streaming horror the devils

Welcome to 31 Days of Streaming Horror. Every day this October we’ll be highlighting a different streaming horror movie to help you get into the Halloween spirit. Today’s entry: The Devils (1971).

The Devils
Now Streaming on The Criterion Channel

Sub-Genre: Sexy Historical Horror Freak-Out

Best Setting to Watch It In: In a convent

How Scary Is It?: It’s not very scary, but it is wild

Ken Russell‘s The Devils is a punk rock freakshow disguised as a period piece. Inspired by a true story, the film is set in 17th-century France, and follows super suave, super horny priest Father Urbain Grandier, played by Oliver Reed. Hotshot priest Grandier lords over the town of Loudun, and seems perfectly content in his own little world. But trouble is brewing. A hunchback nun (Vanessa Redgrave) is obsessed with Grandier, and is prone to sexual fantasies that involve Grandier as a sexy Christ-like figure.

The nun’s lust ends up kicking-off an entire craze in her convent, where the nuns in her care go out of their goddamn minds with sexual desire. This leads the Catholic church to believe that the nuns are possessed, and a full-blown witch hunt begins, complete with torture, pageantry, and more. The church zeroes in on Grandier as the cause of this all, and the priest must now deal with seemingly unstoppable forces.

When Russell’s film arrived in 1971 it was promptly banned all over the world for its unsubtle, uncensored depictions of sex and violence. This banning only bolstered the legend of The Devils, turning into a fully-fledged cult phenomenon. For years the movie was only available in edited formats that excised some of the excess, but the Criterion Channel has the uncut version available for all to see.

Even though the film is set in the 17th century, Russell fills The Devils with anachronistic elements, from certain wardrobe choices to buildings designed in the Brutalist architecture style. All of this is packed into a film that seems whipped up into a frenzy. You can practically feel the contagious madness radiating off this thing – it’s like stumbling into a drug-fueled orgy taking place inside a cathedral. It’s also ultimately a beautiful film that seems as fresh and vital today as it did decades ago. “It’s about the degradation of religious principles,” Russell said of the movie. “And about a sinner who becomes a saint.”

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