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The Devils is, admittedly like Ken Russell's style itself, is not for all tastes, it is one of those films that you will be transfixed by straightaway or be repulsed by it. With me, it was the former and while Russell's style was a quite unique one to begin with The Devils is most likely unlike anything you've seen before. It is an incredibly well-made film, the sets are simply spectacular and the photography is both beautiful and harrowing. Peter Maxwell Davies' music score is hypnotic and haunting, it has a genuine eeriness but doesn't overbear things. The story is a ceaselessly compelling one, a lot of it is incredibly shocking(with the most disturbing torture scenes on film) yet with the fascinating imagery and the different themes the film has it is overwhelming in how stunning it is. With Russell's direction, this is not restrained Russell(if you want restrained look to his biographies on Elgar and Delius) but hard-hitting and somewhat eccentric Russell, but there is much more focus and atmosphere than there was with Lisztomania, a fairly similar directing style but The Devils is so much more structured and cinematic and less music-video-like and tasteless(at times). Nonetheless he does a great job directing, it has his style all over it but he handles it in a gripping and intelligent way. Oliver Reed gives a career-best performance, while Vanessa Redgrave is deeply touching and somewhat grotesque in appearance(the character that is not her) and Gemma Jones is entrancing. Overall, The Devils is one of Russell's best and most fascinating films but it is very easy to see why it caused so much controversy at the time of release(it was very different for the time and the audience weren't prepared to be that shocked, the same treatment happened with Witchfinder General with Vincent Price as well). 10/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The great Ken Russell, who just passed away at age 84, was doubtlessly
one of the most uncompromising filmmakers, who enriched cinema with a
variety of often controversial and bizarre cult films including SAVAGE
MESSIAH and ALTERED STATES. Even though I am not (yet) an expert on the
man's filmography (having seen seven or eight of his films), I think it
is save to say that THE DEVILS of 1971 is one of his most unique,
imposing and unforgettable works. An atmospherically overwhelming
cinematic experience, THE DEVILS is Russel's brutal and brilliantly
bizarre biographical story of the real-life unorthodox 17th century
French priest Urbain Grandier. Due to its criticism of the Catholic
church, bizarre sequences of religion paired with violent excess and
orgiastic sexuality, THE DEVILS was heavily censored and only available
in mutilated versions after religious moralists had stirred
controversy. As always, the controversy stirred by reactionary
institutions had opposite effects: THE DEVILS is maybe the most
important film for the the rise of Nunsploitation, a sub-genre of
mostly European and generally sleazy films about naughty and possessed
nuns that engage in all sorts of sexual, violent and blasphemous
In the 1630s, the infamous French Cardinal Richilieu orders the destruction of French towns in order to prevent a rise of the Hugenots (French Protestants). The charismatic Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the priest of the French town Loudoun, and a womanizer whom women generally can't resist. Grandier sleeps with nuns and noblewomen alike, and manages to temporarily prevent the destruction of his town. The crippled, deformed and mad mother superior of the Loundon convent, sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) has fallen in love with the priest, and when he secretly marries another, hell hath no fury like this nun scorned. The nun's accusations against Grandier are welcomed by his powerful political opponents who send an obsessed Exorcist (Michael Gothard) who is to prove Grandier's association with the devil...
THE DEVILS is a remarkable in many aspects. It arguably marks Ken Russell's, Oliver Reed's and Vanessa Redgrave's finest hour. Oliver Reed was doubtlessly one of the greatest British actors in the history of the country's cinema, who is far too often remembered for his (cool and highly original) drunken antics instead of his brilliant performances. His charismatic performance as Urbain Grandier here is one of the finest ever given. Vanessa Redgrave is fantastic in her display of a disturbed woman who dabbles between devilishly vengeful intrigue, pure evil and pathetic desperation and insanity. Equally great is Michael Gothard in the his role of the obsessed religious fanatic Father Barre. The film is visually overwhelming, often beautifully disturbing and bizarre. Some sequences, such as the 'Christ' dream sequence are highly surreal to a unique point, comparable maybe only to Alejandro Jodorowsky's films.
