Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Russell's "The Devil" is Lurid for the Sake of Being Lurid

Cleveland Press September 20, 1971

Ken Russell, the man who directed a horrendous account of Tchaikovsky's life in "The Music Lovers," directs movies with all the delicacy of Jack-the-Ripper and even less restraint.

His current macabre effort is "The Devils." His screenplay claims lineal descent from Aldous Huxley's "The Devils of London" and John Whiting's play "The Devils" but the results are pure Russell, or impure Russell as the case may be.

The basic story is historical fact but where Huxley was interested in history and its interpretation and Whiting in its dramatic possibilities, Russell is concerned only with visual exploitation with great emphasis on sadism.

The story is about sexual and judicial hysteria among the religious in the French town of Loudon in the 17th century.

The central character is Father Grandier (Oliver Reed), a very wordly priest who carries on more than somewhat with his prettier female parishioners, finally marrying one (Gemma Jones) in a self-conducted ceremony.

Meanwhile Sister Jeanne des Anges (Vanessa Redgrave) the humpbacked prioress of the convent there, has sexual fantasies about Father Grandier and when he refuses to become the convent's spiritual adviser she goes off the deep for being scorned.

She makes wild accusations and the priest is accused of being in league with Satan and of having debauched the entire convent.

The investigation and trial are a mockery but Russell is less concerned with the spirit than the flesh in his depiction. What transpires is the dramatization of torture in sickening, bone-crunching detail; of a frenzied orgy of nude and head-shaven nuns; of Grandier burning at the stake with his face disintegrating before us thanks to the miracle of modern makeup.

Of substance "Devils" has little, of matter it has much and most of it is lurid for the sake of being lurid.