The Devil’s Rain (1975)
First and foremost, The Devil’s Rain had a kickass movie poster to accompany the film’s North American release to movie theaters back in 1975. Not to mention the racy foreign ads. Secondly it’s got a pretty damned good cast of veterans guided by director Robert Fuest who was at this time coming off the successful Vincent Price titles, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again.
When I mentioned a damned good cast of veterans I’m referring to Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn. Now add in a couple of well known contemporary faces of the day, William Shatner and Tom Skerritt and I’m hooked. Sorry, I failed to mention that somewhere among the melting pot of Devil Worshippers is one, John Travolta, making his apparent film debut.
Effectively utilizing the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch over the opening credits, Devil’s Rain forgoes much of a backstory as it launches into a tale of demons attacking the home of Ida Lupino and her son, William Shatner on a thundering, rainy night ….. what else.
Lupino and her family have been in possession of an ancient book that is sought after by a demon/witch named Corbus played by none other than a smiling Borgnine with an evil twinkle in his eye. While Shatner is dodging a demon in the storm, Lupino, has disappeared and the old timer serving as a ranch hand is strung upside down frightened out of his wits.
Filmed in Durango Mexico, the film has a modern day west setting and Shatner is off to an old ghost town complete with tumbleweeds, a church and old Ernie awaiting his arrival. Borgnine wants the ancient text and offers up a challenge to Shatner who wants Miss Ida returned unharmed.
“My faith against yours.”
Into the church they go where Captain James T. Kirk will face a task he can’t win. With nothing but a hand gun, Shatner will face down Ernie in his bright red robe surrounded by hooded figures who when unveiled are all missing their eyes. It won’t be long before a screaming Shatner joins them sans his eyesight.
All of which brings us to that well known bit of trivia about Shatner and the mask used in the Halloween series by Michael Myers. Yes when Shatner undergoes the makeup wizardry of Ellis Burman Jr. his face has a certain kinship with the look that would make Carpenter’s knife wielding killer a household name. It should be noted that Mr. Burman would go on to work in the Star Trek Universe for Shatner’s directorial effort, Star Trek V : The Final Frontier as well as some of the further films of the Next Generation era.
With Shatner’s life in peril along comes his brother Tom Skerritt and his wife played by Joan Prather looking to save the family and protect the ancient text.
If you’re wondering about plot, it’s time to fill in a large gap with the use of a flashback that truthfully may have been better served if the film had opened with the segment as films like Bava’s Black Sunday or Corman’s The Haunted Palace did. Yes Borgnine and his coven of witches date back to the days of the Pilgrams and when he’s put to the fires tied to a stake he’ll swear vengeance on the descendants of the Preston family who have betrayed him and his coven. Shatner appears in the flashback as the weak link in the coven who had led to Borgnine’s demise. The book our present day Borgnine seeks carries the bloody signatures of all his followers.
“Vengeance will be mine!”
Yeah it’s all kind of hoaky but I still love to revisit this thriller that scared the hell out of me on late night TV ages ago when I was at an impressionable age.
Now about those old time favorites, Keenan Wynn and Eddie Albert. Wynn plays a western sheriff who warns Skerritt to be careful in the old ghost town (perhaps he knows something we don’t) and as for Albert, I’ve no real idea what his role is other than some sort of professor conducting experiments with Skerritt into brain waves or something like that. Again I think the plot has been trimmed leaving me scratching my head as to his motivation. Thankfully he turns up to aid Skerritt during the famous climax of the film when Ernie dons the goat horns and the coven are rained upon leaving most everyone a melting mass of hot wax.
Maybe it’s just me but good luck picking out which melting mass of flesh is young Mr. Travolta. And how about that ending at the fade out. Loved it.
I know, I know, I know! This film gets trashed more often then Adam Sandler’s Netflix flicks but I don’t give a damn. I can’t help but like a film about a coven of witches in a western setting with a cast led by good old boy Ernie Borgnine leading them all in Satanic worship.
Ernie and Eddie appeared in not one but two 1975 releases together on the big screen. Along with Devil’s Rain they costarred with Burt Reynolds in Robert Aldrich’s Hustle. While Eddie and Ernie played cops and robbers in Hustle, Shatner, Skerritt and Prather had just appeared together in the Angie Dickinson cult favorite, Big Bad Mama the year before.
I’d also like to draw attention to the score by Al De Lory. Suitably eerie in a film that sees some guy named Anton Lavey as the technical advisor. Apparently Mr. Lavey was credited as the founder of the Church of Satan. Whatever…… anything to sell a picture to the drive-in crowds.
Then again maybe it worked cause the film continues to captivate me nearly fifty years after it’s release. It’s still turning up on blu ray in special additions with your very own goats horn pendant and of course that original one sheet I spoke of does indeed have a place here in the movie room at Mike’s Take.
If you’ve never taken a chance on The Devil’s Rain, give it a shot and have some fun with it. Overlook the plot holes, appreciate the cast of pros, dig that makeup job on Ernie and the melting figures around him and maybe you’ll become a repeat viewer like myself.