This twisted look at religious manipulation, fervor and perversion is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. But is visually quite stunning and Vanessa Redgrave is amazing.
The French town of Loudon was on the verge of ruin and the last area not controled by the ominous Cardinal Richelieu when the handsome (and allegedly womanizing) new parish priest Father Grandier arrives.
He was initially very popular amongst the town folk and fought to prevent the power hungry Cardinal from taking over the town.
Almost immediately upon his introduction and snubbing of the (humpbacked) Mother Superior of the local cloistered convent of nuns, all hell breaks loose. LITERALLY!
The nuns begin a period of sexually explicite mass hysteria which is based around the priest coming to them at night (in the form of the devil) and having his way with them.
These events are a precurseor to our own Salem Witch trials (which were to happen about 50 years later) and while our trials involved the deaths of far more people,,,the events at Loudon are far more shocking and equally disturbing.
The Cardinal sends his "best men" in to get to the bottom of things and after several (public) exocrisms and inquisitions the Cardinal (thanks to the nuns) ultimately succeeds in causing the untimely death (by fire) of the priest who proclaimed his innocence until the end.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this story is the fact that the town of Loudon became a sort of tourist destination and was saved from ruin (but not from the Cardinal) by people coming (for years afterward) to witness the ongoing public exorcisms of the nuns who still claimed to be in the grip of "the devil" long after the priests demise.
An early example of religious fanatics using their faith as a political tool and as a way to persecute others.
I guess some things never really change.