While it has some lengthier parts, THE DEVILS is generally a film that overwhelms in all regards. It is a bizarre, often brutal and always uncompromising masterpiece that is visually stunning and magnificently acted. Along with Michael Reeves' equally uncompromising WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968, starring the great Vincent Price) and Michael Armstrong's ultra-gruesome HEXEN BIS AUFS BLUT GEQUÄLT (MARK OF THE DEVIL, 1970), THE DEVILS was one of the films that spawned a trend of (especially European) Exploitation films about Inquisition and (mass-)murder in the name of religion. It is beyond me why decent DVD-copies of this great film are still difficult to purchase as it was mostly released in mutilated versions. A true must-see for every lover of uncompromising cinema, one of the great British films of the 70s.
R.I.P. Ken Russell, a truly fearless and uncompromising filmmaker has passed away.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't even know where to begin. Cinema like this is not made anymore.
I have seen thousands of films and rarely does one touch so deep on the
themes of faith, religion, and political ambition. This movie is deeply
moving, beyond the beautiful period piece setting, and the carnival
show of 'the devil's orgy' there lies underlying themes that are
universal and apply to society to this day. If I were to compare it in
any shape or form to another story line that is remotely relative, "In
the Name of the Rose" has a some similar basis topics within its plot.
This movie is not only enjoyable as a film, but watched with a keen
intellect, it educates.
There are few chances to see a period piece as this, dedicated to remaining true to history and it's own stories origins. To see into our past and how easily hysteria is spread so quickly through the masses with nothing but an ill-gotten truth, a facade of justice. Such a resounding plot, the witch-hunt, the political scape-goat, veiled under a mockery of religion, where as now, we have our nightly news to cast stones, to crucify and destroy lives, as to the purpose of only personal gain by those who desire power and political ambition.
I have almost rendered a completely unintelligible review here, but this movie evokes those kind of responses. This is not a popcorn flick, not one to just watch when you are looking to burn away the time, rather, this movie was made to sit on your on mind, to digest, to walk away thinking. Every great movie has that power.
Oliver Reed's performance was nothing short of excellent as a priest, who has fallen from his calling, giving into his desire for a partner, to fulfill his sexual urges. Yet, though he no longer serves his purpose as a priest to the fullest, Oliver Reed portrays a HUMAN, a man who has given into temptation, but still seeks the favor of the God he serves. Even as he is burned at the stake, he still seeks to serve his people and his God. There are many underlying themes, which is what makes this so powerful and relevant today as it was 30 years ago.
I do not go to film school and I don't know what is required in the teaching curriculum, but this movie would be one for the students to watch, along with the Kubricks, Tarantinos, and Ford's visionary films. If I have not given much insight into the film itself, maybe the impact it made on me will allow the viewer looking for an intelligent well-made film to give this one a shot.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Devils" directed by Ken Russell is based on true incidents in
France during Cardinal Richelieu's 17th Century witch hunts and
Huguenot persecutions. The film centers on one small town in the French
countryside where Father Grandier (Oliver Reed) rules his congregation
and the surrounding community without any restraint from the
authoritarian Cardinal. Grandier is far from being the perfect pastor,
however, as he's impregnated one of the local girls (and she's hardly
his first conquest). When word gets out regarding Grandier's antics and
his insubordination, he naturally ends up on Richelieu's "hit list."
The intent of the "powers that be" is to make him an extreme example
and Grandier is soon falsely accused of witchcraft. To make matters
even worse for him, he had previously spurned the advances of the local
Abbess, Sister Jeanne, played by Vanessa Redgrave as a deformed
hunchback. Now she claims he's possessed by devils and drove her to
lustful madness. Seemingly on cue, Grandier's main accuser arrives on
the scene in the personage of the local Baron, cynically played by
Dudley Sutton. He immediately summons his own hand-picked exorcist,
Father Barre (a wild-eyed Michael Gothard), to join in on the
festivities. Murray Melvin (Reverend Runt from "Barry Lyndon") is also
hanging around as a degenerate priest who's intent on seeing Grandier
get what he deserves. In 17th Century France, that means being burned
at the stake.
