Judge Paul Corupe has never experienced The Devil's Rain, but he did sit through a dip in barometric pressure that was rumored to be the work of a lower demon.
Heaven help us all when The Devils Rain!
A disgraced celebrity cast amble around a barren Mexican setting worshipping Satan until their faces literally melt away. It's overseen by "technical advisor" Anton LaVey? Sign me up!
Facts of the Case
Mark Preston (William Shatner, Visiting Hours) is having one hell of a bad day. He watched his father's kisser melt like a honeysuckle Yankee Candle votive and discovered that his mother (Ida Lupino, High Sierra) has been mysteriously kidnapped. Now it's up to him to confront the devil-worshipping cult leader Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine, Marty), who is carrying out a centuries-old curse against the entire Preston clan. It seems that when Corbis was burned at the stake more than 300 years ago for his satanic rituals, Mark's ancestors came in possession of Corbis' sacred book. It listed the names of the townspeople who had sold their souls to his dark master. Mark ends up enslaved as a member of his evil congregation alongside his dear old mom. His brother Tom (Tom Skerritt, The Dead Zone) and his vaguely telepathic wife Julie (Joan Prather, Big Bad Mama) arrive from the big city and go undercover at a black mass to discover why the book is so important.
The Devil's Rain is an undeniable cult curio. A slackly paced, occasionally surreal 1970s horror effort, it feels like The Omega Man by way of Sergio Leone, perhaps with a little Rosemary's Baby thrown in for good measure. It's strange, then, than the film can be so unapologetically boring.
Stretching the already thin premise to the breaking point, Shatner (and then Skerritt) spends a good portion of the film endlessly wandering around the deserted Mexican ghost town where Corbis's church resides, without offering much in the way of explanation. The Devil's Rain finally throws us a narrative bone just over halfway through, with a lengthy, tinted flashback that attempts to cover the meat of Corbis's 300-year-old backstory. For some reason, we don't actually learn what the book contains until the last 20 minutes of the film. Even then, the titular "rain" is never properly explained, apparently referring to either a container of souls Corbis draws his power from or some particularly wet realm of purgatory. It's not the acidic downpour that gives way to the film's much-discussed conclusion.
Advertised names Lupino, Shatner, and Travolta may not get much screen time (you'd have to be eagle-eyed even to spot Travolta, in fact) but Borgnine's wildly scene-chewing villainy more than makes up for the subdued performances of his fellow stars. Garbed in red velvet, Borgnine flares his nostrils, yells in Latin and, incredibly, turns into a snarling, goat-horned devil in several scenes. He paints pentagrams on Shatner's chest and makes ambiguous statements about his cloven-footed master. It's an atypical role for the genial, barrel-chested actor, and he deserves recognition for playing against type so passionately. Yet I doubt if this is something that Borgnine looks back at without some feelings of regret. In fact, rugged character actors Keenan Wynn and Eddie Albert are the only ones who come out of The Devil's Rain with their reputations unscathed.
But let's face it, if you're watching the The Devil's Rain, you don't care about any of that stuff. You're strictly interested in the much-hyped face-melting climax, which was actually advertised as "absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture." Long before Spielberg's Nazis turned to bubbly goo before an amazed audience's very eyes, director Robert Fuest made gelatinous milkshakes out of his celebrity guest stars. Rivaled perhaps only by the Troma-styled gross-out Street Trash a decade later, it's a relief to discover that the film's mass melting scene is indeed as glorious as promised. It's a special effects sight to behold, even if it does go on for what seems like 10 minutes, as at least a dozen robed Satanists are reduced to nothing but day-glo puddles. Even more amazing, perhaps, is the fact that the film managed to sneak by with a PG rating despite vividly portraying some of the ickiest deaths of all time. Undoubtedly the decision to replace disturbing eruptions of blood with multi-colored ooze played a big part of that. And hey, some of the other effects are pretty good, too. The empty eye-sockets of the Satanists are clearly achieved through masks, but their appearance is unsettling enough. Borgnine's goat-like devil make-up job is also quite convincing. All in all, The Devil's Rain's wild effects and deliriously soggy climax make up for its earlier tedium.
Dark Sky's new anamorphic release of The Devil's Rain is a notable improvement over VCI's first DVD of the film. Colors are extremely deep and bold, and Mexican cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr.'s painterly compositions are rendered gorgeously. No noticeable grain or defects mar the transfer. The soundtrack is presented in a respectable 2.0 mono that gets the job done despite a few audio pops. The only real extra of value is Fuest's director commentary, in which he talks extensively about his final theatrical film. Moderator Marcus Hearn spends too much time asking about Fuest's lengthy career, but this informative track chugs along nicely. The included newsreel footage of LaVey lasts 30 seconds and shows him presiding over a wedding; it is included solely for viewers to take a peek at the infamous Satanist. Finishing off the package, there are three radio spots, a trailer, and the requisite still gallery.
Borgnine! Shatner! Lupino! Step forth and sacrifice your dignity on the altar of ill-fated horror cinema! Pledge the bond of the Daemons before thine faces turn to Silly Putty and the hornless one sends you to the purgatory of Lifetime movie-of-the-week hell!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
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