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The Devil's Rain (1975)
11th Oct 06
Satanic priest Earnest Borgnine has been waiting 300 years to retrieve a book containing the names of his followers whose souls are trapped in limbo. William Shatner has it.
It’s not every day a ‘devil melt western’ happens, but that exactly what occurred when Dr Phibes lenser Robert Fuest’s The Devil’s Rain made its way to our shores in 1975. Let’s face it, how can you not be tempted, nay, foaming with excitement, at the idea of a 70’s devil worship movie starring Earnest Borgnine, Bill Shatner and Tom Skerritt? Although a young John Travolta also features here, it’s a hell of a lot less than what the cover of the DVD would suggest – blink and you’d miss him, though he does have the honour of showing the 300 year-old flashback sequence through the black holes where his eyes once were. Intrigued? Well, readeth on, mine melting minions, for I holdeth the dark secret of Corbis. Or something.
Three hundred years ago, a book containing the names of all who sold their souls to Old Nick is stolen from devil preacher Jonthan Corbis (Borgnine), and now (well, 1975) he is back and eager to get his dirty paws on it. It just so happens that the bloke who plays Captain Kirk from Star Trek, here known as Mark Preston, has had the book in his family line since those days of big hats, lynch mobs and curiously large sideburns. He travels to the spooky ghost town of Redstone to confront Corbis in a battle of faiths, but upon finding his own mother to be in league with the goaty one and the discovery that his pistol offers little in the way of protection from the cloaked congregation, he is given the old Borgnine torture magic, his soul subjected to firey eternity.
But wait! There’s an expert in our midst. We love experts here at eatmybrains, and Hollywood veteran Eddie Albert is just the man to battle against Corbis' cloaked crew, using 'the book' as his guiding text, just in case he didn't know just about everything about everything already. Accompanying him is Mark's brother, Tom (Tom Skerritt, clearly not even tryin to act), who can't wait to fight it out amongst the eyeless ones of Corbis' flock. You see, once someone becomes an official member of Corbis' evil church, their eyes are no more - exactly why this is remains unclear but I'll tell you what, it looks ace. The black, hooded cloak look with eyeless, emotionless faces works a real treat, and is no doubt the reason this movie was so deeply engrained in my psyche from since I last watched it at a ridiculously young age.
Sorry, back to the plot. Which is really quite silly. And I'll tell you why. Our expert, Dr Richards (Albert) happens upon the isolated church, finds a big jar which contains the souls of Corbis' followers, currently in limbo. This is artistically represented by means of a TV monitor which shows them all unhappy, crying, wailing and getting rather wet (from what must be the devils rain). Their souls, apparently, will remain within the inclement limbo until Corbis retrieves the book, which he does, except Mark Preston (in a moment of eyeless-but-still-obviously-Shatner magic) intercepts and smashes it on the ground. A diabolic explosion rips the roof off the church and the Devil's rain pours in, and the big melt begins.
The big melt goes on for quite some time. About ten minutes, I'd say. It's one of the reasons why this weird little movie is a must-see, even if you end up thinking it's rubbish, which, trust me, is a very real possibility. The big rain melt sequence is fucking nuts, quite frankly, treating us to bubbling, dripping, oozing Satanists as if trying to out-melt some other movie released that year. Except it wasn't, and maybe that's why it's pretty special in my humble opinion (the tagline at time of release was Absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture!). Another reason why it's a bit essential is the Shatner himself, doing his 'trying too hard' thing that he does so well (or so badly, depending on your viewpoint). When I watched this movie again - and this is one for the real horror fans out there - I realised that once Shatner's eyes have been removed and he is cleansed with "the holy waters of forgetfulness" (eh?), he looks like a certain John Carpenter creation we all know and love. Is this just a freak coincidence? (Michael Myers' white mask in the first Halloween, for those of you who didn't know, was a Captain Kirk mask painted white, with bigger holes cut around the eyes.)
Borgnine is having a blast as the evil Corbis, and looks rather becoming in his collection of fetching cloaks, not least when the "Lord of light" (eh?) takes him over with his big ram face and he, like, gets really mad. He is also made to say some great olde worlde evil-talk lines like, ”Didst one of thee fall from the favour of Lucifer?”
An interesting point about The Devil’s Rain is that every now and again, it actually feels like an occult masterpiece. The isolated setting of Redstone is a masterstroke, the church being a real highlight and a totally wicked setting for Corbis' Sunday Worship. The music score, although not particularly memorable, is an effective piece of work but it really can’t hide the fact that this is an uneven (and downright silly) film. It throws us into action right away, with a momentum that lulls after a short while into more dragged out, padded sequences where your attention may wane and you start questioning what you’re actually doing with your life. Should that be an issue when you’re watching loads of devil worshippers melt all over the place? I think not.
Apparently, the harsh reviews of The Devil’s Rain spelled the end of director Feust’s film career, after which he was relegated to TV mediocrity. At least he went out with a bang.
Dark Sky Films have released a gorgeous print of this devil hokum, with a commentary track by director Robert Fuest, veteran lenser of both Vincent Price Dr Phibes movies. The main problem with a commentary from such an old man is that he isn’t as quick minded as he once was; it takes what seems like an eternity to construct a sentence and when he does, the chances are it won’t be all that interesting. Still, there are a few nuggets of interest in there - just don’t expect too much and you’ll be less disappointed. The Anton Levey newsreel is a nice touch in theory but it lasts all of ten seconds so it isn’t really worth the effort of pressing the buttons on your remote.