Last night, I watched Ken Russell's "The Devils" with some friends. This was a grey market DVD (okay, a bootleg) of the complete cut of the film, sourced from a UK television broadcast.
The reviews in the small group were mixed; one of my friends, from a Catholic Italian family, thought it was just over the top and too relentless in trying to shock; another thoroughly enjoyed the outrageousness.
For those that haven't seen it, "The Devils" is based on a true event - nuns in a convent are drawn into ruining a politically active priest in France and accuse him of being in league with Satan. The political mechanizations in the film are a little simplistic, in some ways, with the "bad guys" being portrayed in a thoroughly nasty fashion. The film, in its uncut version, is an assault on the senses, with copious amounts of vomit, blood, violence and sex involving holy implements.
It's the work of a young filmmaker with a lot of pent up energy and plenty to say. It's shocking to the point of being ridiculous at times, but that's the price you pay for a unique vision bursting on the screen.
What really makes the thing work is the scripting of the priest's character and Oliver Reed's portrayal - Russell presents him as a kind of "lost soul", facing doubts about his religion, but holding on to what's right.
The bootleg DVD makes me wish Warner Brothers would give this a proper release with a good transfer - the set and costume designs by Derek Jarman are quite effective and Russell makes full use of the 2.35:1 frame.