Who’s Afraid of Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’?

It’s coming out. It’s not coming out. It’s coming out. It’s not coming out. Released some 39 years ago to both acclaim and outrage, Ken Russell’s The Devils is as wonderfully profane a film as you’ll ever hope to see, which may be why Warner Brothers appears so conflicted about putting out an official DVD release. Starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, the film concerns the Loudun Possessions of 1634, ostensibly the largest mass possession in history, and is lousy with blood, sex, and masturbating nuns. Back in 2008, a release was announced, only to be withdrawn days later. Then, without any advance word, it popped up on iTunes earlier this week, only to get yanked again. What gives?

The most likely explanation is that someone over at Warner’s is concerned the fractious end of the religious right might go bonkers over the thing. Its heady mixing of religious themes with explicit sex and violence is certainly no less provocative than it was in 1971. But just how controversial can a dvd release really be? The version that went up on iTunes wasn’t even the uncensored 111-minute version, but rather a truncated 108-minute edition. There’s also a 103-minute version out there as well—though who’d want to see it is anybody’s guess. I’m with Jeffrey Wells in thinking all of these feints by Warner Bros. are a little tedious. I want the whole thing, beautiful transfer and all, and I want it now.

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