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The Devil's Rain
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975)

Starring: Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Joan Prather

Written By: Gabe Essoe, James Ashton, Gerald Hopman Directed By: Robert Fuest

The Short Version

Amazingly, Irwin Allen did not cast this movie, but it feels like he did.

You could cook and serve dinner during the time it takes for the legendary ending to play out.

Speaking of dinner, Shatner actually gets out-hammed!

The Devil’s Rain is at least a half hour too long.

The messed up novelty is sufficient for any B movie fan to justify seeing The Devil’s Rain at least once.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHICKEN CORDON BLEU.

Chicken for the sacrifice.  Ham for the acting of Borgnine and Shatner.  And the whole thing is dripping with melted Swiss cheese that happened to start out with lots of holes in it already.


Pairs Well With...

LUCIFER.

Yes, it’s a real beer, brewed in Belgium.  ‘Nuf said.

“Who calls me from out of the Pit?”


I remember the first time I saw the box art for The Devil’s Rain.  It uses the same top tagline as the original poster did.  The line reads: “Heaven help us all when… The Devil’s Rain!”  And my first thought was, “What the hell was that?  That’s not even a damn sentence!”

The bottom tagline, meanwhile, promises “Absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever!”  So I watched the movie, and when it was over, my first thought was, “What the hell was that?  That’s not an incredible ending!”

If you don’t follow pre-1980 horror or B-movies, you’ve probably never heard of The Devil’s Rain.  But if you do follow either, this movie is a legend.  That’s not to say that it’s very good, mind (though it has the potential for about thirteen minutes); it’s just… out there.

Bad Movie Night?  For sure.  But there’s so much more to this story.

Let’s start with the opening credits, which are actually among some of the most promising in B-horror history.  The background music is genuinely creepy, and there’s an undertone of what is obviously meant to be the wailing and weeping of tortured souls, which it pulls off pretty credibly.  (Listen carefully enough, and you can make out occasional cries of “Let me out of here!” and “Please help me!”  Call it foreshadowing.)  For background imagery, the filmmakers have chosen nothing less than the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), the most famed depicter of the horrors of Hell in the history of art.  Obviously, the filmmakers want to establish some clout early, and while the credits roll, they succeed.  What else but true horror could follow a lead like this?

But, wait!  There’s more!  That’s right, folks, the credits aren’t over yet!

The filmmakers have also thrown in, at no extra charge to the audience, a line in the credits that reads as follows:

“Technical Advisor: Anton Szandor LaVey, High Priest of the Church of Satan.”

Yeah, you read that right.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  While the credit is accurate, the Church of Satan referred to was founded by LaVey in 1966, essentially from whole cloth.  Prior to that, no matter what horror movies and television journalists want you to believe, there was never an organized “Church of Satan.”  Even better, the current High Priest of the Church of Satan notes that, "My real feeling is that anybody who believes in supernatural entities on some level is insane. Whether they believe in The Devil or God, they are abdicating reason."  The point of this isn’t to debate philosophy or anything of the sort.  It’s just meant to point out that Anton LaVey and the filmmakers agreed to a mutual publicity stunt and that any “realism” implied by the “technical advisorship” here is pretty much “bullshit.”   But hey; LaVey gets a cameo out of the deal!  He’s the dude with the helmet and goatee.

But while we’re on the subject of generally unpopular philosophy, another name you’ll see in the credits is that of John Travolta.  It turns out that The Devil’s Rain marks his feature film debut.  You’ll probably have a hard time spotting him in the movie, especially since his character doesn’t have any eyes (hold that thought), but he is there.  His role was originally going to be bigger, but got hacked up quite a bit.  As a consolation prize, though, he did get introduced to Scientology by someone on the set (Joan Prather)!

I’m going to refrain from making any of the thousand comments that you’re probably already making for me, and move on.

You probably noticed a bunch of other names in the credits, too.  Ernest Borgnine.  William Shatner.  Eddie Albert. Tom Skerritt.  Ida Lupino.  Keenan Wynn.  The passage of time has only made the cast list look more like it belongs on an Irwin Allen disaster flick than it already did in the first place.  Have I mentioned that someone really wanted credibility here?

Well.  Let’s see what they bought, shall we?

After opening credits that essentially promise The Apocalypse, we’re ready for our movie.  The first thing we get is William Shatner, and hey, if that’s not pretty close, what is?  Shatner plays one Mark Preston, and he’s just stepped back into his house, which is out in the middle of Western desert nowhere.  His Ma (Ida Lupino) is worried; there’s a storm a-brewin’, and his Pa hasn’t come back yet.  It’s just like a horrible dream she’s been having lately; surely, something awful must have happened!  Mark, of course, doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about, but then there’s a noise from outside.  When Mark opens the door, he sees someone that kinda looks like his father, assuming his father had no eyes and was made of self-propelled wax.  It even sounds like his father when it says, “The Book… Corbis… Give Corbis what belongs to him!”  The gent then melts, invoking the name of Satan just before he finishes his Frosty the Waxman routine.

Ma, of course, starts having fits, and insists that Mark must obey, but Mark says that “The Book” is not theirs to bargain with, and besides, he’s still not sure that Wax Dude was really his father.  Indeed, he’s even further convinced of this when at that moment he sees his father’s truck pull up outside and hears the horn being honked.  When he gets outside, however, he finds that the vehicle is actually being driven by a tiny voodoo doll, and now that he’s left, all Hell is breaking loose inside his house.  When he returns, the place has been ransacked, and Ma is gone…

However cheesy that may sound, the above actually plays pretty well.  Shatner is definitely playing just how you’d expect, up to and including the random implied punctuation, but by and large, the horror here is credible.

Try not to notice that the movie could have ended right here.

As noted, Corbis, our villain, wants The Book.  While chatting with his Ma, Mark actually pulls The Book out from under the floorboards for a moment, and the hiding place isn’t exactly clever.  Nevertheless, the same supernaturally driven forces that are capable of ransacking the entire house, whisking a woman away, and hanging an old man from the ceiling by his ankles (all in about ten seconds) somehow miss it.

Silly Satanists.

Of course, nobody does anything to Shatner’s Ma and gets away with it, so he’s off to get her back.  He still won’t bargain with The Book, though; no, he’s gonna bring Corbis some Lead Justice!  He’s also going to start practicing for his roles in future “Star Trek” movies.  Seriously; try and tell me that his cry of “GOD DAMN YOU, CORBIIIIIS!” doesn’t sound suspiciously like “KHAAAAAAN!”

Feel free to get up and use the bathroom or grab a snack here, because it takes several minutes too long for Shatner to drive his monogrammed wagon (and I bet the folks at Pittsburgh Paints are pissed that the inexplicable “P” on the door looks exactly like their logo) to what looks like an Old West Ghost Town.  Once he’s finally there, he meets Ernest Borgnine, playing the role of Corbis, whom we find is Satan’s Emissary on Earth.  The two men make a deal: go inside the nearby church and test the faith of one against the faith of the other, as measured by which man’s acting can out-ham the other’s.  (Again, we’re practicing for Kirk vs. Khan!)  The stakes are Ma going free if God wins vs. Shatner and The Book to Corbis if Satan wins. 

I know what you’re thinking.  Shatner’s a shoo-in.  No one can out-ham Shatner.

Ha!  You’re wrong!

Unfathomable as it may seem, Ernest Borgnine – happy, friendly, Ernest Borgnine; the same man who puts on clown makeup and leads Circus Parades to the delight of many children and children at heart – actually wipes the floor with Shatner in the ham department.  Not to say that Shatner doesn’t try, but not only doesn’t his character have any real chance making up new words to the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of a full Satanic church service, but Shatner himself simply cannot hold a candle to what Borgnine dishes out as Satan’s Own Emissary.  Forget ham; Borgnine is shoveling out complete Easter dinners for entire neighborhoods here.  I’m telling you, folks, this is a rare treat that you won’t see often.  Shatner’s character is left a weeping wreck, and one has to wonder how much acting was required, given how thoroughly he has just been hambone-beaten.

We’re at roughly the half hour mark, and it feels like the movie should end right here.  Yeah, it’d make for a short flick, but it would have felt satisfying nonetheless.

But no.  Now we start with the crap that makes no sense.

Specifically, we have a professor played by Eddie Albert telling a roomful of people that he his scientific proof of the existence of ESP because the nice lady on the table played by Joan Prather can control her own biorhythms.    She also happens to be married to Tom, conveniently played by Tom Skerritt, and Tom, in turn, is brother to Mark, whom you may recall as being played by William Shatner, who just got ham-slapped by Satan’s Own Emissary.

I’m going to skip a lot of stuff here, because frankly, the middle of this movie is boring as Hell.  (In fact, before we’re done, we’re going to find out that Hell does, in fact, appear to be really boring.)  Most of the Second Act could have hit the cutting room floor, and The Devil’s Rain would have been better off for it.  Aside from the fact that Satanists bleed orange and green goo when you shoot them, there’s only one thing of real importance to be discovered here, and it’s the reason they decided to give the nice lady ESP.  See, ESP here seems to stand for Extra Satan Perception, because it allows her to see visions which in turn prove to be the flashback that finally tells us what The Book is!

Turns out that 300 years ago, give or take, Corbis had recruited a bunch of New Englanders over to Satan and had them sign their names in blood.  Those signatures are in The Book.  However, the wife of one of his flock betrayed him and had The Book hidden, and without The Book, Corbis cannot deliver the signatories’ souls to Satan!  Corbis is burned at the stake, and The Book is handed down across the generations.  How New England turned into the Western desert and how Corbis manages to come back isn’t bothered with.  Indeed, the script resolves such things with one of the most brazen exchanges of dialogue I think I’ve ever heard:

“What in the Hell is he waiting 300 years for?”

