The Devils (1971) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
109 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Shocking, beautifully elegant, a truly provocative masterpiece that induces raw emotions. 10/10
vassl120 January 2003
Shocking, beautifully elegant, a truly provocative masterpiece that induces raw emotions. 10/10

Two years before 'The Exorcist' hits the screen, Ken Russell puts the Catholic Church in the spotlight by filming one of the most disturbing films of all times. Except from being a sheer technical and aesthetic masterpiece, 'The Devils' provokes as a film with its relentless sense of anarchy. Religious hysteria and illusions, the horror of human arrogance and depravity and the love that turns to cherishing that turns to hatred. It's hard to put it in words, one must simply watch it to understand the simple splendor of this film. For open-minded viewers only...
95 out of 109 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Ken Russell's little known masterpiece
jweiglein1 June 2004
A few movies are so controversial that the Movie industry does their best to kill them off (see Terry Gilliams' "Brazil"). Such was the case with "The Devils" First, to clear a few things up...this did NOT come from a play, nor was it a novel. It is based on Aldous Huxley's painstakingly researched religious history of the famous Loudun exorcisms during the time of Richelieu. The book may be out of print, but my wife found a copy published in 1952 by Chatto & Windus. There are some more recent publications, but this one is lovely, with an engraving of Bishop Urban Grandier(the main character) dating back to 1627. Huxley actually includes original letters, which still exist, written by the participants of this travesty. Much of the dialogue of the film is directly from Huxley. The vision however is uniquely Russell's. When this movie was originally released, it was given an X rating, not due to sex, or even violence, although there is some of each. The plain fact is that the film in its original form is simply overpowering. The Movie Review board thought so! I was fortunate enough to see the original uncut version, rated X at the local art-house upon its release. This film is a shortened version. While still worthwhile, this film absolutely SCREAMS for a Criterion Collection restoration to its original (brilliant) form.
119 out of 141 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Genius; The greatest film of church corruption ever conceived.
degelb22 May 2004
Cited by director Alex Cox and critic Mark Kermode as one of the ten greatest achievements in cinema of all time, The Devils is based on a true story set in France in 1634 about the evils of the union of church and state controlled by power hungry, perverse men who prey on faith and fear, and one priest, Father Grandier, who tries to protect the liberties and walls of his city, Loudun.

This film was met with great controversy and opposition due to its contents and depictions of blasphemy. Hardly available today, the current VHS release suffers from trigger happy censors with no desire to leave the plot intact. The video translation is appalling, with only a fraction of the resolution and quality of film, and the fullscreen framing mauls at least 60% of the compositions. If you can attain this on widescreen on DVD, you are a lucky person. Unfortunately, as is reflected by another comment on this board, most people see the crappy version and judge the film based on that.
99 out of 119 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A movie that purposely shocks you to make a point.
rondine21 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie late at night by myself and I was absolutely terrified. I was house sitting for a friend who's house was in the boonies in Anchorage and it was a dark & snowy night. I watched this movie totally engrossed & unable to turn away - kinda like a train wreck! I slept with the light on that night.

I went out & got the out of print book at the library. The book by Huxley is totally different, although the movie was faithful to most of the historical aspects of the story. The book is a beautiful testament of faith. You really should try to get a copy if the film piqued your interest in this slice of history. There is also an opera that is based on this story (as well as a John Whiting play) and all of this is based on historical facts. Obviously, I have done some research since seeing the movie. That's how much it affected me.

The story is one of politics versus spiritual redemption; desire versus despair. The acting is wonderful - especially Oliver Reed. To me, this is his best performance ever. In addition, it's a Ken Russell film so the presentation is wild to say the least. But for this story, it works. Derek Jarman's sets also lend a modern-retro kind of feel to the movie. Watch this one late at night when you are all alone. It's a one of a kind that I have never seen duplicated since. Not even the Exorcist has the same kind of horrific darkness as this movie (if you watch the credits of the Exorcist, they use some music from the Penderecki opera, The Devils of Loudun).

SPOILER BEYOND HERE **************

This movie is not for everyone. If you get the imported copy from England, there is the restored "Rape of Christ" scene that some will find not only horrific, but absolutely revolting. This movie is not for everyone - but the same can be said of any movie really. I'd prefer to watch this rather than "Dumb and Dumbmer." I recommend this movie to those with an open mind & a taste for the unusual. It is a movie FAR ahead of its time - in fact, Warner Brothers STILL will not release the restored copy - that's how controversial it is. A controversial movies doesn't always equate with a great movie - but this movie is singular in its achievement.
65 out of 77 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Beautifully disturbing film
bdpennington21 December 2000
Ken Russell is one of those filmmakers whose work you can immediately identify. Whether your first was "Altered States" or (like me) "The Devils," you learn early on that if Mr. Russell's name is listed as director and/or writer, you can expect to be at least a little disturbed.

