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The Devils

UK 1971
produced by
Ken Russell, Robert H. Solo for Russo Productions/Warner Brothers
directed by Ken Russell
starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones, Murray Melvin, Max Adrian, Michael Gothard, Georgina Hale, Brian Murphy, Christopher Logue, Graham Armitage, John Woodvine, Andrew Faulds, Kenneth Colley, Judith Paris, Catherine Willmer, Iza Teller
screenplay by Ken Russell, based on the play by John Whiting & the novel The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley, production design by Derek Jarman

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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France 1634: To get the country in their grip, church & state have united to drive out the protestants - or kill them, whatever comes in more handy -, & unite the Catholic church under Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue). & Richelieu & King Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) celebrate their successes as triumphs, even though ozutside their narrow minds, the Black Plague slowly takes its toll.

Especially the city of Loudon, led by its priest father Grandier (Oliver Reed) puts up resistance against plans of church & state, as Grandier neither wants the Protestants expelled or executed, nor does he want the citywalls torn down. & Grandier even has the city guards behind him, should need arise ...

So Richelieu & Louis XIII have to cook up another plan to get rid of the rebellious churchman ... 

In Loudon, Grandier is known as quite a womanizer, who has impregnated quite a few girls, despite his cloth, so it is of little wonder that he has not only made friends in the city. Plus, the Ursulian Nuns seem to all haqve fallen in love with the attractive soft-spoken priest, especially their hunchbacked mother superior sister  Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave). But all of a sudden, only one girl has caught Grandier's eye, virtuous Madeleine (Gemma Jones), & this time the love is for real (& hers, too).

In a private ceremony he marries himself to her & figures that would set everything straight ... big mistake: Before long, sister Jeanne has learned of this, & sells him off to Richelieu, the king, & their executor Baron De Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton), & soon they have the splendid idea of making Grandier the target of a witch-hunt, & thus hire üprofessional absent minded witchhunter Barre (Michael Gothard) to introduce his trade to Loudon ... & his first victim for questioning (well, torturing) is sister Jeanne herself, who soon regrets having betrayed Grandier & even revokes her confession ... but to no avail, since Barre expects different answers, & has ways of getting them.

Soon, Barre has turned Loudon, & especially the nunnery, into a place of sin & abandon that makes the womanizing priest look positively pale, & sex & orgies prevail for the sole cause to get a testimony for the sins of father Grandier ... which Barre finally gets, which leads to a carte blanche for questining (torturing) Grandier & finally condemn him to death on the stake in a mock trial.

As their priest is burned, the decadent citizens of Loudon cheer on, oblivious to the poitics behind the execution, & really, the minute Grandier has finally been burned to death, Loudon is blown up ...

 

After Michael Reeves'  Witchfinder General had become a huge success in the late 1960's, it did spawn a plethora of other witchhunt-movies. Of course, most of them were formulaic (if often charming) drivel ... but The Devils was the big exception. Directed by Ken Russell, who invariably puts his personal visions over genre conventions or historical accuracy, the film has become an absurd, orgiastic tale of sex & violence, full of provocations towards the Catholic Church, macabre imagery, political satire & black humour, that had little to do with the dead-serious Witchfinder General or any of its rip-offs (e.g. Mark of the Devil, The Bloody Judge) ... but would of course run into problems with censors & church (which was to be expected).

The film itself manages to unite all its diverse elements - from sex to violence to satire - with ease, never once forgetting to entertain the audience because of some lofty goals, & (of course) features great, often anachronistic sets & is carried by great performances (above all Oliver Reed & his nemesis Dudley Sutton).

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD