DVD Review: The Devils
Still so infamous it can't be released on hi-def Blu Ray, The Devils gets re-released in all its glory
(Dir Ken Russell)
In 1971 filmmaker Ken Russell released arguably his most controversial film, The Devils, loosely based on real life events depicted in the 1952 book The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley.
It is 1634 France and promiscuous Catholic priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is embroiled in a feud with Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) over the city of Loudun and tearing down its walls. Unbeknownst to Grandier, Mother Superior Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) and the rest of the convent have become sexually obsessed with the man, accusing Grandier of carnal possession. This gives Richelieu the perfect excuse to strike and before Grandier knows it, he is arrest and facing trial for witchcraft, heresy, and possession.
In the 41 years since The Devils release it has lost none of its controversy and power to shock, frequent scenes of violent, sexual and religious content are displayed for the viewer to gorge upon. One such scene portrays Sister Jeanne hallucinating Grandier is Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross, along with crown of thorns and hands of stigmata.
Not for the faint hearted; forced enemas, torture, nuns masturbating and writhing around naked in great numbers are amongst the films more outrageous scenes. None are gratuitous however and show in detail the lengths of depravity that was normal for 17th century torture and trials. Russell even says himself: “it’s all in the book, read the book”.
All the cast are brilliant; Oliver Reed in particular is magnificent. The photography is exceptional throughout, as are the sets of Loudun and the inner walls of the convent.
Still banned in many countries, this DVD release features the longest version Warner Bros. would allow, the original British X rated cut (now 18). Sadly The British Film Institute were not granted permission to release the 2004 extended cut, featuring the infamous “Rape of Christ” sequence nor issue the film on Blu-ray.
Don’t let either of those omissions put you off, The Devils is quite simply a masterpiece of filmmaking and late director Ken Russell’s best work.
Clearly a project of passion, The BFI has given this DVD release an excellent (mono) audio and video presentation. The included lengthy 42 page book and 48 minute “Hell on Earth” documentary are also well worth exploring.