"The Devils" is, in my humble opinion, one of the best films ever made. I wish I hadnt been born so late because I can imagine how truly intense an experience it must've been to view "The Devils" in theater.

This film is the only film I've ever seen, regardless of genre, to take the viewer into the pit of hell and to hold her/him there unrelenting, uncompromising, and to make the viewer feel as s/he has actually experienced hell. I can only imagine how much difficulty Mr. Russell must have had when MPAA members saw this film. It's bleak, horrifying, shocking, disgusting and thoroughly delicious. Aldous Huxley (the author of the book on which this film was based) would have been proud to see that his true story of a Satanic Catholic church translated very well to film.

One last thing: I have never really been able to sit through the entire film since the first time I saw it. That is, odd as it sounds, extreme praise. What kind of hell would it be if I could sit comfortably?

Thank you, Ken Russell!
67 out of 81 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A brilliant, disturbing film
eunice-430 November 1999
I can never understand why "The Devils", which was such a major film and caused such controversy, never became a cult classic being shown every other week on cable TV. This film totally annihilates all the trashy "straight-to-video" horror films. Based on true events in 17th century France, this film is one of the most horrifying tales of man's intolerance: religious and sexual.

The tale begins with an outbreak of the plague, which the folk of the middle ages, with typical misunderstanding of the real cause, rat fleas, believed that someone was to blame. Who more convenient a scapegoat than Father Grandier, played by the notorious Oliver Reed an actor who ended his rambunctious life by dropping dead in a bar. The sexual appeal of Fr. Grandier drives the supposedly celibate clergy into a frenzy of jealousy. A group of nuns, led by a noblewoman who has been forced into the convent due to her physical deformity and therefore, lack of marriageable options, joins in the hysteria which is not satisfied until Fr. Grandier is burned at the stake.

Although set in France in the middle ages, a lot of the hysteria can be seen today, in our more enlightened times. Just witness the periodic witch hunts in the United States, such as the furore over the alleged Satanic cults running day care centers, not to mention the reds under the beds hysteria of the 50's.

This was one of Ken Russell's most controversial films, and definitely very 70's in its style, after all, we had Mick Jagger and Twiggy perfectly cast as decadent French nobility, and it has taken 20+ years to see how right on the mark he was.

Although Russell was the hottest thing in cinema for a while, he faded like a discarded fashion as every wannabe copied his style, but without being able to understand what is was that set Ken Russell apart. Unfortunately Russell did not help his reputation by becoming more and more the icon of bad taste. Eventually he became a parody and the fickle who had formally worshipped his genius could not disassociate themselves quickly enough.

Like Orson Welles, Ken Russell's brilliance will not be realized until a new generation discovers his work. I recommend "The Devils" along with "The Music Lovers" as his best work.
56 out of 68 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Religious fundamentalism goes mad
ExpendableMan26 April 2007
When reading the following review, please keep in mind that I saw this film in slightly unorthodox circumstances. Without meaning to sound smug, the screening I attended took place at my University, was chaired by Ken Russell and was of a restored version of The Devils. The missing footage found by the critic Mark Kermode had been spliced back in and the film restored to the director's vision as close as possible. Given that I've never seen the original edit released to cinemas back in the 1970s and that this was only the second time this version had been screened, I think its fair to estimate that the film I'm reviewing will be significantly different to the one that is widely available so please keep that in mind.

Anyway...starting with a bizarre sequence involving an androgynous, foppish King prancing around a theatre stage done up like an Egyptian Queen, Ken Russell's The Devils is a film that over the course of its subsequent hour and forty minutes is liable to offend as many people as it will entertain. The extravagance of the Royal French Court filled with laughing nobles and brown nosing politicians resplendent in the very finest dark ages fashion is soon juxtaposed when the film turns a stark gaze on a rotting countryside filled with pestilence and disease. Maggot infested corpses line the road and the attention is quickly turned on the town of Loudun, where Priest Father Grandier battles not only the plague, but the political schemers who want to demolish the walls. Grandier is such a charismatic public figure however that the politicians are powerless, until they elaborate a plan to have him tarnished with accusations of blasphemy.

Central to this conspiracy is a chapter of Nuns living near by, of whom the hunched Sister Jeanne proves instrumental. Scared of her own sexual desires, the woman is driven mad by her very human nature and soon, the inquisition are knocking on her door and every woman in the building is being tortured and brain washed in the name of Christianity. The evils of religious fanaticism are plain to see, with Michael Gothard's scene stealing extremist Father Barre being the most disgusting example of a Priest you are ever likely to see on film. He batters and humiliates women for the sake of getting his own way and is so inflexible that he will send people to their deaths rather than admit his own fallibility. Controversial scenes abound as Barre's determination brings about nothing but misery, with the brainwashed nuns stripping off and indulging in a mass orgy, culminating in perhaps the most offensive scene when a statue of Christ is pulled down from the chapel walls and used by the nuns as a sexual play thing.

