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THE DEVILS (DEVILS ADVOCATES SERIES) ****

Written by Darren Arnold.
RRP £9.99 118 pp

Out now from Auteur Publishing.

Ken Russell is a director whose varied career as director, in terms of genre alone, seems these days in danger of slipping into obscurity. Becoming more and more unheralded the maverick directors back catalogue shows a director who seemed to take joy in skipping from genre to genre. Here you can find period dramas (WOMEN IN LOVE), musicals (THE BOY FRIEND, TOMMY), biopics (MAHLER, VALENTINO) erotic thrillers (CRIMES OF PASSION) and trippy sci-fi (ALTERED STATES). When it comes to horror alone there are also the campy pleasures of GOTHIC and THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM. Perhaps it is this sprawling approach of subject matter, and their varying tones which often reach hysterical levels, that puts off budding cineastes from tackling and championing his work. Then there is the matter of what is perhaps Russell’s masterpiece THE DEVILS. A horrific film that in spite of its subject matter, design and depictions of sex and violence is not actually a horror film.

 

This last point is raised in Darren Arnold’s volume and examined in great detail despite the slim length which is part and parcel of the Devil’s Advocates series of examinations of horror cinema. Arnold provides here a great entry point to this film and its problematic history of censorship and distribution.

 

The examination here is both academic and personal. Arnold relates how hard the film was to access in the days following 1984’s Video Recording Act. A reliance on repertory cinemas was the only opportunity to see the film, although that was a crapshoot too due to several local councils, like Glasgow and Cambridge, taking it upon themselves to ban the film outright. Such matters of censorship may come across as parochially twee nowadays and it is with a sense of relief that things have changed and that we can choose for ourselves to view the film in one of its various iterations. Arnold examines this puzzling situation also in a clear and concise manner; laying out the differences and various cuts made to the film not only by Russell in co-operation with the BBFC but the other thematically and pace damaging edits and outright suppression by the films distributor, Warner Bros, themselves.

 

As well as the films place in genre Arnold also takes a contextual look at the films arrival at a particularly confrontational time in cinema. This was an era when depictions of sex and violence were being examined onscreen in the mainstream to a degree like no other before thanks to the likes of the also recently released A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. THE DEVILS approach to this subject matter is looked at from a number of angles; the controversial Rape of Christ sequence is examined alongside the films depictions of gender fluidity and gender itself. The author is never afraid to take the film to task for such matters and this even handed approach benefits the book greatly.

 

Much like the other volumes in the Devil’s Advocates series it makes both a great starting point to those with an interest academically and casually in this film. Arnold only slightly stumbles when slipping into conjecture in regards to what Russell might have or would have done if such and such a situation was to occur. His pages long attack on Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST’s voyeuristic lingering on violence and lack of spirituality compared to Ken Russell’s approach to similar matters goes on for too long after the point has already been made. This small quibble aside the book can be recommended to anyone with an interest not only in the film  but also to those looking to learn more of the maverick of British cinema that was Ken Russell.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018