The story of 1971’s The Devils is an unpleasant one. Based on Aldous Huxley’s book The Devils of Loudun and a play by John Whiting, the film details an episode of alleged demonic possessions and exorcisms — and the innocent priest who was executed for heresy — in 17th-century France. And that’s just the plot line.
The real story of The Devils took place behind the camera, in the movie’s production process and its reception among censors, critics, and audiences. The intensity of the shoot cost director Ken Russell his marriage and tested the nerves of its stars, British screen legends Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Later, after facing numerous cuts from the British Board of Film Censors for material deemed inappropriate (or, according to the Catholic Church, blasphemous), The Devils received an abysmal response from critics, was banned in several countries, and basically vanished for three decades.
In recent years, though, the movie’s seen a bit of a resurgence. Fan sites are popping up and bootleg copies with fewer cuts have surfaced (Russell lamented that a fully uncensored version simply doesn’t exist); critics, for their part, have begun to see the film in a different light, hailing it as a provocative masterpiece in league with A Clockwork Orange.
In light of this renaissance, Canadian film critic Richard Crouse has written a book about The Devils, tracing it from conceptualization to its disastrous wide release to today’s renewed interest. With endorsements from a litany of notable directors — Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Guillermo del Toro — and first-hand testimony from many of the principal players, Raising Hell offers a comprehensive look into the making of this brutally controversial film. In our conversation, Crouse (who has seen The Devils nearly 200 times) talked about Ken Russell’s blistering visual style and his never-ending battle with Warner Brothers, and why this movie could only have been made in 1971. READ FULL STORY