While it may depict blasphemy though, the film itself is not blasphemous and believe it or not, actually celebrates Christianity. It does so through the figure of Grandier (Oliver Reed at his very best), a man whose faith in God is so strong that he will not allow the misled elders of the Church deviate him from his path. He isn't a perfect man and has a weakness for the fairer sex, but he will not bow down to pressure or allow physical pain to weaken his love of God, he is a fine depiction of a Priest of which the Church can be proud.

However, religious sermonising isn't the chief attraction because let's face it, the reason most of us would want to see this movie is because it's controversial. With the aforementioned cavorting on the cross and nun orgies it's not hard to see why and the Inquisition don't exactly come off particularly well either as they stride around the countryside, bullying and torturing and ultimately teaching their flock to hate, not to love. Furthermore, The Devils is possessed (pun very much intended) by a ceaseless, madcap energy that is easy to get swept up in and over the course of the film, you will witness flagellation, nun on nun lesbian action, deranged inquisitors chanting "confess" as they beat people with hammers and (perhaps most bizarrely of all), Oliver Reed duelling with a man using a stuffed crocodile in place of a sword.

Yes, it is a bit uneasy to watch sometimes. Yes, at times it does resemble little more than visual extremity taken to the limit and no its not likely to find it's way into the Pope's DVD collection any time soon. The underlying message is ultimately a pure one though and it has the added benefit of being one of the most insane films you're ever likely to see, as well as making you glad you don't live in the middle ages. If you ever get a chance to see the restored version I couldn't recommend it higher.
47 out of 57 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An extraordinarily disturbing and memorable picture
barnabyrudge8 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
After seeing The Devils, one thing is for sure: it will stay with you forever. For some, it's a horrific and unwatchable display of savagery, while for others it's an intense yet rewarding ride into a city beseiged with madness. It is Ken Russell's most tolerable film to sit through, because it is always interesting and contains many memorables scenes and images, but at the same time it is highly controversial and challenging, often making you want to turn away from the screen.

The story is of a highly influential priest in the French city of Loudon. He is a magnetic man with strong opinions and pride, lusted after by many women, including a disfigured nun. The authorities decide that he is a risk to their plans, and have him falsely accused of various disgusting sexual crimes for which he is burned at the stake.

There are some extraordinary moments in this film. The burning at the end is the most unforgettable of all, with Oliver Reed literally blackening and bubbling in front of your very eyes as he burns away. The scenes involving Vanessa Redgrave as the amorous nun are equally haunting, and the torture scenes with Michael Gothard as an exorcist trying to force a confession out of Reed are truly painful to watch. This film is certainly not for all tastes, but if you can bear the more gruesome moments, then you will find it fascinating viewing, and no matter how hard you try you won't be able to ignore its intensity.
52 out of 64 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A grim and masterful tale.
Autonome9 August 1999
Well the philosophical statements and commentary embedded into this film are far too numerous to evaluate. It's every line of dialog and every character. The overall moral of the story seemed to me that 'If a leader truly departs from the structure of power and refuses to submit to the boot of governance, and then starts to have real power and a following of their own, they will be utterly destroyed.', but there are many other equally ominous themes to choose from. I wish I could say I haven't watched stories which seemed hauntingly similar to Loudon's played out on the news many times.

But beyond the 'moral' as I see it, is the truly very creepy feel to the whole film. The scene in which an entire convent of naked nuns are being exorcised by an inquisitor of the 'demons' that are forcing them into a wild orgy of sex, is genuinely memorable as one of film's most surreal scenes. Amazingly, these events happen in a quite understandable sequence for logical (if nightmarish) reasons under Russell's direction. These people really seemed from a whole different world, as if they weren't human but they obviously were all-too human, and the sudden realization that this might actually be closer to the heritage of my own culture than what I was taught REALLY creeped me out. A very effective device. Almost made me ill to imagine it. A very powerful film, one of my picks for an all time best film.
36 out of 44 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the top ten films of the Seventies
poisonpenxxx21 December 2002
This film never got the credit it deserved. It's both a savage socio-political critique in the vein of Millers "The Crucible" and a crazed excerise in Grand Guignol. Only Russell could have pulled this one out. Also features Oliver Reed in one his greatest roles. Father Grandier was Reeds Maximus.
54 out of 76 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
tbyrne422 January 2006
I love love love love love this movie. Ken Russell (along with Greg Araki) is probably my favorite director of all time. He is an absolute showboat! The Wagner of film. Russell never met a line he couldn't bend into a circle and a light bulb he didn't explode into a star burst supernova. Where most directors are ascetic, Russell is a glutton. Where many whisper their convictions with hushed words, Russell screams through a megaphone. This I adore about him.

And "The Devils" is (drum roll please) his masterpiece! Yes, this film is savage. It is shocking. It is perverse and violent and all of that. But it is also one of the greatest films ever made. Very similar to "The Crucible" (and if you haven't read that, stop what you're doing and read it instead of this).

