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The Devils

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The Devils

  • U.K. 1971
  • 111 min
  • HD
  • English
Hosted by writer/director Ken Russell, who will be presented with a lifetime achievement award

WINNER: Best Director, Venice International Film Festival 1971


HorrorCrime / ThrillerClassic/Retro

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"A masterpiece of horror... Russell sweeps us up into a vortex of frenzy" — Marc Bridle, SEEN AND HEARD

"An explosive film... absolutely brilliant" — ABC TV

"One of the most powerful and original British films of its era, whose many excesses are nonetheless fully justified by the context" — Michael Brooke, BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE


Director: Ken Russell
Screenplay: Ken Russell
Cast: Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Gothard, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones
Producers: Roy Baird, Ken Russell, Robert H. Solo
Print Source: Criterion Pictures/Warner

Part of...

A Lifetime Achievement Award for Ken Russell   

A Lifetime Achievement Award for Ken Russell

Part of...

Between Death and the Devil   

Between Death and the Devil



The early 1970s gave birth to some of the most intelligently confrontational and shocking films ever burned into light. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. STRAW DOGS. THE WICKER MAN. EL TOPO. SALO. THE EXORCIST. At the highest peak of this mountain, there is Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, one of the greatest horror films ever made. To this day, it remains so controversial that it has not been issued on DVD anywhere in the world and has become the stuff of legend, virtually impossible to see. Yet this is a big-budget studio film with major stars, directed by an A-list filmmaker at the top of his game. Hardly the stuff you find relegated to obscurity. THE DEVILS is different. It was—and is—a dangerous film. One of the most radical and thought-provoking ever made. And it frightens people like few ever have.

If you’re unfamiliar with this film or its mad genius creator (director of such greats as TOMMY, ALTERED STATES and CRIMES OF PASSION), imagine if a fusion of David Lean, Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam directed MARK OF THE DEVIL on several hits of acid. Whatever you’re envisioning from that, it’s 10 times more powerful and 20 times more unique.

Taking place in 17th-century France during witch-hunting times, while scores were dying daily of the plague and superstition had a stranglehold on fear-struck communities, THE DEVILS is a tale of corruption, not of the soul, but of the institutions blindly entrusted to save it. It is a film about the terrors of an opportunistic church that exploits faith in unspeakable ways. We want those who know little about this film to go into it with as scarce plot information as possible, so all we will say here is that it stars a larger-than-life Oliver Reed, in the most gripping performance of his career, as a free-thinking, sexually promiscuous priest who faces off against genuine evil when, for the sake of political expediency, the church holds him accountable for the mass possession of a convent of nuns and declare him to be a warlock. Co-starring Vanessa Redgrave as a deranged, humpbacked nun and Michael Gothard as a maniac exorcist, exploding with incredible art direction by Derek Jarman, its horrors interspersed with almost Python-esque black wit, this is a quintessentially perfect film, flamboyantly staged, scripted with venom, performed with an enthralling intensity by an unforgettable cast. Russell obliterated every taboo when it came to depictions of violence, blasphemy and sex, and the film was alternately censored or banned outright in every country it was shown. It remains every bit as startling in 2010, having lost no pertinence, its warning even more blood-chilling in today’s world. Hallucinatory. Perverse. Apocalyptic. Face-rippingly ferocious yet enormously entertaining, THE DEVILS is one of the most brilliantly compelling and original films you will ever encounter. It is a true masterpiece of cinema.

—Mitch Davis

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