The Devils (1971), or The Horrors Of Organized Religion

28 10 2009

Well, folks, welcome to another scare-tastic edition of HORROR MOVIES THAT ARE CURRENTLY ON MY HARD DRIVE (PROBABLY ILLEGALLY) THAT ARE VERY FITTING FOR THIS HALLOWEEN SEASON! Today is a movie that is unreasonably hard to find in America. Despite its power as a modern masterpiece of terror and suspense, because of its intense sexual nature it has been constantly ignored by many as a simple exploitation film and has been denied a mass-produced American DVD. But if you can find a copy, no matter the quality, you’re in for a real Halloween treat today, because The Devils, despite its ill repute, is a masterful film about religious fanaticism that is both awe-inspiring and down-right spooky. Ken Russell put much of his mind and soul into this film, and it shows in every gripping, gut-wrenching moment of this film.

Set in the 17th century, we follow the tyrannical sweep of the fanatical Cardinal Richelieu throughout the frightened French countryside. He has convinced King Louis XIII to destroy the local defenses around the cities of France to prevent those damn Protestants from uprising and usurping the Catholics. Louis thinks it’s fine, but he tells the Cardinal he musn’t destroy the defenses of the city of Loudon, as he made a personal promise to the governor. Unfortunately for Loudon , the governor has recently perished, leaving it in the hands of Urbain Grandier, a well-regarded priest. He’s stirring up a lot of trouble in town among the ladies due to his highly sexy 17th century nature, and he’s making the rounds with a couple high-profile dames. One of whom, Madeline du Brou, he marries in a simple secret ceremony. This enrages a deformed nun named Sister Jeanne, a hunchback who has a deep lust for Grandier, and wants it really bad from him, going so far as to superimpose him on Jesus’ body in her sexual fantasies (!!!). When the government comes in and demands the fortifications be destroyed, Grandier has to keep his wits about him and do what he can to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, this turns out to be nigh impossible when it is revealed that Sister Jeanne has accused Grandier of witchcraft, as well as seduction of her convent, two devastating charges against him. The church begins to turn on the one man who can save the city, but when the church turns on you in the 17th century, there’s really no recovering. And when a mentally unstable inquisitor named Father Pierre Barre comes in to investigate, the entire sad state of affairs devolves into psychotic religious fervor that threatens the entire town of Loudon.

The Devils is an engrossing, terrifying film about power and control in a number of different aspects. Louis just wants to control absolutely without acting, the despotic Cardinal wants control over the Protestants, Sister Jeanne wants control over Grandier’s heart, and Father Barre just wants to the power over the life and death of men. And meanwhile, Grandier, played by a brilliant Oliver Reed in one of his finest performances, is having power constantly taken away from him by forces beyond his control. The world these characters live in is a brutish, fatalistic vision of the past that seeks to damn the audience while it simultaneously damns all of its main characters.

If you need any proof that this film is frightening, simply take into account the fact that this film is set in a time when the Catholic Church held all the lives of the Western world by the throat. If that thought doesn’t chill you to the bone, perhaps you haven’t reckoned that concept long enough. While there are a number of scenes in this film that over-exaggerate the fervor of the day (the ritualistic orgy outside an exorcism, a nun masturbating with the femur of a heretic (!!!)) it’s really, sadly, not all that far off. This is a film where people are punished for ALLEGED WITCHCRAFT with forced enemas and punished for “CONFIRMED” WITCHCRAFT by burning at the stake! It’s easy to look from our ivory tower of relative religious tolerance in 2009’s America and say that faith has a relevant, important place in today’s society, but if the God that speaks to Christians today is the same God that spoke to Christians back then, then maybe we should all take a look at our moral priorities while God gets a forced enema to shut his fucking mouth for a second.

Is that not scary enough for ya? How about some intense Grand Guignol action? This is not only a personal message film by madcap director Ken Russell, but it’s also a visually arresting one that brings back to mind the exotic imagery of his later film, Altered States. It’s a beautifully crafted horror with creepy imagery abounding. Sister Jeanne, played by Vanessa Redgrave in a breakout performance, is creepy all by herself, the way she flirts back and forth with her own twisted demons. The use of skulls and demonic faces, flickering and flashing on the screen, is also a nice touch in some of the transition shots. I love how they framed Father Barre in some of the interrogation scenes; he feels at times to be a demon from another world, a frothing lunatic with a sincere love for pain and death. Ken Russell designed this withe the idea to inflict some real fear, and I think he succeeds; he did with me at least.

There are a number of proclivities to The Devils that makes it a very special movie. It’s dark, it’s piercing, and it has that moral lucidity that can only come from a director who’s not afraid to point a finger and declare everyone to be wrong. And everybody IS wrong in The Devils. You might not even like its hero, Grandier, because Oliver Reed isn’t exactly known for his Downy softness. But you will think nonetheless, and when I think during an intense horror movie, I come up with some of my best ideas. So check it out if you can find it. It’s quite a disturbing film with a number of graphic scenes you won’t soon forget. I give The Devils 9 1/2 charred femur marital aids out of 10! A high recommendation! Click this link if you’re interested in purchasing The Devils on Amazon, one of this movie’s only (legal) outlets!

Gird your loins, everyone! I have The Others coming up tomorrow! Until then!

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5 responses

29 10 2009
Alex

“If you need any proof that this film is frightening, simply take into account the fact that this film is set in a time when the Catholic Church held all the lives of the Western world by the throat.” Truly a terrifying environment, my goodness.

This movie sounds really interesting. The only Ken Russell movie I’ve seen is Tommy, for which I had lukewarm feelings. I dig his trippy visual style though, so I’ve been meaning to give his other movies a chance. Perhaps this will be next if I can find a copy!

ps I really like your blog!

29 10 2009
cinematronica

Thanks so much, Alex! Your blog is neat, as well! I especially like the personalized style you employ! It’s like I’m stepping into the skin you put on when you dive into the internet the internet! I hope you follow me to my website, which will soon be named at some point early next month! I’ll try to make it a bit more personalized with more pictures of myself and of the things I like, like hair, fish that look like Larry Hagman, and Nick Nolte’s dementia! Thanks for the interest, thanks for the compliment, and BOOM! you’re on the blogroll!

29 10 2009
Alex

Oh, thanks for the compliments! I do try to have a more conversational writing style, since I imagine that’s a bit more interesting to read. Also thanks for the blogroll link- right back atcha! I will surely follow you to your new site!

1 11 2009
Steven David

I will have to check out Alex’s website now! Not enough time in the day for such fun reviews!! This movie sounds great! Is it gory or just sex filled…or both? Too much gore I cant handle well.

1 11 2009
Jenni David

top comment from me

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