A priest (brilliantly played by Oliver Reed) in rennaisance era France is caught in a political squeeze play and becomes the subject of a (literal) witch hunt. He is put on trial for being a demon and a group of nuns are bullied by a crazy exorcist into claiming themselves possessed. The whole thing plays out with the maximum amount of grotesque-ness imaginable. Even if one is used to Russell's films what is shown here could prove unwatchable for some.

We get: nuns ripping their clothes off and running around naked (pretending to be possessed), people burned at the stake, forced vomiting, nuns copulating with Jesus (just a hallucination though), physical torture of many different varieties. It's very in your face. However, the subject is topical (obviously) and it really deserves to be seen by more people.

Another great reason to see this movie is Vanessa Redgrave, who plays a hunchbacked mother superior. A very conflicted character attracted to Oliver Reed. I've never liked Vanessa Redgrave much, but she is magnificent in this movie. And her performance is one of the creepiest I have ever seen, rivalling Paul Smith's sweating smiling sinister jail-guard in "Midnight Express".

However, my selfish view remains: I hope this movie never ever gets released on DVD that way it will stay unknown and I (and the rest of the smart people on earth) will get to enjoy it as our treasure and ours alone. It will not spread to the masses and be diluted and trod upon and destroyed. This film is art. It is not junk put out by your local movie studio. This is a film of passion and meaning and sweat and blood. If you are reading this and you have no idea what I am talking about: stop reading and go away and never watch this film. Ever! You will merely dilute it with your stupid, reality-TV watching fingers.

Thank you.

Also, some of Ken Russell's other great beautiful films include: Savage Messiah, Altered States, The Music Lovers, Women in Love, and Mahler.
49 out of 73 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A shocking work of genius
nikteacher28 April 2005
My opinion of Ken Russell was, like many people, prejudiced before viewing by the many negative reports about his films. Every establishment film critic I read in the 1980s described him as exaggerated, unrealistic, sex-obsessed and vulgar. As a young man I felt these comments to be confirmed when I saw The Music Lovers, which (compared to Amadeus) seemed in my opinion to lack the requisite respectful period drama feel of a composer's biopic (little did I know that Russell had pioneered the composer biopic). However, The Devils blew me away both before and after reading Huxley's excellent history book on which it was based. It is a stunning and vivid recreation of a repressive period in France's religious history which has universal symbolic overtones, and the lack of realism (if it exists) could easily be the critic or viewer's inability to understand another age of history in the way a dedicated filmmaker can. It is a triumph of integrity, scriptwriting, acting, directing, design (by Derek Jarman, no less) and cerebral and visceral entertainment.
16 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Warners Should Release This Film Onto-DVD NOW
myboigie6 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Ken Russell is a director you either hate or love--I'm with the latter, and enjoy irritating the same targets Russell does. The simple-fact that many of Ken Russell's films are hated makes me love them all-the-more. This is arguably his best film, and his only political one. As a period-piece, this film is stylized, but looks very convincing, and the cinematography and set-designs by Derek Jarman (another genius of film) are stellar. Consider why films like this one aren't made often, and you have part of the answer as to why this film is still so shocking. Many people dislike his films because of what he reveals about all of us, but that's too-bad. People didn't like what Auschwitz said about humanity, but there it is. Apparently, Warner Brothers has finally-decided to release this film as a director's-cut in 2006, or 2007. It is being-reported that all footage removed by the BBFC and American- censors (mainly Warners) in 1971 will be reinstated in an "unrated-cut" approved by the director. It may have been taken from the Aldous Huxley book, and the 1960s play by John Whiting, but it is Ken Russell's film.

Also-included will be the BBC-documentary by Mark Kermode ("Hell on Earth"), about the making-of the film, and the firestorm it created. The "renegade" DVD by Angelfire is acceptable, and will have to tide-us-over until then. It has the aforementioned Kermode documentary, and a widescreen-transfer (1.85:1, the wrong aspect-ratio, the film was Panavision at 2.35:1) of the film, with some of the deleted-scenes (like "the Rape of Christ") reinstated. It is a flawed-version, but adequate, and is relatively-cheap. This was a film that Warners hated after the executives saw the final-cut. The Warner press book-ads even state it was a hard-sell, with posters marketing the film as horror--it is, but a political-one. Some of the posters warned potential-audiences that it was a film "most people won't like"! In a film that bombards the viewer with violence, decay, plague, and death, it isn't surprising that people miss some of the film's thematic-points, it has a lot to say: the threats to individual-rights and liberties (and spiritual-liberty) are often played-out in the same ways in different times-and-places. You can see this in the parallels made-between Oliver Reed's character Father Grandier, and that of the accepted-Christology in 1600s-France (represented by the characters of Father Mignon, Sister Jeanne and Cardinal Richelieu--an unholy-trilogy?).

