Theatrical poster for The Devils (1971)

The Devils (1971) is a historical drama and horror film based loosely on the ‘possessions’ at a French monastery in 1634. After Mother Superior Jeanne de Anges (Vanessa Redgrave) becomes obsessed with Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), she indirectly accuses him of witchcraft, launching the French town into chaos. The film’s explicit violence and sex scenes led to an X rating in the United States and the United Kingdom after cutting a number of controversial scenes. Banned films are my jam so

The movie may be set in the 1630s but it is dripping with 70s hippie, drug induced culture. The film remains tied to controversy, unfortunately reducing some of the themes to merely sex and violence. The orgy/exorcism scene (yep) is memorable of course, but director Ken Russell also comments on religious abuse of power and the corrupting influence of shame and repression.

Sexy Little Devils

Vanessa Redgrave is the indisputable star of the film, her manic, sexually repressed nun is a disturbing caricature of eroticism. Her body contorts and moves unnaturally as she screams at other nuns and masturbates with bones. Oliver Reed and the supporting cast do a wonderful job but cannot compete with the electric energy of Redgrave’s work. I found myself waiting for her scenes.

Vanessa Redgrave as sexually repressed and scoliosis ridden Sister Jeanne de Anges in The Devils (1971)

Burn the Witch

Russell’s vision of the Loudon possessions reforms the religious to the erotic, and the erotic to the unnatural. Overall, the film is about thirty minutes too long and while fun, scenes stitch together in a somewhat clunky way. Despite this, it is undeniably a confronting watch and very enjoyable if you love a controversial scene or two. Three and a half Cthulhus out of five.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
About the Author

I am a writer located in Melbourne, Australia that works as a freelance writer, artist, curator, historian and podcaster. I am interested in philosophy, sexuality, art history, curating and feminism. I write personal essays, academic reviews and studies as well as poetry and short fiction. My writing practice relies on passion, humour and vulnerability. I am an absolute horror movie nut. I believe it spawns from being an extremely scared child who could barely be around Halloween decorations let alone watch The Exorcist. But for some reasons I would still read the Wikipedia plots of these films as well as staring at the horror section at our local Blockbuster as if it could come alive and attack me as a singular genre. When I eventually watched Paranormal Activity at fifteen (my first watched horror movie), I realised that nothing in cinema could match my manifested childhood fear and instantly fell in love with the genre. My adult fears are far more abstract now like failure and dying alone. My favourite horror film is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which I've written entire academic essays on for my art history degree), with close runners up being The Exorcist, The Shining, Taxidermia and Train to Busan. I am also a true crime and conspiracy aficionado and the resident expert on all things spooky for my friends and family.

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