Sunday, September 6, 2009

Someone Left the Satanists In the Devil's Rain

Having just started reading Brian Keene’s The Conqueror Worms, I enthusiastically queued up this month’s Final Girl Film Club pick, The Devil’s Rain, fresh in the mood for some truly terrifying precipitation.

Okay, who am I kidding? With Ernest Borgnine headlining the movie poster wearing a satanic priest’s robe and ram horns, plus the promise of a doughily shirtless, sideburn styling, prominent belt buckle wearing William Shatner, I knew exactly what I was in for. This 1974 Robert Fuest helmed horror emits a powerfully pungent odor of deliciously aged cheese from the opening credits to the gooey end. Know your limit for lactose tolerance before indulgence.

Quick Plot (if that’s what you can call it): A promisingly haunting credit sequence features creepy medievalish hell paintings, guttural moans, a set of disembodied ears holding a butcher knife, and one of the oddest listings I’ve ever seen: Technical Advisor: Anton Szandor Lavey, High Priest of the Church of Satan. I don’t know what technicalities Lavey advised on, but you Satanists should not be proud. No offense to Satanists; it’s just a really bad film.

Next, we jump into a dark and stormy night where Shatner awaits the return of his soon-to-be-melted father bearing a message to return the book to Corbus. If that makes no sense to you who haven’t seen the film, it makes about 3% more to me, and I watched the whole thing. Then again, I also missed John Travolta’s two second film debut as a waxy faced Satanist, so maybe I’m just not nearly as intelligent as Fuest’s intended audience.

Shat adjusts his cowboy hat and bravely heads into a ghost town in search of his vanished mother and to battle John Corbus (Ernest Borgnine...we’ll get to him) for the return of her soul (I think). Corbus has his sights set on a missing book once stolen by Shat’s ancestors. They have a showdown inside the “New England”-ish church (which, according to one character, does not belong in a western desert), which is actually a Satanic holy place (you can tell by the stained glass artwork straight off a metal band’s drumset). By showdown, I mean Shatner prays and shoots a few worshippers while Borgnine speaks Latin and smiles smugly.

Enter Tom Skerrit as Shat’s brother, a young doctor with a fabulous mustache and a conveniently semi-psychic wife who helps explain the history of our characters with a dreadfully lit flashback. Believe me, you haven’t seen American history until you etch into memory the image of Borgnine in full Pilgrim getup, shooting out lines like “Didst one of thee fall from the favor of Lucifer?” to what I imagine to be a group of escaped community theater actors in a dress rehearsal for The Crucible. It’s more wonderful than it sounds.

After being separated from his wife, Skerrit enlists the aid of his superhelpful mentor, Dr. Sam Richards, a parapsychologist who actually took ten minutes to read the sought after book and therefore has some semblance of what might be going on. Together they discover the world’s coolest faberge egg, complete with a television screen that displays all the lost souls trapped in hell. It also contains the titular devil’s rain, a force so powerful, it can melt any eyeless minion into a gooey pile, not unlike the result you get if you’ve ever tried to light one of those Spencer Gift Store’s novelty candles of glittery waxen wizards.

If it seems like I’m hopping through plot points like Leprechaun on a pogo stick, I do apologize, but The Devil’s Rain is simply not an easy film to summarize. It’s also not the easiest film to watch, as its grainy, dull lit action actually aggravates the eyes at times. There’s nothing frightening, clever, or particularly interesting about this satanic romp, but that’s certainly not to say The Devil’s Rain isn’t amusing.

High Points
Borgnine is kind of amazing as Corbus, and by that I mean he’s hammier than an out-of-work Miss Piggy at a French buffet

The melting effects are fairly impressive when watched on a small screen. This is vital as they take up a way too extended sequence that seems to run longer than the entire film

Low Points
Odd that the scant 86 minute run time contains such prolonged scenes as the Satanists’ desert march (which clocks in at 3 minutes) when a few quick bites of exposition could certainly have padded out the length while, you know, explaining stuff

While I didn’t exactly hunger for more Shatner (I may be a woman, but I am fairly immune to his muggy charm), the switch of protagonists at the halfway mark was a little jarring. It wasn’t that Tom Skerrit was awful or even that Shat was any good; as an audience, however, we have little to hold onto when we don’t know a thing about who we’re supposed to be rooting for

Lessons Learned
When he visits earth, Satan generally resembles any animal character played by a human on Shelly Duvall's Faery Tale Theatre

When you hear your mother screaming, it’s best to stare worriedly at the source of the sound before slowly jogging to see what the trouble is

Satanists bleed sour milk and have elegant penmanship

If when driving, an eyeless zombie creature pops up in your backseat, avoid removing both hands from the wheel to grab your hair as you scream. Sure, you may be frightened at the uninvited hitchhiker about to kill you, but that’s how accidents are caused

Winning Line
“Remember: no one knows what we’re about,” Corbus growls to his colonist clan, only to then open the door to an angry mob carrying torches and Salemnesque judgement

The Devil’s Rain is a pretty horrid film, but if conventionally horrid sounds like heaven to you, then by all means, rent it and crack open a bottle of some bitter water (because it’s so sweet). There seems to be two DVDs on the market, and unfortunately Netflix sends out the bare bones 2000 release, with mere a trailer, stills gallery, and a nice screen shot of John Travolta’s big closeup, complete with the signature chin cleft. If John Waters can record a commentary for Mommie Dearest, then surely someone with a touch of wit could put a nice audio spin on The Devil’s Rain. If nothing else, hire a grammar expert to pick apart everything from the tagling--Heaven Help Us All When The Devil’s Rain!--to Satan describing himself as “the highest, most exalted king” because a) is he not the only king? b) not the first king? and c) is there another king that was merely exalted?

Don’t forget to head over to Final Girl’s site for a roundup of other horror bloggists reviewing Borgnine’s satanic adventures. This is certainly a pick ripe for riffing, so be sure to read everyone’s reviews, then balance out your dairy intake with a hearty round exercise.

Or just by watching a better movie. Your choice.


  1. Mmmm, John Travolta's chin cleft, reason enough to watch any movie! (This was also the movie where Johnny first learned about Scientology...truly creepy!).

  2. Ah! I didn't know about the Scientology start. I guess this truly was a lucrative film for Travolta, even if all he gets is his face covered in wax and most of his scenes cut.

  3. Hee! I like your Lessons Learned. This movie really is invaluable!

  4. Thanks AE. I'm hoping that The Devil's Rain finds it into public school curriculum. People need to know!

  5. Great review! You are right about the pace. I was being too kind to it, I'm afraid.