Is there much-difference in why Grandier is degraded similarly to Christ? Russell (a Catholic)goes-further: is there any-difference between the political-scapegoating of Urbain Grandier and Jesus? The answer should be obvious, and Richelieu's theocratic-yearnings for power can only be seen as a threat to liberty, just as they are now in the Middle East, and the United States. Even from that remote-year of 1971, Russell could be saying that these political and spiritual-struggles are one-and-the-same, and that they are eternal. This is not an exploitation-film, but it is as dark and horrific as any classic horror film. What is most-terrible is that it is true. Keep-in-mind not one image is in this film "by-mistake," as Russell places an image in a film for a specific-meaning and purpose. The film is a warning to be vigilant against the aims of power, and sheds-light on why Christ was crucified.

The images of people being-tortured, vomiting, acting-hysterically--they are not there to merely shock, but as a warning about social-hysterics of all-sorts. Repression can lead-to perversion, states Russell, resoundingly. Set specifically in 17th Century France after the eight "Hugenot Wars", "The Devils" should be read as a cautionary-tale of how people can willingly give-up their liberties in uncertain times, not-unlike our own. The religious-wars still rage, and will continue to. With the world finally being able see what director Ken Russell intended, we might see this film being very-influential in years-to-come. Italian-filmmakers were inspired--they created the "nunsploitation-genre" from-it! Good lapsed-Catholics, all. This is what the "Grand Guignol" was based-on. From the 1600s-to-now, the threats are the same. Only technology has changed. Bother Warner Bros. into releasing this classic at:
12 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
These priests and nuns are depraved!!
Coventry12 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Ken Russell is a very important and versatile director, responsible for several milestones such as "Altered States", "Crimes of Passion" and "Savage Messiah". And his "The Devils" in particular is quite a fundamental cult landmark as it meant the launch of the popular 'nunsploitation' horror sub-genre. All the films involving naughty nuns (mostly European productions) are worth watching if you're a cult-fan, but Russell's film easily remains the most remarkable one. The Devils is quite a brutal film, often featuring very shocking and repulsive images. Highlight of this (if you can call it that) is a violent act of exorcism, performed on a deformed nun played by an impressive Vanessa Redgrave. The premise of this film was based on a bestselling novel and actually is a little overwrought. The Devils demands total attention perhaps the unusual topics make it only accessible to true cinema-buffs and fans of unpleasant historical epics. It handles about a convent of sexually frustrated nuns and their desires towards the handsome young priest Graindier (Oliver Reed). Mother Superior doesn't manage to win the heart of Graidier and seeks revenge when he falls in love with another girl. She's offered the chance for this when Cardinal Richelieu himself wants to eliminate Graindier for obtaining too much power and influence in rural France. There are some boring parts but these are widely made up by some ultra-impressive sequences, like the scene in which Mother Superior has a vision of Christ's crucifixion blend with her own sexual fantasies about Father Graindier.

The flawless acting performances by Oliver Reed and Vanessa bring this film to a higher dimension. Especially Reed is terrific. I already thought highly of this charismatic actor but, after seeing the Devils, he's truly immortal. Still, the very best aspect about this production is the breathtaking set-design by Derek Jarman. A must see, ladies and gentlemen!
20 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Criminally and insanely underrated MASTERPIECE
deinhuremutter1 January 2008
With all the trash that lingers out there on DVD, it angers me even more that the pathetic, self righteous zealots at Warner Bros. have not released Ken Russel's THE DEVILS on DVD. We, the fans, have to settle with substandard "legit" releases, such as Angel Video's version (it's better than nothing at least!). THE DEVILS is, more than anything, a political drama. It is scandalous because the main character's are nuns, priests and magistrates doing lees than heavily acts. You have to consider that this was based on true events. Sure, Russel might've exaggerated here and there, but from what I can gather, the events are pretty much accurate. This movie should be on IMDb's top 250. So much filth is located in that list that, if it were on paper I'd already burn it.

Make no mistake: THE DEVILS is a masterpiece of film making, and has lost NONE of it's punch in over 30 years. A must for anyone who considers him or herself a "serious movie fan".
10 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excellent but flawed British film
shotguntom14 April 2002
British director Ken Russell's adaption of Aldous Huxley's book "The Devils of Loudun" is one of the most origional, controversial and daring films ever made. The film takes place in 17th-century France and centres on the hypocritical and licentious behaviour of debauched priest Father Urbain Grandier, brilliantly played by Oliver Reed. A second plot strand involves the humpbacked nunn Sister Jeanne, played by Vanessa Redgrave, who, along with her fellow nuns, is obsessed with Grandier. When the nuns become seemingly possessed, disgruntled representatives of the Catholic Church and corrupt officials move in and seize their opportunity to get rid of Grandier.

