Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of the Devils

Author(s) - Richard Crouse

Publisher - ECW Press

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

Date - 05/08/13

The Book (4/5)

   Ken Russell's The Devils may have the distinction of being one of, if not the most controversial film ever made by a major studio.  It was produced by Warner Bros. in the early 1970's after other studios turned down the chance to make it.  Warner after seeing the final product treated the film as controversial arthouse fare, and did not promote it well in theaters, gave it only a VHS release, and it still to THIS day has never seen an official Region 1 DVD release.

   The film blends religious imagery with political allegory to tell the tale of Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) the Priest responsible for the fortified community of Loudun, France in the early 17th Century.  He was accused of causing the demonic possession of a nun, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), who resided in the local convent. This accusation caused controversy within the community, and caused Grandier to be brought to trial, eventually bringing about the fall of Loudun's independence, and Grandier's tragic execution by burning.

     The book begins with an introduction detailing a screening of the film Crouse hosted at Toronto's Bloor Cinema with the now late Ken Russell in attendance. It goes into his preparation for the inevitable Q and A, a dinner with the maestro himself, and some of the results of Russell's discussion that night which are not only informative, but quite entertaining and funny as well.

   Raising Hell: The Unmaking of the Devils by Richard Crouse attempts to go behind the scenes of this controversial film, and tell the story of the making of the film from the beginning. It discusses the origins of Ken Russell and lead actor Oliver Reed's career and earlier collaborations, and how they came together to work on such a project. The production of the film, and the controversial reception of the film.

         It also spends time with modern film fans, writers, and filmmakers getting their thoughts on the film on everything from Guillermo Del Toro's thoughts on Derek Jarman's celebrated set design to Chris Alexander's opinion on whether or not a film such as the Devils could be made today. Some of these feel a touch out of place, and yet they also give the book a sense of reach.  The voices that Crouse utilizes  go on to show that for all the controversy the film has caused, for all the efforts the studios has made to keep it suppressed over the years the Devils is a still a genuine cinema classic that continues to inspire generations.

   Richard Crouse’s Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of the Devils in roughly 200 pages manages to chart the history of such a controversial film into a informative, enlightening, and entertaining read and comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!