Russell does his best to make the proceedings as outrageous as they can be, despite the fact that the subject matter warrants a serious approach. "Serious" isn't Russell's style. Still, the movie is quite effective as a legitimate period piece and the acting is uniformly exceptional due to the high-powered cast. Reed, in particular, has never been better and "The Devils" may be the high point of his distinguished career. Of course, it all ends horrifically for poor Oliver as he is sentenced to burn for his "crimes." Sutton has the film's best line when he informs the doomed man that "hell will hold no surprises for you." He's got a point there.
this film is totally the product of the director , you must admit to being totally affected by the grotesque carnival of bizarre and obscene characters in the film and its often hilarious performances Vanessa Redgrave her hunchback psychotic mother superior and good old Ollie Reid being a fornicating priest, life imitating art ? OK he was not a priest not that i know of , strange affecting and surreal we got nuns in an orgy torture religious blasphemy thats Russell sideswiping his own upbringing , lots of great character actors though , a definite snapshot of the seventies when censorship was breaking down , always controversial anyone seen the totally uncensored version?
I thoroughly enjoyed this film even though I have only recently watched it, I was also lucky enough to be able to see it with the controversial "Rape of Christ" scene included, and also though I didn't think that this added anything to the film I don't think that it needed to be banned. I enjoyed that way that the film drew you in and didn't leave go until the credits, but some scenes were to graphic for my liking. The main reason that I'm commenting though, is because after going to see the new horror/thriller in the cinema at the moment I was throroughy disappointed, and it made think something that was made so long ago which was simply picked up on a whim will always stay in my memory. Excellent!
The Devils is famous as a banned or heavily cut film from the seventies. Having seen it recently, it is an excellent film. It's message of the ultimate corruption of the Church during the 18th century in europe is a real eye opener. The use of Religion to exercise control and the wielding of the word of God for political gain is a message which shouldn't be taken lightly.
Close to 30 years after it was released, this film is still shocking. One of the most infamous films of the 70's, Ken Russell's film will haunt viewers long after watching it. Based upon historical fact, with plenty of embellishment for the director's political stance. Both horrific and funny -- "The Devils" deals with politics, religion and human courage all within the framework of 17th Century France. Great acting by all, but Vanessa Redgrave steals the show. This is a very graphic and intense film. Derek Jarman's set design is brilliant and only adds to the surreal feeling of the film.
Russell achieves his masterpiece here, in a work that gets to the heart of the matter far better than the Huxley novel on which it is based. Oliver Reed is at his urgent, whispering best as Father Grandier, the protector of the city of London struggling against the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu. Vanessa Redgrave, Georgina Hale, everyone perfect. A deep, thought provoking tale told with incredible passion.
From the outset this is a film that shocks, dares and is an experience you
will never forget. Personally I see it as an attack on the strict morals
the Catholic faith. As the traditional suppression of sexual desires
erupts from the tortured characters of the town it tells us that this way
life is inhuman. At the end they have all suffered tremendously because of
idiotic superstitions and barbaric practices. All through history there
been people who have forced these restrictions on people and this is the
result. The mass exorcism is not religious, but it is the release of the
lusts and emotions of those involved. What they felt was not to be hidden,
but because of their faith it destroyed them.
A daring piece indeed, very well directed, written. The sets and images on screen make Loudun seem like a town of alien construction. When it is levelled at the end it is the walls of Catholicism releasing their victims to live a tortured life in the world- they can never escape what has been thrust upon them. Important, controversial and very well made and acted- a film not to be missed.
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