The film gets off to an excellent start, gradually building up the tension and highlighting the flaws within the Catholic religion. However the middle section involving the possession of the nuns is far too theatrical and over-the-top and the action becomes weighed down by the overbearing performance of Michael Gothard as Father Barre and Derek Jarman's lurid sets. The final section of the film, however, is mightily impressive and well-scripted and benefits hugely from Oliver Reed's committed performance.

While Vanessa Redgrave impresses in the role of Sister Jeanne this is Oliver Reed's film and a performance which proves he was a great actor and not just a great hellraiser. This film illustrates that he is easily the equal of his contemporaries including Caine, Connery, Harris and Finney.

While director Ken Russell's films can range from the very good to the absolutely awful "The Devils" is without doubt his best. This is perfect material for Russell to work with and the ideal outlet for his unique vision. Russell was part of the new breed of controversial directors who emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s who courted controversy with images of sex, nudity, violence and shocking images. "The Devils" is no exception and while it will by no means be to everyone's taste it should be commended for its daring take on the hypocritical side to religion and for helping to pave new ground in cinema.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
36 years and its still on my mind
edwardfontenot13 January 2007
Need to see "The Devils" again. Been thinking about it since I first saw it in about 1971 at The Studio - New Center in Detroit. Mind blowing then and probably now as well. Would love to get a DVD of the file... any help would be appreciated. Puts a realistic perspective of what "man made organized religion" is all about. Just an earlier version of the fanaticism we see today in Islam. Vanessa Redgrave was spectacular as a nun and the horror the character survived could knock you out of your seat. Baby watches father burn at the stake and the Jesuits plot their next moves. The technology available for torture and war was less sophisticated than today but probably more effective,at least as seen from today. Amazing I can recall the images so clearly after 36 years.
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
When things were ugly...
lee_eisenberg14 October 2005
"The Devils" is the sort of movie that makes you feel like you're experiencing what the characters in the movie are experiencing. It tells the story of Loudon, France, during the Inquistion. Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) has authority in the town, but is also admired by the nuns. Considering Grandier a threat, Cardinal Richelieu decides that there's only one thing to do: destroy the priest.

This isn't just any movie about the establishment going after a threat to their authority; what they do is almost beyond credibility (but apparently it happened). The main character is actually Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave). Seeing everything from the nuns' point of view, one can see how they were sexually repressed by the Church.

But nun sexuality is not the point here. The point is what the Church was doing to people. This is not a movie that you will soon forget. And you shouldn't; this is one of the ugliest, vilest episodes in Europe's history. Don't get me wrong, because the movie does a great job showing it. It's just that you should be forewarned that this movie is not for the squeamish.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
jimbo-53-18651114 March 2015
I don't consider myself to be a particularly religious person so the controversial (anti-protestant) stance didn't really faze me (although I can easily understand if others are offended by this film). My main issues with this film extend to the following;

This is quite a chaotic picture and it seemed to me that Russell was more bothered about causing controversy and shocking his audience at the expense of telling a potentially interesting true story. I must admit some of the early scenes were quite disturbing, but for the first hour it was just overkill as the film went from one over the top sequence to another. We're then treated to a lot of incomprehensible dialogue, ridiculous set-pieces, over the top acting. Lots of things happened in the first hour that seemed to do nothing to advance the story. Now I'm not the sort of person to pan a film just because it's controversial (A Clockwork Orange is a great film which also caused a lot of controversy in its day), but the thing that harms this film so much is that it's so boring. No matter how much I tried, I just could not get involved in the story - the shock factor is OK at first, but when there's nothing of substance to back it up, it grows repetitive and starts to feel like a bit of a gimmick.

Russell does start to show some focus in the final 30 minutes or so, but even in these final 30 minutes we're treated to some rather formulaic plot twists that did nothing to improve my opinion of the film as a whole.

Looking at the acting then again I'll use the words 'over the top'. Redgrave spends the whole time with her head cocked to the left and either speaks at about 3 decibels or shouts at about 300 decibels. Reed fared slightly better, although there were many occasions when he seemed to speak then shout when delivering his lines. The worst offender was Michael Gothard as Father Barre whose acting was embarrassingly bad.

This is a shocking film, but there is one thing I can think of that is more shocking than this film and that is..... it's IMDb rating. 7.8 for this monstrosity is taking the proverbial. I found it boring, ridiculous and quite empty if I'm honest. A truly awful film that I have no desire to ever watch again.
12 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brain Drain
JasparLamarCrabb10 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A grotesque brain drain from Ken Russell. Creepy priest Father Grandier rules a French village through sex and intimidation until he gets caught up in a witch hunt. When Grandier's not busy deflowering the local virgins he's driving the nuns of the town convent wild with lust. Not even hunchbacked Mother Superior Vanessa Redgrave is immune. As Grandier, Oliver Reed was never better. He would dominate the film if it weren't for Redgrave's nearly hysterical performance. Subtlty was never on Russell's agenda and he doesn't disappoint with THE DEVILS. He fills the screen with a slew of eye-popping images with plague-riddled corpses front and center. Somehow, despite all the hideousness, the film manages to get a lot across. A brilliant, uncompromising masterpiece from one of cinema's most provocative geniuses.
12 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not great, but interesting
neroville3 September 2004
Yes, Oliver Reed delivers a tour-de-force performance (not to mention he looks great). Vanessa Redgrave is both radiant and convincingly insane, and, on the whole, the movie is interesting, but hard for me to take very seriously. Evidently Ken Russell took many of the historical facts in Aldous Huxley's "The Devils of Loudon," and added large parts from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and what looks to be a particularly over-the-top college production of "Marat/Sade."

