Ring a Ding Ding
When the Hollywood decency code lifted and opened way for the rating system we have today, the 70s became flooded with naked flesh. During that time, nudity used in an unsexy or unartful way often was the reason a movie was considered a horror film. The Devils is such a case.
The true story is a drama about the extent the Catholic church under Cardinal Richelieu went to remove a priest who also had control over the one town blocking the cardinal from taking over all of France in the 1630s. The only reason I can see the flick being relegated to the horror genre is because of scenes featuring a large number of nude nuns. The movie was considered, and perhaps still is, highly controversial because it also features the top sister at the church sexually fantasizing about Jesus/the priest.
The Devils is actually a very well made movie with fantastic sets and a wonderful performance by Oliver Reed as the priest, Father Grandier. At the picture’s start one cannot help but loathe his character. Although the head of the church in Loudon, Grandier is depicted as very lustful, with one of the town’s young women pregnant after an affair with him. Grandier dismisses her concerns and tells her to bear her sin with religious fortitude(Georgina Hale).
The man nevertheless finds a plain, pure woman that he marries in lieu of an affair. The girl, Madeline (Gemma Jones), is considering entering the nunhood, but he persuades her otherwise, hoping to find salvation in the love of a good woman. The marriage, however, enrages the head nun, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave). This hunchbacked woman is highly sexually repressed and cannot stifle her love and obsession with Grandier.
Her rage leads her to tell authorities that Father Grandier has had a sexual relationship with her in her dreams, which leads to questions of possession of the nun by Satan. With all the women of the church now suspect of possession by the devil, they relish in the opportunity to run about naked, acting crazy and enduring exorcisms. The king calls Grandier to the capitol and is set on destroying him. Grandier became Loudon’s ruler when the governor died and has refused Richelieu’s demands to tear down its walls and forfeit its independence. Having been accused of outrageous crimes, Grandier can nevertheless not prove his innocence and he is put to death for his alleged crimes.
The story is a very frustrating one as Grandier becomes a largely sympathetic protagonist under a system of guilty until proven innocent. It is remarkable, however, that the plot is written to shift our character preferences around. Although at first Sister Jeanne seems like a sad character worth our affection, she soon becomes increasingly sinister while Grandier’s offensive lifestyle is shadowed by the wrongs committed against him.
The Devils is a great movie, but not a terrifying experience like those you might be seeking this time of year. It has its unsettling moments, but it is more a quality drama with a degree of controversial nudity.