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Film / The Devils

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Ken Russell has really done it this time. He has stripped the lid off of respectability off the Ursuline convent in Loudon, France. He has exposed Cardinal Richelieu as a political schemer. He has destroyed our illusions about Louis XIII. We are filled with righteous indignation as we bear witness to the violation of the helpless nuns; it is all the more terrible because, as Russell fearlessly reveals, all the nuns, without exception, are young and stacked.

The Devils is a 1971 biographical horror film by English enfant terrible, Ken Russell. It tells the semi-true story of Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), a priest living in 17th-century France who is forced to defend his town of Loudon from the Roman Catholic church, whose leaders want it torn down. The Church decides to instigate a conspiracy against Grandier, framing him for demonic possession of a local nun, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), who is sexually obsessed with Grandier, and the perfect target for the Church's manipulation.

Because the film contains scenes like nuns raping a statue of Jesus before having a massive orgy, the film was condemned by virtually every Moral Guardian at the time of its release, and cut to ribbons on various cinema releases. The film remains unreleased on DVD and its US rights holders (Warner Bros.) have yet to release it... though strangely, they had no problem directly referencing it in, of all things, Space Jam: A New Legacy. Its reputation may have inadvertently led to the rise of the “nunsploitation” genre in the decade after its release.


  • Anachronism Stew: The entire set design, such as the convent done up entirely in white tile.
  • Apothecary Alligator: Grandier tosses one out the window during the plague sequence.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The walled city of Loudon, as well as much of the interior of the convent, are all sterile white spaces and harsh vertical and horizontal angles. By contrast, most of the scenes outside these two sets are rocky wildernesses.
  • Berserk Button: Sister Jeanne does not take kindly to the news that Grandier has married Madeleine.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: After causing all the chaos and destruction, Sister Jeanne finally gets to have sexual contact with Grandier... Sort of.
    Kyle Kallgren: She got to bone him after all. [pauses for applause]
  • Camp Gay: Louis XIII.
  • Chick Magnet: Every woman who sees Grandier wants him. It's not so much that they lust after him, but that they seem to instantly fall in love with him, to the point that Grandier almost seems bored with all this devotion.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Sister Agnes; in her first scene, she proclaims Grandier is "the most beautiful man in the world". Later, she voyeuristically watches Sister Jeanne pleasuring herself followed by whipping herself as penance. She's visibly aroused as she watches this.
  • Downer Ending: The walls of Loudon are demolished, possibly killing quite a few people in the process. Grandier is tortured and eventually burned alive. The possession is revealed as false, but no one cares. The one man who believed Grandier was innocent is committed to an asylum, and the "exorcist" who tortured the nuns disappears to do more evil. Madeleine survives and is released but has lost everything and is clearly traumatized, and walks away from the ruined city into the wilderness, while the landscape is covered by spikes with bodies broken on wheels, showing the costs of the Wars of Religion.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Grandier's speech as he's slowly being burned alive to the cheers of the crowd watching his death. Even in his last moments, he stood by what he believed in.
  • Exploitation Film: As many critics have pointed out, it's hard to tell whether Ken Russell is genuinely interested in the supposed themes of religious faith and corrupt churchmen behind his fascination with lurid hypersexuality and shock value.
  • I Gave My Word: King Louis forbids Richelieu from demolishing the walls of Loudon, since he promised the Governor that he would never damage the town.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Grandier utterly underestimates how dire the political game in France is at the time, and is rather naïve in thinking himself untouchable – as well as missing the fact that the town's Catholic/Protestant unity would make it a target for those wanting to wipe out the Protestants.
    • Sister Jeanne is even worse: she doesn't fathom what her revenge plot against Grandier will unleash, nor does she realize that she won't be able to control the madness that will ensue.
  • Karma Houdini: Father Barre, Cardinal Richelieu, the Baron. Though some of this you had to know was a Foregone Conclusion.
  • Kavorka Man: Grandier certainly isn't unattractive per se, but he's not the epitome of male beauty either. Despite this, he somehow has the ability to send chaste nuns into fits of repressed horniness.
  • Large Ham: Father Barre.
  • Magic Feather: The king produces a holy relic inside a small box and asks if it will calm the sisters' religious frenzy, and Barre says it will. The nuns do indeed calm down, at which point the king opens the box, revealing it to be empty. Unfortunately, this does not impede Barre's efforts in the town.
  • Mercy Kill: The executioner promises to strangle Grandier by tying his noose too tightly at the stake to spare him from being burned, clearly believing the man to be innocent. Unfortunately, the hysterical Barre sets fire to the pyre himself before the Executioner is finished and has time to strangle Grandier. The panicked executioner is screams at Grandier to forgive him.
  • Naughty Nuns: In spades. Sister Jeanne has lurid sexual fantasies about Grandier, mostly involving him as a Jesus-like figure. This eventually causes her descent into madness. The other nuns are not above this kind of behavior, either. They're manipulated by the Church into stripping off in the church, desecrating the iconography, and eventually losing themselves in one enormous orgy… it's that kind of movie.
  • The Plague: During an outbreak, Grandier's grasp of the distinction between quackery and medicine makes him some important enemies.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Zigzagged with Louis XIII. He seems to openly acknowledge that the entire Grandier affair has been blown out of proportion by religious nutjobs, and even mocks the fundamentalist Barre who's brutalizing the nuns. However, he does nothing further to stop the persecutions, which ends with Grandier burned at the stake and the walls of Loudon destroyed, which he had previously and explicitly told Richelieu not to do.
  • Red Right Hand: Sister Jeanne's badly twisted spine, which also indicates the state of her soul.
  • Sinister Minister: Grandier is about the only religious figure in the movie who doesn't qualify, and even he's no saint.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Based on the historical Loudon possessions of 1634, by way of being based on John Whiting's play The Devils, which in turn was based on Aldous Huxley's book The Devils of Loudon.