The Devils, Ken Russell's 1971 adaptation of Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudon, is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Starring Oliver Reed as a randy priest, Vanessa Redgrave as a twisted nun and set in a convent that has succumbed to some insane deviant sexuality, Russell's film is dangerous, beautiful, exquisite, thrilling, perverse, hilarious and endlessly sumptious. I had only ever seen the film on VHS until Fantastic Fest managed to score a pristine print of the longer English cut (ten minutes was cut in the United States to avoid an X rating) and it was mind-blowing. This is a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen, experienced while sitting among people who are trying really hard to process their own reactions to what's happening onscreen.
But that almost never happens, and Guillermo del Toro, speaking at an all-too rare screening of the movie last week in Toronto, explained why: Warner Bros.
"There are powers that be at Warner Bros. that refuse to allow the movie to be seen," he said during a master class presentation of the masterpiece. "The movie has been seen very little. It can only be shown in its entirety in England if it's booked as an educational experience... It's not an accident. It's not because of lack of demand. It's a true act of censorship. It's extremely blatant."
It's beyond frustrating. The film has been restored in recent years to its longest possible version, thanks to the work of Mark Kermode. There are so many versions and cuts of this movie that it's hard to keep them straight, but there is a print out there that is likely as complete as any will ever be. Warner Bros briefly listed the film - at 108 minutes, nine minutes shorter than the fullest cut - on iTunes but yanked it. There have been rumors of Blu-ray releases, but nothing solid.
It's insane. At this point if Warner Bros doesn't want to deal with the controversy of this movie - and The Devils will be remarkably controversial today, just as it was in 1971 - they should license it out to one of the labels that will have the balls to release it. There are plenty of boutique distro companies that would jump at the chance to return this movie to audiences.
In the meantime there's a 107 minute long DVD you can import from the UK, which I guess is better than nothing. I'm glad that del Toro, who has business with Warner Bros, is speaking up like this. The idea that a movie that was released in 1971 is too hot to put on home video 40 years later is mind-boggling. But then again, so is The Devils.