The Devil’s Possessed
Genre: Horror, Historical Drama
Director: Leon Kilmovsky
Stars: Paul Naschy, Norma Sebre, Guillermo Bredeston
An evil ruler uses witchcraft and evil spirits to keep his subjects in line, but the his reign of terror prompts the people to revolt.
Before anything else I want to question that apostrophe in the title The Devil’s Possessed. Is it a contraction as in “the devil is possessed.” Or is is possessive as in these particular possessed belong to the devil? Actually, it doesn’t matter at all. The Devil’s Possessed isn’t about demonic possession at all but rather a great example of why Satanism is bad.
Famed horror actor Paul Naschy stars as Baron Gilles de Rais. Wearing his best Hunger Games facial hair, he’s a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War and rules over a large barony in France. His desire is for power so when his alchemist tells him “Hey I can make you this philosopher’s stone that will give you unlimited power and knowledge,” he’s all for it. Of course there is a catch. In order to make the Philosopher’s Stone, Gilles de Rais will have to turn his sole over to Satan and then do his best to achieve the primary ingredient – the blood of virgins.
This is the first thing that makes Satanism not worth the effort. It is my understanding that people enjoy sex with young maidens. In fact a lot of porn is about the deflowering of a “virgin’ girl. When you’re worshiping Satan, however, virgins are totally off limits for you. Gilles de Rais sends his men out to capture a virgin and while he tries to seduce her and would love to ravish her he can’t. Nope, Satan needs virgin blood. So sorry, Gilles de Rais – you’re going to have to stick with the homely old hag you call a wife. What, you thought Satanism was all about hedonism? Sure, there’s sex – but not the fun kind of sex you were expecting. All the hot chicks have to be killed.
And Satan’s thirst for virgins is insatiable. After killing a virgin girl Gilles de Rais is told, “Okay, now you have to sacrifice a virgin boy – just to keep things even, you know.” So he does but then Satan changes the agreement and says “Now you have to sacrifice seven virgins every Saturday for the next 14 weeks. But you’ll become the ruler of France and have all this power and life forever. Totally worth it right?” And Gilles de Rais (which I’m assuming is French for “gullible ass”) goes right along. He doesn’t know that “Satan” is actually his alchemist hiding behind a wall and speaking in a funny voice. Gilles de Rais was trolled into Satanism.
Everyone Hates You
If you’re the baron ruling over this part of France and you start snatching up every single virgin in the area and killing them, people are going to get upset. Rebels start to make trouble for Gilles de Rais regularly which, on top of all the stress of finding virgins, is really wearing him out. When he’s not sacrificing maidens to “Satan,” he’s having to torture locals to find out information about the rebels or just to find out where he can snatch up some more virgins – man’s got a quota to fill.
Enter Guillermo Bredeston as Gaston de Malebranche. He’s a young, dashing fellow with a reputation as the greatest swordsman in all of France. He’s retired now, having served valiantly during the Hundred Years’ War and is now on vacation to see his old acquaintance Gilles de Rais. We first see him at a local tavern, defending the honor of the barkeep in a fun swashbuckling scene. He learns that the men he just killed were in the employ of Gilles de Rais and were out on their usual “virgin collecting patrols.” Gaston thinks this is a bunch of bullshit because the Gilles de Rais he knows was never like that at all. He sets out and learns that Gilles de Rais… he’s changed. After a feast Gaston is shown all the Satanism stuff and when he says “This ain’t right,” Gilles de Rais sends his men to kill him. Gaston escapes, of course, and starts gathering men together to form a resistance army to take down this evil Baron.
Again, not really selling me on the whole Satanism thing here. Gilles de Rais has either alienated or killed anyone that knew him. It’s not difficult for Gaston to assemble a host to fight the Baron because everyone in the world hates this guy. To help with Satan’s virgin need, Gilles de Tais institutes a virgin tax where, instead of money the people have to pay him in virgins. No virgins, you get killed. He’s basically turned his barony into a virgin producing factory giving him plenty to slaughter. Everyone wants this guy dead. Still no closer to getting that fabled Philosopher’s Stone.
You Will Die a Horrible Death
When you kill all the virgins in your land, everyone is going to be pissed off at you. When you start killing all the men in your service to ensure they’re not spoiling your virgins, you start to deprive yourself of people to defend you from rebels. Gilles de Rais has totally lost it at this point. He’s insane and pretty pissed off at Satan for not following through on his end of the bargain. At one point Gilles de Rais has a man tortured to death in order to find out information on Gaston and his rebels, then he has the torturer murdered for being “inefficient.” Gilles de Rais doesn’t even have men to go out and collect virgins for him anymore but he’s pretty okay with that because, at this point, he’s certain that Satan was full of shit anyway.
On top of the constant threats on his life, Gilles de Rais starts having seizures all the time. He’ll try to have sex with a virgin just to spite Satan and then – SEIZURE – he’s on the ground and foaming at the mouth. While watching Gaston and his men storm the castle is fun and very reminiscent of swashbuckling classics like Robin Hood (actor Guillermo Bredeston even looks like Errol Flynn), what happens is pretty predictable. Gaston and his men save the day proving that good will always triumph over evil and Satan is evil.
Everything Bad is Associated With You
I want to show the film’s title again..
That is not some random woman being sacrificed… that’s Joan of Arc. You know why she’s shown? Because THIS IS A TRUE STORY! The real Baron Gilles de Rais was there and fought alongside Joan of Arc. This movie doesn’t tell you it’s based upon or even “inspired” by a true story but it is.
The real Gilles de Rais was indeed a hero during the Hundred Years’ War who did dabble about a bit in the occult afterwards. He did have a thing for virgins too – but not for sacrificing them. From 1432-1437 Gilles de Rais abducted, raped and then brutally murdered children. And not just a handful of them either – over 200 of them (some reports put that number even higher at 700). That’s A LOT of dead kids – so of course people are going to connect the dots. A crime like that doesn’t seem human at all, so it MUST come from the devil. People did rebel and Gilles de Rais was executed for his crimes in 1440. He is the inspiration for the story of Bluebeard. The Devil’s Possessed doesn’t tell you that it’s inspired by a true story – perhaps because it’s rather light on the true nature of his character. While the real guy killed children, the one in this movie kills a handful of very adult looking “virgins.”
Despite how horrid its subject matter is, The Devil’s Possessed was a rather fun movie. I didn’t know until after the fact that this was the story of a very real and very twisted man. Most of the fun in the movie, however, comes from Guillermo Bredeston’s performance as Gaston. He’s jovial, handsome and has some really well-choreographed fight scenes. Paul Naschy does a great performance as the evil Baron – showing why he has earned a cult reputation as a horror actor. The only real complaint I have about the movie is that the costumes and the sets are so damn fake. These castles in the film are obviously old ruins around Europe that long since crumbled to uselessness before the movie was shot. Interior scenes are obvious sound stages with the barest effort to make it look like an actual castle. The costumes all look like they came from a box of generic, used “Renaissance costumes” even though this movie is not supposed to take place during the Renaissance. This is shortly after the Hundred Years’ War – during the so-called “Dark Ages,” but we have people walking around in Renaissance dress – wait – Renaissance dress that’s obviously made out of polyester. The movie has such a low budget look to it I’m honestly surprised to see people riding around on real horses.
Still, I enjoyed the movie. It’s an interesting period piece and a rather tame, but accurate, look at history. It’s so unacknowledged as a biopic that I actually had to “geek up” and edit the wikipedia entry for Gilles de Rais to include this film under “cultural references.” So if you’re in the mood for a very different kind of historical drama or a different kind of horror film, check this one out sometime. It’s Public Domain, by the way.