A film review by Rex Hurst
What that? You’ve never heard of The Devil’s Rain? Well, let me enlighten you. Funded by mafia money, The Devil’s Rain was an attempt to rake in on the booming drive-in horror market, while also being a vehicle for illicit types to launder money through a short term venture. While it’s listed on many critic’s “most-hated” list, and even though most of the stars have talked about how terrible it is – Ernest Borgnine claimed he was never paid for his role – I thoroughly enjoyed the film. If you’re looking for the next Citizen Kane, move on. If you want to crack open a few beers and watch a good bad film with some buddies, then play on.
It’s incredible that so many well-known names, at least well-known names for the time, signed up to be in this obviously low-budget horror excursion. Ernest Borgnine (Marty, McHale’s Navy), Eddie Albert (Green Acres, The Longest Yard, Attack), Ida Lupino (High Sierra, also one of the first female directors in Hollywood), long time character actor Keenan Wynn (Point Blank, Sgt. Bat Guano in Dr. Strangelove ), Tom Skerrit (Alien, The Dead Zone), William Shatner (You know who he is, I shouldn’t have to list credits), and a young John Travolta in his first film role.
The plot revolves around a family curse and a magical book. Somewhere in the distant past, a family betrayed the Satanic priest Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) and stole his book of power, which he needs to summon in ultimate power. For generations, Corbin has been harassing the Preston family to regain his lost artifact, and he finally succeeds. Anyone caught by Corbin’s cult is tortured and forced to give up their soul to the devil’s rain – a glass bottle and the source of Corbin’s power. Just as the villain is about to achieve his evil goal, the hero enters and blah, blah, blah, I’m sure you can guess. It all ends with a ten minute sequence in which all of the Satanists melt away in a scene which boasts some pretty decent special effects.
Like many films in the horror genre – Psycho, Horror Hotel – The Devil’s Rain psyches out the viewer by acting as if a certain character is the protagonist, in this case Mark Preston played by William Shatner, only to have something horrible happen to that character and switching to a relative of theirs who goes on the hunt for their missing sibling. A decent technique that disorientates the viewer and allows for the possibility that anything might happen.
While most of the cult’s clothing look like they were stolen from The Omega Man’s wardrobe department and the majority of sets seem like leftovers from bad Star Trek episodes, the film has a certain amount going for it. It is competently shot, and the plotting does follow a suspenseful pattern, bringing the viewer skillfully along towards the grisly end, focusing more on suspense and, especially at the end, body horror, over cheap jump scares.
The acting is also competent, as you can see from the list of actors above. They all know to say their lines, even the most ridiculous ones, with believability in their voice. Some people I know found this to be a negative point. Half the fun of watching a bad film is laughing at the bad acting, isn’t it?
One thing to look for is in the background of many of the ritual scenes. You might notice a tall gentlemen with a goatee and a sinister look to his eye assisting Ernest Borgnine’s Corbis. That gentleman is Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of The Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible. He is listed as High Priest in the credits, even though he doesn’t have any lines, and as technical consultant, assumingly for those same ritual scenes – which I must admit do have an eerie quality to them.
Now while this film is mostly forgotten and its director’s, Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again), career was ruined, the aftermath of this film had some strange and accidently long term effects. Firstly, it was on the set of this film that John Travolta was first given a copy of Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, eventually leading to his lifelong relationship with the Church of Scientology.
Secondly, the ending of the film required the special effects team to make a life cast of William Shatner’s face to create a mask that would appear to be melting. After the success of the first Star Trek film, this cast was used to make a Captain Kirk halloween mask. A copy of this mask was eventually painted white and used to cover the features of Micheal Myers in the first Halloween film. Thus, without The Devil’s Rain our dear Michael might have a completely different look – if you can even imagine that.
Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.
Born into the blue-collar city of Buffalo, NY, Rex Hurst was traumatized as a small child by the suffocating rabbits scene in the animated adaptation of Watership Down. Ever since, his mind twists towards the macabre, until his inevitable blossoming as a horror and sci-fi writer. When not writing he is an assistant professor of composition, public speaking, and literature.
Rex Hurst is the author of the horror novels The Foot Doctor Letters: A Serial Killer Speaks Out; What Hell May Come & the sci-fi novel Across the Wounded Galaxy as well as several novellas. He is also co-host of the weekly radio show Write On SC. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, www.rexhurst.com, and What I’ve Been Reading blog- https://rexhurst.blogspot.com/