Halloween Month officially began on Monday. For those not in the know Halloween Month is an annual undertaking for me, one wherein I indulge the horror genre for thirty-one straight days. This year I’m starting things off with a couple of classics, the first of which is Ken Russell’s “The Devils.” Since its release in 1971 the film has been buried by controversy, so deep in fact that its DVD release has never seen the light of day. Why you may ask? Perhaps it’s the infamous scene known as “the rape of Christ,” or maybe the conclusive moment when a nun masturbates with a priest’s ashes. Whether for these reasons or others do such justify its banishment?
The horrifying truth is some would say yes? And these individuals are not bad people either. For the most part they are upright citizens with good intentions; parents with kids, bills and values who work hard and pay their taxes. But be that as it may one’s decency does not equate to superiority. In the Western world freedom of speech is a human right. Meaning, we are all here afforded the benefit of being able to express our ideas and opinions. Not simply those that are followed by applause, but also those which are downright disturbing.
The Devils is definitely more on the disturbing side of things. Directed by Ken Russell it is a film inspired by the work of Aldous Huxley. Both men lived lives riddled with controversy. Yet despite the ignorance their ideas were met with they never ceased to develop them. To this day their artistic persistence has blessed us all, a concept at the core of our feature film. Therein the central character Father Urbain Grandier is a flawed figure with an open mind. Engaged in minor controversies he nevertheless is man of substance, and being such becomes the figurehead for a cultural shift. Kings, politicians, nuns, laymen and clergymen of all kinds seek him out to spearhead their agendas. Unwilling to acquiesce and surrender his personal beliefs he dies for the words he knows to be true, his own. And though utter insanity adorns this naked frame this inspiring simplicity can still be seen.
And inspiring is exactly what this film is. This is not to say it isn’t unsettling, but art in its essence is there to provoke us. Like a serpent’s smile it is filled with teeth to scare us, but a far greater fear echoes from the beast who cannot hear. You see a snake has an inner ear able to absorb audible reason, but those deaf to opinion die ignorant in their own. That said they have the freedom to do so, just as we all have the freedom to speak our minds. I’m grateful for this right, and for individuals like Ken Russell who have used it rattle us from skin to soul.