Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Devils

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The Devils Directed By Ken Russell, Starring Oliver Reed (1971)

I was super stoked to find this rare gem at Amoeba records for cheap! Not only was the price right, but it's unbelievable to me that this film seems almost like it's banned in the U.S.! I mean yes, this is still sadly a cripplingly religious nation, we only find this bullshit out during election time when all the religious fascists crawl out of their loony bins. But come on, this is 2016, censorship is practically dead and it's a mystery to me as to why this film is unavailable when any kid can dial-up Cannibal Holocaust on Youtube or Hulu in pristine condition. Who cares though, I have a copy now that looks astoundingly good from the VHS version I had in the 90s. I remember lending my copy to Skunkape, which I got from Chas Balun's VHS catalog of course, when we were both in TV production school together and he didn't seem impressed. He later confided to me that this wasn't the case, it was more along the lines of what the fuck did I just watch and it took him awhile to process it. I'm not Catholic and have always enjoyed it when cinema takes the wind out of the sails of organized religion so I was onboard from the beginning. My oddball childhood in a Christian cult still makes me nervous about overly-religious people. 

Did you just beef, or is that my upper lip?

I love how immediately they establish how all of this really happened (it's based on The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley and John Whiting's adapted play). It's the bizarre tale of Urbain Grandier, who's crime of being lusted after by all the sexually oppressed nuns condemned him to a painful death of being burned alive at the stake. The film begins with Baron Munchausen looking androgynous French men in gaudy make-up and lipstick, who praise the union of Church and State. The effeminate villains are based on the real Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. Meanwhile, Father Grandier (Oliver Reed) presides over a funeral where Catholics and Protestants have stopped waring and he wants to keep the peace. The King and Loudun have an agreement that states they will not level their city and it's protected from witch-hunters waltzing in and taking over. Although once rumors of demonic possession hit the air, the security granted to the city all comes crashing down.

Lets trade funny hats, mine's hiding those delightful French macaroons

There's so many creepy crawly things to enjoy, beginning with "Dies Irea" (otherwise known as that song from The Shining). It's interesting to note that one of the most terrifying composers Krzysztof Penderecki who's music was used in the Stanley Krubrick film also based an opera on the Devils of Loudun.

Nobodeee knoowwws the trouble I seeen...

Some of the horniest nuns ever led by Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), a psychotic hunchbacked one all seem to worship Reed's character. Just the sight of him sends this freak into a spooky sexual fantasy of flowing red hair as they show her deformed naked spine bursting at the back. Everyone seems repressed and on the verge of a psychotic breakdown--it's all so tense! Grandier (Reed) is very pompous and acts like a megalomaniac, he's just impregnated a topless mime girl and with a mouth full of flowery words basically tells her to fuck off. He lays on some freezing dialogue like "hold my hand, it's like touching the dead", translation: "don't be hitting me up for child support you clown-faced ho." There's some foreshadowing that he ends up paying for later, can this dude help it though, that he's so disgustingly charming I mean? I'm sure all those birthers and bible thumpers probably carry the same kind of infatuation for Joel Osteen.

I know I'm a Juggalette and all but treat me with respect 

Hardly a minute goes by when there isn't something ghastly that bashes you over the head, like two medieval surgeons fucking up and killing a woman by way of wasp stings, crocodile bites and who knows what else in the guise of primitive medicine. Grandier is openly defiant, hated and lusted after by most of the population.

It's time to Crocodile Rock BITCHES!

The convent looks like a mental institution, which is definitely not accidental. I like how there's always a stray dog wandering around in the background in almost every other scene. All females in this movie are nursing a boner for Reed, he's the luckiest rooster struttin around and taking advantage--that sly dog. This movie and The Brood are my favorite roles of Reed's and he's pretty incredible in both, very intense and yet also irrationally calm. 

