Hell on Earth: The Desecration and Resurrection of The Devils (UK)
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Film Four International
Mark Kermode ... Himself - Presenter
Imogen Claire ... Herself
Peter Maxwell Davies ... Himself
Nigel Floyd ... Himself
Selina Gilbert ... Herself
Georgina Hale ... Herself
Murray Melvin ... Himself
Judith Paris ... Herself
Vanessa Redgrave ... Herself
Ken Russell ... Himself
Dudley Sutton ... Himself
Izabella Telezynska ... Herself
Doremy Vernon ... Herself
Alexander Walker ... Himself
David Watkin ... Himself
Channel 4's Hell on Earth: The Desecration and Resurrection of The Devils is an hour-long documentary presented by Mark Kermode on Ken Russell's 1971 film, The Devils, one of the most controversial films ever made in the UK. The documentary explores the dispute over the film, which remains heavily cut to this day, and together with interviews with many of those involved in the production, also features the notorious "Rape of Christ" footage that was believed to have been destroyed due to its extreme content.
The Devils details a story of religious and political persecution in 17th century France, where King Louis XII I (Graham Armitage) and Cardinal Richlieu (Christopher Logue) conspire to bring church and state together. After the citizens of Loudun drive back the King's troops under the guidance of the charismatic Father Grandier (Oliver Reed), the Mother Superior of Loudun's convent, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), becomes sexually obsessed with him. But her passion leads to one of vengeance as she confesses that an incubus named Grandier has visited her. The Church dispatch their chief exorcist, Father Barre (Michael Gothard), and aided by the tools of torture soon witnesses tales of demonic possession from most of the nuns. As the sadistic exorcists indulge themselves freely, Grandier is found guilty as charged. The Catholic Church reacted badly to the film when it was premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1971. The Vatican described it as a "vulgar cultural mystification" and a "sexual-sacrilege in motion pictures". The film received a similar reception from the studios who demanded that Russell make large cuts or else it would not be released. Hell On Earth recounts the story of when the studio executives came to London to watch The Devils for the first time. The atmosphere in the screening room was apparently so bad that Ken Russell decided to sneak out before the film finished in order that the executives wouldn't have anyone to argue with.
Among the cuts enforced on the film was a scene that is known as the "Rape of Christ" when the Ursuline nuns, seemingly under demonic possession, remove a life-sized crucified image of Christ from the wall of the nunnery to engage in sexual acts with the statue. The scene, which has not been seen since 1970, was the culmination of a Black mass, a sequence that was both a thematic and visual climax. The scene proved too much for the censors and was subsequently cut and since presumed destroyed. The missing scene was unearthed due to the perseverance of Mark Kermode, who was spurred on by Ken Russell's accounts of the missing footage. Hell on Earth, produced by Lucida Productions for Channel 4, places this piece of film that Kermode describes as being "a major find from one of the most significant pieces of post-war British cinema", back into the original context of the film by the film's original editor Mike Bradsell, together with fragments of Peter Maxwell Davies' original score, seen for the first time in over thirty years.