or what caused her sister’s untimely demise. She is immediately greeted by fellow classmates, Roberta (Kate Jackson), Debbie (Jamie Smith Jackson) and Jody (Cheryl Ladd). The school has a checkered past having been in existence in one form or another for 300 years. Elizabeth and Roberta begin to become friends and as her investigation continues and the two suspect Professor Delacroix (Lloyd Bochner, Dynasty) as the one behind everything and seek the help of popular professor, Dr. Clampett (Roy Thinnes, Dark Shadows 1991 Revival). Things come to a climax and Elizabeth finds out that it is much more than she expected and involves a Satanic cult and possibly Satan himself.
I remember seeing this as a kid and really enjoying it and watching the 2000 remake which also starred Kate Jackson, but this time as the Headmistress. Rewatching it now brings back a lot of very fond memories of watching these movies with my family. Out of the two films being looked at in this article, this one does a much better job of setting the tone by using music, light and shadow in creating the appropriately creepy atmosphere. The cast is well chosen, Pamela Franklin does a good job as the concerned Elizabeth, who is strong willed and independent. Kate Jackson (my favorite Angel from Charlies Angels) is also wonderful as Roberta, who helps Elizabeth investigate the strange happenings at the school. The plot is well crafted with some good twists, turns and intrigue and it keeps you guessing who is really behind it all and why, giving you little bits of information along the way.