Based on Aldous Huxley’s book “The Devils Of Loudon” it follows Oliver Reed’s Father Grandier as he is tried and executed for possessing the nuns of the village of Loudon in Southern France. Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave (as Sister Jeanne) give career defying performances and the look of the film (mostly thanks to Derek Jarman’s incredible sets) are quite unlike anything to come out of British cinema. Granted due to censorship becoming a little more lax, the film was made at all but due to films like Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs made in the same year it got caught up in a big censorship row (and still is!). The original film ran 117 minutes, this was cut to 111 by the British Film Censor (excluding the now infamous Rape Of Christ sequence) and even further to 103 in the US, it is the 103 minute version that I originally saw in 1991 when released on video, the 111 minute version has been show on TV once in this country and was released on video in Warner Bros “Maverick Directors” series, but has never been available on DVD anywhere.
It does have some dated elements to it, coming across like a cross between a Hammer horror and a Carry On film, however Alex Cox and Mark Kermode chose it when asked by Sight & Sound in 2002 to choose the ten most important films ever made.
Premiere 29/10/1971, Paris
DF viewing 27/10/1991, Horwich on VHS
When we both watched this recently, I was struck by two aspects of the film: the incredible sets and the silliness of the whole thing. It seems pure python to me at times. Russell is something of an acquired taste and like many people who use high-camp, he walks a thin line between greatness and ridiculousness.
I liked his late 80’s output – I saw Salome’s Last Dance (1988) at the cinema and thought at the time that it was Peter Greenaway with a bit of wit – Gothic (1986) is also an interesting experiment.
Certainly looks like an interesting film, I read somewhere about the uproar it caused when first released.
The original release British release is now available on BFI, but the full version may never be unleashed