Robert Fuest, 1975
Starring: William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, John Travolta
Mark Preston must face off against Corbis, a Satanic priest who has cursed his family for several generations after they betrayed him and stole a powerful Satanic book. To get revenge, Corbis causes Mark’s father to melt in the rain and then forces his mother to join his Satanic church. Mark travels across the desert to the ghost town where Corbis’s church is located. They have a battle of faith, which Mark fails when he tries to shoot Corbis. He is captured and tortured.
Meanwhile, Mark’s brother Tom and his psychic wife Julie hear about the fate of their family and go to investigate. Tom unfortunately witnesses his brother’s Satanic transformation during Corbis’s ritual, but learns the source of Corbis’s power. Can Tom, Julie, and their friend Dr. Richards, a psychic researcher, defeat Corbis in time?
Though so far I’ve reviewed a couple of pretty great ‘70s Satanic horror films - Messiah of Evil and Werewolves on Wheels being two of my favorites - The Devil’s Rain is the ideal introduction to B-grade American satanic cinema of the ‘70s. Despite its low budget and unrelenting cheese, its air of undeniable weirdness makes it watchable almost 40 years later. Where else, for instance, can you see William Shatner satanically sacrificed and turned into an eyeless, wax abomination? Where else can you see Ernest Borgnine transform into a bearded, goat-horned devil?
The cast is impressive and there are a number of familiar faces from genre films. William Shatner and Ernest Borgnine absolutely carry the film and reach a level of histrionic acting that must be seen to be believed. They are the real reason to see The Devil’s Rain. Noir actress and director Ida Lupino (Food of the Gods) appears as Mark’s mother and George Sawaya (Repo Man) has a brief role as his father. Tom Skerritt (Alien) as Mark’s brother takes over halfway through the film as protagonist. He’s my only major complaint and his naturally serious demeanor just comes across as dull here. After such hammy performances from nearly everyone else in the cast, Skerritt is far too wooden and takes the production too seriously.
John Travolta made his film debut here and dies quite spectacularly. There are also appearances from Woody Chambliss (Gargoyles), Eddie Albert (Dreamscape), Keenan Wynn (Piranha), and Erika Carlsson (Tintorera). Anton LaVey (founder of the Church of Satan if you’ve been living under a rock) was a satanic consultant on the film and also had a bit part. I can’t help but wonder what he thought of the film.
Director Robert Fuest made a career in genre cinema with And Soon the Darkness, as well as the wonderful Vincent Price vehicle The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Sadly The Devil’s Rain effectively ruined his career because it flopped so badly, but has come to be regarded as a cult classic. The film looks undeniably cheap, but there are some nice production values, including the most ridiculous satanic stained glass window I’ve ever seen. With Phibes, Fuest also proved his sense of style and visual prowess. While The Devil’s Rain doesn’t quite reach those candy colored, art deco heights, there are some very interesting and genuinely creeping things going on here. My favorite part of the film - aside from Ernest Borgnine - are the Satanists themselves. For some reason the script never bothers to explain, Corbis uses “the Devil’s rain” to transform his followers into waxen looking figures with completely empty eyes.
There are also plenty of ridiculous things going on. Shatner waves around an absurd magic amulet and he and Borgnine have a prayer off, with one shouting Christian prayers and the other shouting Satanic. Guess who wins? The ending, which is hard to really do justice to, involves about ten minutes straight of satanists melting. A final criticism is that it’s a shame that the film had a PG rating, because I think it could have gone a bit farther with the sexual elements of Julie’s kidnapping and intended sacrifice. There’s also a scene where Mark, while tied down, tortured, and prepared for sacrifice, accidentally attempts to kiss his hollow-eyed, presumably undead mother. Fuest could have taken that a bit further as well.
I fear that my review of The Devil’s Rain makes it seem like a better film than it actually is. Make no mistake, it is compelling and watchable, but it works despite itself. Fans of cheesy cult cinema will love it, though I suspect everyone else will be baffled. That’s not such a bad thing. The Devil’s Rain is available on DVD and comes recommended.