The nuns sexualizing Christ's pain on the cross reminds me of something Mel Gibson might have wet dreams about. There are many scenes in this movie that are hysterically disturbing, but it doesn't get to that Bill Maher level of religious hatred toward everything Godly like you'd imagine. It's very blasphemous, but I found an underlying current of positivity when Reed's priest character seems to actually have faith in his own interpretation of God. Even though Grandier is really slutty and sins, he still carries a humanist approach to religion and doesn't preach at people, or threaten them if they don't fall in line. He has many flaws, but is a decent leader. The first inkling that everything is about to go down the toilet at the hands of the Catholic transgendered mimes seen in the beginning, arrives with a Flintstones style demolition machine operated by slaves with bloody raw feet in a giant hamster wheel. There's so many incredible flashes of medieval weirdness that are on a Bergman level of cryptic. The depiction of 15 Century France is pretty disturbing and seemingly accurate of the rich shooting Protestants dressed as birds on the courtyard. Who knows, maybe they did that shit, I wouldn't put it past them, it's wilding entertaining and I love almost everything from this time period of witch burning. Ken Russell's film had to be influenced by Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General, since it came out a few years earlier but he claims to have not liked the Vincent Price film for some unknown reason.           


Gemma Jones who plays Reed's wife Madeline, later on ended up in some Harry Potter films and this is her first role. I was delighted to find out that Graham Armitage who plays Louis XIII had a cameo in the horrid Cannon flick Going Bananas with Deep Roy as a talking ape. Think of that the next time you are terrified by the imagery of this film.

King Diamond was totally wrong though, "Nuns do have fun", these sisters bite on rosaries, put on mock weddings and hump statues, he's definitely not talking about this breed of cloth. I've never seen Vanessa Redgrave in anything else but she's captivating in this film and I dunno if it's just me and even though she's out of her mind, I sort of felt sorry for her. Her lustful obsession and jealously of Grandier's secret wedding with Madeline brings a shit storm of torture down on her head when she convinces the Catholic inquisitors that she's possessed. They start off by anally probing her (her robe is bloody and Ken Russell doesn't show anything going in thankfully).

One aspect I've never seen in a witch burning film shows that the priests have a shred of rationality before they unleash the pain train, this doesn't really mean anything though because once they get going, it never stops, they even pick through her barf for "evidence".       
The two creepy surgeons are my favorite characters, one of them looks like Christopher Guest when he played the 6 fingered man in The Princes Bride. One of the most unhinged male actors in the film who wears purple John Lennon type glasses through-out is Michael Gothard. the way he spits "CONFESS" at Oliver Reed's face and waves a torch at him like the Wicked Witch of the West makes you want to slap off his hippie hair. Sadly in reality, Gothard who suffered from severe depression, committed suicide at the age of 53.

Hold the phone, I think I left an Arby's beef and cheddar on the dashboard of my car

As Grandier and his bride ride off to the edge of the lake and take a nice vacation, some of the most perverted sacrilegious shenanigans get underway. What's even crazier is that all the insanity that goes on there's even a famous deleted scene that was cut (it's on Youtube however). Grandier should've never returned to the city because it's under siege by witch hunters and exorcists who basically use it as an excuse to whip up nuns into a sexual frustrat-athon and Caligula type debauchery rears its ugly ass. There's a perfect moment of levity that always sticks out in my mind when the executioner, who's the only person on Grandier's side, attempts to give him a slice of mercy by telling him "Don't worry, before the fire is lit, I shall strangle you".

before I tie you to that burning pyre can I interest you in taking an executioner survey

Sister humpback even feels guilty enough to try and convince the inquisition that she's made it up, but it's chalked up as evilspeak. I love this film and it's a crime that it's not available, someone get on the ball and release this shit already, in a world where The Green Inferno can play mainstream multiplexes this release should be mandatory. This is the film that all other nunsploits and witch burning flicks should be measured by and it doesn't get any creepier or masterful than this one--go out of your way to see it (if you can find a copy).


  1. When you lent to me it was so heavy! I was really into Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2, and Street Trash at the time...the wacky gore!

  2. yeah it's definitely too serious and gets under your skin, I could see why it scared you alittle.


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