“I dunno.  Maybe the right moment.”

“Maybe the right family.”

“You’ll never find out the reason.”

And you never do.  I have to say, saying so bluntly took balls on the scriptwriters’ parts.

Normally, I try not to give away the Third Act, no matter how generally well-known it may be, but in any proper discussion of The Devil’s Rain, it’s kind of unavoidable.  If you really don’t want it spoiled for you, go ahead and turn away now, knowing that I’m going to recommend The Devils’ Rain as something to watch not for quality, but for the combination of its Bad Movie Night potential and its absolute weirdness.

I mean it; spoilers ahead, kids.

Okay.  Warning over.

As we get ready for our climax, Corbis is outside somewhere, hosting a major Satanic ritual.  He has taken the nice lady with ESP captive, and has her bound to an upside-down cross.  We also discover that Shatner ended up being turned into a Satanic minion of Corbis, resulting in his facial features going pale and slack and his eyes disappearing completely.  (In fact, you might notice that at this point, he looks suspiciously like Michael Myers from the Halloween movies.  This is no coincidence; Michael Myers is wearing a Shatner face mask.)  We also find out that Corbis can metamorphose his head to something somewhere between man and goat.  (The dialogue suggests that he is actually Satan Incarnate at this point, but later on, that’s no longer really clear.)

Meanwhile, Tom Skerritt and Eddie Albert have broken into the Satanists’ church back in the ghost town.  For some bizarre reason, they brought The Book with them.  While they poke around the altar, they find something that looks like a manhole cover.  Under the cover, they find a Big Orb.  This, they realize, is The Devil’s Rain!  When they look into the Big Orb, they see a bunch of trapped souls inside.  Apparently, when you’ve sold your soul to Satan, your torment consists of standing out in a monsoon and banging on some glass. Eternally.  Seriously.  I told you Hell was boring.

Hearing the Satanists approaching – it being time to bring the ritual indoors – Tom and Eddie run up to the balcony, carrying The Devil’s Rain with them.

The leave The Book – the item that it has been made clear is the point of the whole movie, the item that Corbis has been waiting to get back for 300 years – on the steps in front of the altar.

Go ahead and facepalm.  I know I did.

So in walks John Travolta (really; that’s him!), who sees The Book, picks it up, and hands it to Corbis.

Movie over, right?  I mean, we’ve now completely fulfilled what we’ve been told from the very beginning was the entire purpose of the movie’s action, right?

Nah.  The reaction of Corbis can best be described as “Hey, cool!”  He then continues on with his ceremony.  All that buildup, and now that he has The Book, he pretty much shrugs it off like it’s no big deal, and doesn’t use it for anything.

Go ahead and facepalm.  I know I did.

Seeing his wife being carried into the church all bound to a cross, Tom Skerritt’s character goes apeshit.  Eyeless Shatner quickly subdues him, at which point, Eddie Albert addresses Ernest Borgnine.  He knows he has no chance in the ham war; instead, he tries to make a reasonable deal.  When this fails, he appeals to Eyeless Shatner to smash The Devil’s Rain.  After all this time going on and on about The Book, now all of a sudden, it’s this Orb we’d never seen until just a few minutes ago that means everything.

The Orb is smashed.

You know that ending the poster promised?  Here is comes.

A sudden thunderstorm erupts.  A hole appears in the ceiling, and rain starts to pour into the church, just as it is outside.  For roughly the next ten minutes, you get to watch the Satanists melt.  I’m not kidding folks.  That’s it.  “Absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever!” ends up being a trick that the Wicked Witch of the West had already pulled over forty years earlier, and she didn’t take forever to do it.  Ten minutes of eyeless people turning into waxy goo, interspersed with occasional repeats of the exact same establishing shot of the hole in the church roof.  The effect isn’t even all that exciting to begin with, and is old already at the sixty second mark.  Yeah, that’s an incredible something, all right.

Go ahead and facepalm.  I know I did.

The Devil’s Rain has one final twist before it goes, and it’s a couple second yawner you’ve seen before.  Personally, I’m wondering how exactly another soul gets trapped in the Orb when we just saw the damn thing get smashed to bits to set off Meltfest a little over ten minutes before, but I don’t think the writers know, either.

When all is said and done, what started off as a horror flick with potential ends up being a complete, senseless mess.  And yet, as has been amply noted, there’s just so much weird stuff going on here – not to mention the ham on ham cage match between Shatner and Borgnine – that even though The Devil’s Rain can only be considered an overall wretched film, it still demands to be watched.

Bottom line, if you have any love for B-movie horror at all, you need to experience The Devil’s Rain for yourself.  Then go ahead and facepalm.  I know I did.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011

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