THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975)
As a horror movie fan and an all around movie geek, I try to give even some really bad movies a break if there is something to entertain within it. Some movies are delightfully bad and I have no problem giving them credit even if they are entertaining for the wrong reasons. But occasionally a movie comes along that should have been ripe for a fun time and yet just doesn’t live up to it’s potential either as a solid flick or as campy fun…and sadly, The Devil’s Rain is one of them.
The story has the Preston family being hunted…for centuries apparently…by a cult of Satanists and their leader Corbis (Ernest Borgnine), to regain a book that is in the family’s possession that will grant the cultists great power. When the mother and father are taken, son Mark (William Shatner) goes to confront Corbis and win his parent’s freedom. When Mark fails and becomes one of Corbis’ soulless servants, his brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) comes looking for his family and must find a way to destroy Corbis and his followers by releasing the souls that Corbis has imprisoned.
This Robert Fuest directed horror was universally panned when it came out and while I don’t think it’s quite as terrible as it was accused of being, it is a rather dull flick despite a heavy dose of horror trappings. Fuest tells his tale filled with Satanic ceremonies, sinister visuals, psychic phenomena and plentiful make-up FX, with a very slow pace and fails to really instill any menace in what should be a story filled with dread. The cinematography by Alex Phillips Jr. is quite good and makes good use of the desert locations and the spooky sets, but fails to give the film the atmosphere it needs to chill us. The movie has a very good cast with Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn and a young John Travolta joining Skerritt, Shatner and Borgnine, but only Ernest Borgnine really seems to get the material, giving his Jonathan Corbis some nice over the top villainy. The rest of the cast seem to perform by-the-numbers, not that the script…written by three people no less…gave the characters or story much development to work with. The dark humor and sinister sense of fun that Fuest brought his Dr. Phibes films starring Vincent Price, is sadly missing. This film could have used a bit of those movies’ morbid sense of humor, especially when things get borderline silly in the last act. The production value on the film is fine and it’s make-up effects by Ellis Burman Jr. are top notch for the time…especially during it’s climactic meltdown…but there is just very little life in a movie that’s plot was well suited for some over the top horror fun…and with people turning into human rams and scenes of dozens of melting cultists, you’d think the director would have had a good time with it.
Still, the film has developed a bit of a following and the fact that Satanist Anton LaVey is listed as a consultant adds to it’s infamy, but bottom-line, the film simply doesn’t live up to it’s potential and is an oddity and a curiosity at best. Oddly the very last scene has the kind of creepiness the rest of the film desperately needed, but it’s far too late. Even the film’s marketing failed, as it used it’s climax as the focal point of it’s advertising, so anyone going in to the movie already knew how it was going to end.
If you’re a horror completest or just a fan of bad movies like I am, it’s worth a look, but this could have been a lot of fun had the filmmakers and cast chose to have fun with the material. And by that I don’t mean make a joke or comedy of it, just perform the scenes with some gusto instead of this almost funeral-like deadpan. You know there is a problem when Shatner isn’t being theatrical. At least veteran actor Borgnine enjoyed himself and Skerritt had Alien and Shatner the return of Star Trek to keep their careers afloat while, sadly Fuest all but disappeared from feature film-making. In a time of endless remakes, this flick is one that could use a redo by someone who gets material like this, like Eli Roth or Alexandre Aja, and make it the fun horror blast it could have been. It has it’s fans, so I guess that’s something.
2 horny goat Borgnines.