Partly adapted from the 1952 non-fiction book The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley, which was turned into the play The Devils by John Whiting, United Artists had already given up on this movie after seeing how controversial Ken Russell’s screenplay was. Warner Brothers then took over but its rough sexual and violent nature, not to mention how it presented religion, led to major issues. It’s since been banned in several countries and was heavily edited for release in many countries, with several places never seeing its original uncut version.
Two scenes were cut and have rarely been shown, one where nude nuns sexually use a statue of Christ while Father Mignon watches and masturbates, as well as another that showed Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) masturbating with the charred femur of Grandier (Oliver Reed) after he is set ablaze for his crimes.
As for Rusell, he said, “I was a devout Catholic and very secure in my faith. I knew I wasn’t making a pornographic film… although I am not a political creature, I always viewed The Devils as my one political film. To me, it was about brainwashing.”
Behind the very human — and at times occult and otherworldly — moments of the film, the dramatic narrative behind The Devils is Cardinal Richelieu working to influence Louis XIII and get him to stop the Protestants from rising up. However, Louis forbids Richelieufrom destroying the town of Loudun, having made a promise to its Governor to keep the town intact.
Whiole Loudun’s Governor has died, the town is now controlled by Urbain Grandier (Reed), who may be a popular man of God, but is also a man who has secretly married a woman. Meanwhile, Sister Jeanne des Anges, the deformed abbess of the local Ursuline convent who is sexually obsessed with Grendier, grows upset that the man she is in love with has not taken her.
The cardinal gets what he wants by accusing Grandier of witchcraft, bringing in Father Pierre Barre, a professional witch-hunter whose exorcisms are even more salacious than the crimes he has been sent to investigate. He unleashes a sexual firestorm amongst the nuns and a mockery of a trial that somehow finds Grandier convincing Barre that he is innocent. Yet it is too late. Despite his innocence, the town is destroyed.
How metal is this film? Ministry sampled it for their song “Golden Dawn” and other artists such as Belphegor and Skinny Puppy have also used dialogue from this movie.