Loosely based on the same 1954 murder that later inspired Peter Jackson’s 1994 masterpiece ‘Heavenly Creatures’, the controversial yet intelligent French melodrama ‘Don’t Deliver Us from Evil’ is a shocking (though not too explicit) movie which was immediately banned in its native France, but has slowly gained a following in the last few years.
While boarding at a strict convent school, mischievous best friends Anne and Lore (Jeanne Goupil & Catherine Wagener) decide to pledge themselves to Satan after reading some forbidden books from under their bed covers. During a summer spent playing dangerous games and seducing village elders, things take a tragic turn when the girls contemplate an act of extreme sacrifice, which they will perform in front of the entire school.
Relative unknowns Jeanne Goupil and Catherine Wagener were terrific as the troubled teens, easily veering from sniggering schoolgirls to scheming murderesses. Goupil later married director Joël Séria, and together they made three more films, including the cult 1976 curio ‘Marie, the Doll’, where Goupil played an orphaned teen fixated on by a baby doll fetishist. Catherine Wagener appeared the following year in the erotic drama ‘I Am Frigid…Why?’ (’72), before leaving the business in 1976. Sadly, in 2011, wagener died from unknown causes, seemingly alone and in relative poverty. She was 58 years old.
Writer and director Joël Séria made his debut here and shows a fair bit of restraint, rather than opting purely for shocks and sleaze. The fiery finale is both unexpected and unforgettable though, coming out of nowhere, as the two girls make their ultimate sacrifice before an unsuspecting audience that includes teachers, children and parents. This scene alone has the power to horrify and haunt you, and is one that you won’t soon forget.
With its anti-Catholic theme, plus scenes of animal cruelty and teenage sexuality, it’s not hard to see why the movie was so controversial at the time. But apart from the memorable ending, the movie is not overly exploitative, and those just looking for flesh & blood may be disappointed. Still, I think it’s a minor masterpiece and, for the art-house crowd and cult enthusiast, it’s required viewing.