First of all, I have to say that my main interest in the movie was just to check out the art direction. I'm quite fond of movies set in the 17th century, and several stills I had seen from the movie had piqued my interest. Now, there are many excellent and accurate baroque costumes and hairstyles (Oliver Reed, with his waxed mustache and gorgeous vestments, looks very much like the actual Urbain Grandier, and Georgina Hale as the spoiled baron's daughter wears a perfect 1630s coif), but there is a bizarre inconsistency to the entire production. For example, take Richelieu's 1930s era wire-rimmed specs, Michael Gothard's purple-tinted John Lennon frames, the mod-looking bob on Gemma Jones, and what the hell was up with Georgina Hale's black lipstick? Not to mention the guy playing Louis XIII seemed to be channelling a combination of Gary Glitter and Caligula, and sports pasties and a perm in the first scene when he was dancing the "naked moon" or whatever that routine was supposed to be.

An earlier reviewer stated that all Catholics should see this movie. As a Catholic, I would say that the horrifying facts of the possession of Loudon are done a disservice by the garish silliness of Ken Russell's direction. But the acting's good, and so is the art direction in large part. Also, Oliver Reed's death scene is quite well done, although I was scarcely as horrified as I thought I would be. As far as disturbing avant-garde films go, "The Devils" has nothing on Peter Brook's "Marat/Sade." But all in all, it's worth a look.
10 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"Sin may be caught as easily as the plague." Controversial mix of sex, violence & religion.
poolandrews1 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Devils is set in France during 1634 in a walled protestant town called Loudun which has just reached a truce with the rest of a mainly catholic France, the town is run by Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) an adulterous God loving man. However the power hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) wants the catholic church to seize complete control of France & orders the destruction of Loudun, Father Grandier knows King Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) would not have sanctioned it & manages to stop the destruction. Cardinal Richelieu sees this as a temporary set back since he cannot convince King Louis to allow it, Richelieu sends in magistrate Baron Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton) & extremist Father Barre (Michael Gothard) to discredit Grandier & see that the destruction of Loudun can continue...

This British production was written, produced & directed by Ken Russell & is certainly a memorable way to spend a couple of hours. The script was apparently based upon a play by John Whiting & the novel 'The Devils of Loudon' by Aldous Huxley & claims to be based on truth. To be honest I am not a religious person & I openly & freely admit I haven't even read the bible so I cannot express any personal opinion about how The Devils relates to anything in either a good or bad way in the bible or religion in general. What I can express an opinion about though is whether The Devils is a good film or not & I firmly believe it is for those with loose enough sensibilities, it's a powerful film that maybe has some truth behind it, it paints a somewhat unflattering picture of the Church & the abuse of the power it had during the 17th Century over God fearing people, a power which it brutally exploited to it's own ends according to The Devils. From torture to false confessions to sexual deviancy The Devils isn't dull that's for sure, whether or not you will enjoy it depends on your tolerance levels for such material which deliberately mixes sex, religion & violence in a provocative way. I think it's a good film with strong character's, a good solid plot which you have to concentrate on to follow & some poetic dialogue. It's a bit slow in places & some of it is a little over-the-top but that adds to the entertainment value.

Director Russell does a great job & The Devils looks simply sumptuous with brilliant sets including the white tiled Loudun which gives the film a clean sort of feel & an unusual look. The costumes are detailed as is the period setting in general. The film oozes style & visual flair with some beautiful yet at the same time disturbing scenes featuring naked Nun's, torture, religious fanaticism & sex set against the impressively realised backdrop of 17th Century France. The Devils has become controversial because of it's mix of sex, violence & religion & while there are a few graphic scenes this probably shocked more back in 1971 than does in 2007. There is a fair amount of nudity but only one tame sex scene, while most of the female cast get their clothes off there is no male nudity, there are a couple of off screen enemas, there's a couple of torture scenes involving someones legs being broken & a pin stuck through someones tongue, there is implied masturbation, someone is agonisingly burned at the stake, victims of the plague are seen dumped into huge pits that contains 100's of bodies & a scenes when a sick woman has wasp's in jars attached to her body as a 'cure'. I personally didn't think it was quite as shocking as it's generally made out to be.

