Compared are the UK Theatrical Version (UK DVD by BFI) and the Extended Version (UK DVD by Angel Digital).
France, 1643. Cardinal Richelieu is eager to unite religion and state. King Ludwig XIII is more interested in an excessive lifestyle and shenanigans than policy. As a result, Richelieu can basically do whatever he wants. A real thorn in the side is Loudon because it is protected by the king and basically enjoys statehood. Richelieu sends Baron De Laubardemont to Loudon in order to tear down the city wall but player and priest Urbain Grandier, temporary head of the city administration, is the reason the plan is not being put into action. De Laubardemont searches for a way to take down Grandier. According to sister Jeanne, head of the local covenant, Grandier is the devil when in fact she was secretly in love with him and now she is disappointed that he married another woman. In Loudon, a witch hunt starts and priest Barre is called for assistance. The nuns turn more and more insane and Grandier is being put on trial.
With The Devils, Ken Russel created a visually stunning masterpiece in which madness is everything. Even nowadays, the movie is still controversial becomes it shows sex and violence with a religious context. Masturbating nuns, very worldly priests and a very critical portayal of the Catholic church at the time of witch huntings are the reasons The Devils is still a trick, for Warner in particular, even though the movie actually questions some of the doctrines of the Catholic church. Due to an amazing cast and an incredible present, everyone should have seen The Devils at least once.
As far as censorship goes, there is a lot to tell about The Devils. In order to get an X in the UK, Russel was required to make a few small cuts. The most striking ones are the two scenes the studio had removed beforehand. The first one is the climax of the orgy at church aka the so-called "Rape of Christ" scene in which the nuns take a Christ statue off the wall and up the level of insanity. The second scene is the one with Jeanne masturbating with Grandier's bone at the end of the movie. It is important to emphasize that the X-Rated Version was censored in advance. And this censored version is the one the US Version is based on. That being said, the US Version contains a lot of further cuts and also alternate, rather harmless footage. Every single scene that shows a woman's private parts are either cut or have been replaced by alternate footage. In addition to that, some sex & violence cuts have been made as well. For a long time, this heavily censored US Version was the only option because even VHS tapes in the UK were based on said vesion. This did not change until a further VHS release in the UK as part of their "Maverick Directors" series. For the very first time, the X-Rated Version was available for home theaters.
In 2002, Hell on Earth, a documentary about both the actual movie and also its censorship, was released. In the process, the two missing scenes wee found. The documentary contains the complete "Rape of Christ" scene and so is the mastubation scene with the bone - except the latter is being voice-over'd by Vanessa Redgrave. Some clever film afficionado from the UK used the "Maverick Directors" VHS as basis and added the "Rape of Christ" scene. The masturbation scene is still missing though due to the voice-over. This version was distributed on DVD by Angel Digital and it is in fact the longest version available.
In 2004, BFI released a reconstructed version that probably contains the two missing scenes as well. Unfortunately, this version has only been shown in theaters so far.
The very first DVD of The Devils was released in Spain but the DVD only contains the US Version and there are no bonus features at all. That Warner has still their issues with the movie is being proven by the fact that BFI intended to release a Blu-ray of their reconstructed version but Warner only green-lit a DVD release of the X-Rated Theatrical Version. It was released on 03/19/2012. Moreover, alterations for the documentary "Hell on Earth" were required hence no more sleazy footage. A huge disappointment for any fan but at least the X-Rated Version is now available on DVD and the quality is pretty decent.
Keeping one's eyes open for the Angel Digital DVD is a waste of time by the way. There are several superior fan edits that also contain the "masturbating with a bone scene". The UK DVD by BFI is recommendable though. Qualitywise, there is no superior release and thanks to Warner's stubbernness, it is very unlikely that the reconstructed version will be released any time soon.
Angel Digital DVD:
US Version: 103:37 min
UK Version: 106:42 min
Angel Digital DVD: 108:24 min
After the nun tosses the burning book, the nun make a run for the cross on the wall and take it off. Several sexual acts follow.
Grandier blesses the wine while the nuns' ecstasy keeps rising. The priest gets to the top and it appears he starts masturbating.
Extended Version: 1:50 min