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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Devil's Rain (1975) review


Ernest Borgnine (Jonathan Corbis), Eddie Albert (Dr. Richards), Ida Lupino (Mrs. Preston), William Shatner (Mark Preston), Keenan Wynn (Sheriff Owens), Tom Skerritt (Tom Preston), Joan Prather (Julie Preston), John Travolta (Danny)

Directed by Robert Fuest

Mark Preston returns home searching for his missing father. Mark learns that he has fallen prey to a cult of devil worshippers led by the evil Jonathan Corbis. Losing his parents to the devil cult, Mark seeks out Corbis alone. He finds out the cult of satanists covet a particular book that lists all those who have lost their souls to the Devil. The book has been hidden by the Preston family for centuries. 300 years prior Corbis had cursed the Preston family proclaiming he would claim them all till he obtained the book he desires. Mark barters for his parents souls, but he's tricked by Corbis and disappears. His younger brother, Tom and occult specialist Dr. Richards, continue the search and find Corbis in possession of the Devil's Rain, a huge bottle containing all the souls collected by the satanic follower over the centuries. A power struggle ensues to secure both the register and the Devil's Rain.

Tom and Dr. Richards find THE DEVIL'S RAIN

Robert Fuest, the director of both DR. PHIBES movies, got this gig based on the success of those two Vincent Price vehicles. Commandeering a massive cast of great thespians, Fuest tackled this ambitious, but overstuffed production after Executive Producer Sandy Howard (MAN CALLED HORSE) requested his services. Although it's technically a low budget movie, the film itself is very elaborate even if the script is a bit muddled on some details. Financial problems and the production losing two weeks of its shooting schedule no doubt had a lot to do with this.

A number of shots add to the eerie desolation the film possesses

Possessing an omnipresent sense of pure evil, Fuest is very successful here in a number of ways. The film definitely doesn't deserve its status as one of the worst films ever made, nor the grand failure it is often perceived to be. The sense of dread is built upon from the very beginning during the opening credits. The titles are backed by hauntingly sinister paintings while screaming souls are heard on the soundtrack.

Mark barters his soul and his parents for the book

The setting of the demonic church, on the outskirts of Red Stone, an old ghost town out in the desert, adds a supreme air of isolation and despair. The scene where Shatner goes to meet with Corbis is aided by some ominously dark storm clouds seen in the sky behind the actors. Just prior to this sequence, the camera slowly lingers on the desolate locations. Accompanied by the unsettling score of Al De Lory, all this adds to the diabolical nature of the proceedings.

Richards and Tom discuss Corbis and what the book means to him

One of the most striking aspects of this picture is its wonderful cast of big names; some of which you would never expect to see in such a movie. There's Tom Skerritt (BIG BAD MAMA, ALIEN), Eddie Albert (GREEN ACRES), Ida Lupino (The original TWILIGHT ZONE), Keenan Wynn (PIRANHA, ORCA), Ernest Borgnine (THE WILD BUNCH, DEADLY BLESSING) and Kirk himself, William Shatner (IMPULSE, VISITING HOURS).

John Travolta appears in several scenes sporting "the blackest eyes, the Devil's eyes", to quote a famous batty doctor in Haddonfield, Illinois

Also, John Travolta is seen a couple of times throughout in this, his first movie role around the time he was working on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER.

The Shat sports a magic amulet

William Shatner is given the "Janet Leigh" role of Mark Preston. The viewer is led to believe he is the main character, but he's "dispatched" about 25 minutes into the movie. Captain Kirk does engage in some classic "Shatnerisms", such as boldly proclaiming, "Corbiiiis!!!! God...damn you!!!!!" The Shat is the shit and he doesn't disappoint here despite making something of an exit a quarter of the way through the film. He is seen a couple more times throughout, but in a more devilish incarnation. Interestingly, Shatner was contractually bound to appear at a TREK convention(!) during the shoot, so he was only available certain days.

Corbis is a metal dude at heart

Ernest Borgnine is deliciously evil as the satanic Jonathan Corbis. In his early scene with Shatner, Borgnine simply looks evil and he plays this role to the hilt. There's even a nifty little color tinted flashback sequence where we see Corbis being persecuted by villagers who burn him at the stake. Akin to so many of the great Gothic horrors of the decade prior, Corbis curses the Preston family stating he will torment each one of them till he lays his hands on the book. It's not known just what the book entails until the end and it's at this point we learn about the 'Devil's Rain', a large magical bottle containing the souls of the damned.

According to Fuest, Borgnine was a consummate pro and never complained even when under heavy make up for the films finale where he transforms into a demon goat. However, some years later, Borgnine apparently stated he would never star in another satanic movie because of weird occurrences he experienced. Needless to say, Borgnine appeared in Wes Craven's underrated horror film, DEADLY BLESSING (1981). It's not necessarily about satanists, but contains demonic story conceits and a last minute appearance by a demon during the conclusion. Borgnine also had roles in Italian genre pictures such as the great downer Eurowestern, A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (1969) and the Terence Hill comedy, SUPER FUZZ (1980).

The beginning of the extended melting scene at the end. This sequence is a bit confusing considering the Preston patriarch melting during the beginning and the Satanists meltdown during the end after the Devil's Rain is destroyed. So what made Preston dissolve into a pile of vomitesque slime?

One of the most curious additions to the cast was the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Svandor Lavey. He was the technical advisor as well as having a small role in the film. The marketing played up the inclusion of Lavey, but even with the added exploitation value and the grand cast, the film failed to find an audience. It was later re-released in 1978 in an effort to cash in on the success of Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977). Released around the time that the suspenseful action horror classic, RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) was making its rounds, that movie cleaned up while Fuest's film got sidelined.

Mark Preston (Shatner) about to be inducted

As for THE DEVIL'S RAIN, there's just so much crammed into this production, it almost collapses under its own weight. In addition to the search for the demonic tome, the bottle of souls, the hooded, eyeless followers, voodoo dolls and magic amulets, there's also the inclusion of ESP by way of Preston's wife, Julie. She bears witness to her own destiny as well as the flashback sequence as seen through the blank eye sockets of John Travolta.

However, the movie moves at such a clip, you have relatively little time to ponder the shortcomings, or inconsistencies in the plot. With all the various story elements, the film culminates in one of the wildest effects laden finales ever. It's a mass melting scene which seemingly goes on for nearly ten minutes. Dozens of devil worshippers are shown melting into piles of slop just prior to an implausible last minute shock ending.

Corbis blesses Tom Preston (Skerritt)

A prime slice of 70's horror cinema, RAIN's plot is bigger than the film itself. Dark Sky's DVD looks gorgeous bringing out the vibrance of the multitude of colors the previous edition from VCI didn't have. Fuest makes it work for the most part and in spite of the obstacles, delivers a lot of B level action and special effects on what was a hurried picture. Fans of 'The Shat' and Devil cinema would do well to get caught out in the DEVIL'S RAIN (1975).

This review is representative of the Dark Sky DVD.


Sean M said...

I saw this on youtube about a year or so back and on checkng it's still there!
I haven't seen this for a year or so it's a bit vague but i remember being impressed enough to dismiss my previous inkling that only the likes of Hammer studio could produce an atmospheric devil worship film as convinncing as this.So it's really hard to fathom why this movie took so much flack.

Brian are you gonna review the classic Salema Lot at some point?

venoms5 said...

I love SALEM'S LOT. I only wish the shorter, international version were available on DVD. The full length mini series on WB DVD has alternate scenes that play better (and more violent) in the other version.

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