Technically the film is top notch with fine cinematography, high production values & good music. Set in France The Devils was actually shot at Pinewood Studios here in England. The acting is very strong here with a career best from Oliver Reed, he certainly though it was his best performance.

The Devils has a big reputation to live up & while I think it can't quite manage it it's still a challenging film which deals with issues many may not agree with or want to watch. I liked it for what it is but then I'm not religious in any way so it didn't offend me in the way it might other's. A strong film & worth watching for those with the stomach.
8 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Incredibly powerful and well done film...a stunning achievement
mlraymond9 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It's odd that a movie that was so controversial at the time of its release seems almost forgotten today, except by collectors and Ken Russell fans.I have only seen the film for the first time recently, and was simply amazed at how good it is. I was expecting something much loonier and bizarre, based on Russell's general reputation and the uproar surrounding the film, but it was almost restrained, given the horrible nature of the historical reality it deals with.

Oliver Reed's performance is possibly the best thing he ever did, and Vanessa Redgrave was truly amazing as the tormented Sister Jeanne. I felt real pity for her in her loneliness and frustration, even at her most hateful moments. She is one of the saddest characters in any film I've ever seen. It would have been so easy to go over the top with this character, but Redgrave always remains believable and all too human.

Terms like "farce', " low comedy", " high camp", and Monty Python and The Rocky Horror Show are frequently invoked when discussing this picture, as well as other Russell films.I'm sure the humor was quite intentional, when Russell shows a grinning, naked nun sneaking up behind the exorcist and bashing him in the head with a large cross. If there was ever a film that could use some comic relief, this is it.

This is definitely not a movie for everyone, but I would urge all film fans and history buffs to see it, as well as anyone interested in the abuses of religious and government power. If for no other reason, the extraordinary performances of Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave make this picture essential viewing.
6 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
excellent portrait of who we were
jay31-17 December 2007
let me say something. I am Italian, sorry if I am going to write something grammatically wrong, and since last night I never had the possibility to watch, what other people I have met in my life described as masterpiece or total rubbish, ken Russel's the evils. I had to wait a lifetime to enjoy the performance of the hunchbacked Vanessa Redgrave, beautiful , gorgeous in her ecclesiastic clothes, so good and intense in a huge performance, Elephant man was make up, but the freakness of Vanessa is pure and unforgettable.great locations, and the french king is a resume of the entire vicious kingdom at the time, the king did not care about his people, he fooled them around while is wearing is gold and his crown. and what about the doctors,

with their liquid and needle, tortured mind that torture innocent humans. the desire is bad, so you are sick and you have to burn. wow,this movie is so strong, too violent, too acid , a bad trip that lasted for years, the absurd fact that keeping too long the instinct could make peoples mind crazy. ken Russel use his view like a lord of gun, ready-to shoot, in front of ignorance, guiltiness and stupidity. best religious movie ever seen, oliver reed looks and act like he already know about his destiny, but he is surprised at the end of all that violence , all the screams... I suggest this movie not to anyone, you need a free religion passport if you don't want to realize that almost all of you were still believing was not moved by an almighty hand but simply by well dressed business people interesting in parties,vicious, more than his own country, his own people. have you ever seen another french king so posh and stylish in your life?
6 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Let it never be forgotten !!! Russell's masterpiece
ken-weldon17 May 2006
In 1971 Ken Russell achieved what must be the most scathing attack against Religious and Sexual repression ever put to celluloid. Treating religion as a purely political rather than a moral or ethical force, he created a film that has more than stood the test of time. Russell shocked the popular historical fairytale view of the time out of it's bare faced complacency and gave it a more contemporary relevance. A hugely controversial film, 'The Devils' went from director to Censor and back again several times before a mutually agreeable final cut was approved. The head of the British Censors who passed the film resigned shortly after release leaving his successor to deal with the backlash. Certain right wing Christian morons and guardians of public decency(namely Mary Whitehouse, may she burn in the abysmal fires for eternity with her Festival of Light sheep), wanted to completely ban the movie outright. They did not succeed. As for the cast, well Oliver Reed gives the performance of his life as the Priest Urbain Grandier who submits to his own earthly desires. He seeks to find a path to God through the love of a woman. His objections to compulsory celibacy in the Church eventually get the better of him and he pays the ultimate price. Vanessa Redgrave is superb as the deformed sexually frustrated Mother Superior who has designs on Grandier. She is used by those in what authority there is,to implicate an innocent man in a chaotic trial of Heresy, Witchcraft, and Demonic association. The direction, cinematography, set design, costumes, Script and score are all excellent. There is no way a mainstream company would release a film like this in movie theaters today. This has now been deleted from Warner Brothers VHS catalog having last been released in a widescreen maverick directors edition in 1998. No plans for a DVD edition exist at present, but I live in hope for such a release soon. This film should not be buried and forgotten. It displays the work of a director at the height of his creative ambitions and is a scathing document of a wholly absurd piece of European history.
6 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed