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The Devils: reviews

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Jul. 15th, 1971 | 08:00 am

From: “Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films” (Cappella Books) by Joseph Lanza

Russell apparently adopted, with tongue in cheek, John Lennon’s public image circa 1968, of long hair and wire-rimmed glasses for the role of The Devils’ most rancorous religious fanatic: Father Barré (Michael Gothard). In contrast to Lennon, who preached peace like and earthly messiah but eventually sang in “Imagine” about a happy world with “no religion”, Barré was a true and terrorizing believer.

Huxley describes Father Barré as a zealot too caught up in his madness to be consciously deceitful, but Russell once again leaves open a window of doubt. Barré also appears to have more on his mind than saving souls, licking his lips while anticipating Sister Jeanne’s recollection of the night Grandier and “six of his creatures” forced her and her sisters “to form an obscene altar.” … Huxley refers to Jeanne’s exorcism as if “Barré had treated her to an experience that was the equivalent, more or less, of a rape in a public lavatory.”

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From: “Evil Spirits – the Life of Oliver Reed” by Cliff Godwin

They send for Father Barré (Michael Gothard), a professional exorcist.
And so begins a series of exorcisms, the like of which has never been seen before in France. The methods that Father Barré and his helpers employ to extract the devils are the most base and erotic ever used.

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From: "The Devils - Raising Hell" by Richard Crouse

In the key role of Father Barré, Russell cast Michael Gothard - "looking for all the world," wrote Photoplay Monthly, "like Mick Jagger in the wrong century" - an English character actor best remembered for his role as Kai in the television series Arthur of the Britons and as the mysterious, nonspeaking villain Emile Leopold Locque in the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Two years after he burned Reed to a crisp in The Devils, he reteamed with Reed in The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers ... as assassin John Felton.

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Daily Express, 8 May 1991

Controversial and stunning ...

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Online reviews:

Ian Jane


Michael Gothard’s performance as Father Barré is equally fascinating, portraying his rock star exorcist as part Vincent Price from Witchfinder General and part Tim Curry from Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s flashy, he’s a showman, and his motives are completely questionable but damn does he ever put on a show as he’s going about his business.

Full review on Rock! Shock! Pop!

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Simon Moore

Naturally, Richelieu’s problems with Grandier dovetail beautifully with Sister Jeanne’s mad obsession with the moustachioed priest. Devil possession it is. Call in the Witch Hunter, if you’d be so kind. And what a Witch Hunter.

Michael Gothard clocks in a grandstand of a performance, channelling the black comedy of exorcism with an inspired combination of wild-eyed lunacy and sober malice. We know him better as Locque, the silent villain with octagonal glasses from For Your Eyes Only (1981), but he really deserves to be remembered more for his Father Barré, balancing out Oliver Reed’s solemn, individualistic man of God marvellously.

Michael Gothard isn’t the only one deserving of heaps of praise in The Devils … Oliver Reed mesmerises the viewer in one of the true highlights of his acting career …

Full review on Flickering Myth

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The Film Pilgrim

The Devils was fraught with problems when first released. It was met with opposition from critics and the religious community, and a number of scenes didn’t sit well with censors. It was given an X-rating in the UK and US, but found itself banned in other countries for what was considered explicit content. One particular scene contains a public exorcism of Sister Jeanne. She is held down as her demons are ‘flushed’ out of her with a large syringe. It was heavily edited for release to wider audiences, after the BBFC asked for several cuts to be made. Watching it in this day and age, is it really that shocking? … If Russell only waited a couple more years, would there have been an issue?

The Devils is aesthetically noteworthy. The town is a vision of perfection with its clean, white, perfectly polished walls. It’s full of block, monotone colours, ad the black internal décor of the church and the nuns’ robes contrast starkly against the gleaming white backdrop … Sister Jeanne’s visions also prove to be a spectacle. The sequences are dreamlike as the colours soften, and smoke becomes a predominant feature while they play out, and Sister Jeanne’s obsession with Grandier takes hold ...

Redgrave shines as the disturbed and obsessive Sister Jeanne. She manages to be serene one minute as she floats through the convent and effortlessly appears psychotic the next through her high pitched, cackling giggles. Reed also stands out in the prime role of Grandier. His role calls for him to demand authority, and Reed does so with confidence, stealing scenes with his general tough demeanour and grand speeches.

Gothard, as witch-hunter, Father Barre, proves entertaining with an over-the-top performance as he heralds the citizens of the town into believing Sister Jeanne’s accusations. He convincingly whips the ‘audience’ into a frenzy during her exorcism …

The Devils is a must see. It blends the ever clashing politics with religion and contains great visuals with brilliant performances …

Full review

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Mitch Davis

The early 1970s gave birth to some of the most intelligently confrontational and shocking films ever burned into light … At the highest peak of this mountain, there is Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, one of the greatest horror films ever made.
… this is a big-budget studio film with major stars, directed by an A-list filmmaker at the top of his game … 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 ...

… 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.

… 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 ...

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.

Full review on Fantasia Film Festival

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Craig Skinner

Oliver Reed is joined by a fantastic supporting cast which includes Vanessa Redgrave, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones, Michael Gothard and a wonderful performance by Murray Melvin as Mignon.

Full review on FanTasia

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Terek Puckett: Supporting Actors: The Overlooked and Underrated

Gothard turns in his best feature film performance by far in director Russell’s classic, controversial historical drama. Curiously restrained in everything else I’ve ever seen him in, Gothard cuts loose in this film with a frenzied, committed performance as a witch hunter employed by the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Gothard never came close to equalling this perfectly cast role in his acting career.

Full review on Sound on Sight

Terek Puckett: Cinema's Breatest Villains: the 1970s

Gothard turns in an energetic, frenzied performance as a driven witch-hunter in director Russell’s greatest and most controversial film. This, the best acting of Gothard’s big screen career, is even more interesting when contrasted with his incredibly subdued performance as the assassin Locque in John Glen’s 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

Full review on Sound on Sight

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Adam Groves

All the performers, from seasoned vets like Vanessa Redgrave (as the seemingly lobotomized Sister Jeanne) and Oliver Reed (as Father Grandier) to lesser known talents like Michael Gothard (also seen in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, who here plays Father Barré) and Georgina Hale (unforgettable as a white faced nun) seem to have understood and absorbed Russell’s intent, delivering performances that are wildly uninhibited, crazed and outlandish--much like the film itself.

Full review on Fright.com

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Sergio Leone

The dogs of Richelieu’s religious forces are unleashed—first in the person of a sneering, silver-tongued Baron De Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton), an officer in the royal army, and eventually that of the fairly rabid Father Barre (Michael Gothard), an exorcist whose hysteria for the Host of Hosts frequently crosses the line into wanton, animalistic fury. (As does Gothard’s performance; a friend who saw the movie with me suggested that Gothard, with his slender build, long hair and granny glasses, was Russell’s tip of the cap to the younger generation that was, at the time the movie was released, fueling a resurgence in movie attendance, especially for risky ventures like this one. And it’s true—Gothard comes across like the necessarily unholy offspring of Ray Manzarek and Warren Zevon.)

Full review

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Julian Upton in MovieMail

… Ken Russell’s most controversial film has been largely unseen in its original version since its theatrical appearance in 1971 left Britain’s esteemed critics affronted and appalled. The Devils was like nothing they, or indeed the censors, had seen before: masturbating nuns, Olympic-level nudity, burnings at the stake, sacrilegious interludes … But where its imitators and successors couched their depravity in ugliness and bad taste, Ken Russell did it with style.

The Devils is an unforgettable experience. … the film powerfully delivers its indictment of state-sanctioned religious hypocrisy without a shred of respect for the stuffy seriousness of the historical drama. Instead, The Devils is a punk movie, albeit one filtered through the highest levels of artistic achievement …

It is Russell at the peak of his powers and at the depths of his obnoxiousness. It’s technically brilliant but almost utterly unrestrained. It is artfully composed yet extremely badly behaved …

Full review

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