The Devil’s Rain (Robert Fuest, 1975)

by Douglas Buck June 2, 2018 5 minutes (1149 words)

The Devil’s Rain (Robert Fuest, 1975)

Blu-ray, chez Mitch

With the help of his psychic wife Julie (Joan Prather) and psychic researcher friend, Dr Richards (Eddie Albert), Tom Preston (Tom Skerritt) hurries back to his Arizona desert family home to search for his missing brother Mark (William Shatner, perhaps slumming — yet as always admirably still giving his all – in-between “Star Trek” gigs) and mother (none other than Old Hollywood directing/acting legend, Ida Lupino)… only to discover a satanic cult, led by the powerful Corbis (Ernest Borgnine), out to carry out a curse of revenge against the Preston family for sins committed over a hundred years ago… before it’s all over, there will be a night of powerful Satanism, displays of the demonic supernatural… and all those spectacularly melting people most anyone with even a passing interesting in cult cinema has heard about…

It was a double feature night of Beezlebubian pleasures (well, of two movies with the name of the Lord of Flies himself in their titles, anyway – with both films having been spat forward like squirming, corrupted sperm from the condemned offices of those loyal Satanists at Severin Films) in the dark lair of Mitch himself, where no horrible act or moral crime, no matter how (deliciously) heinous, is – thankfully — considered too repellent to grace the white of his wall-size screen. All is allowed (cinematically) at chez Mitch.

So, while there were two (pretty remarkable) films watched with the Devil’s name in the title, only one was of the genuinely supernatural horror pedigree, dealing head on (more or less, even if he never literally appears) with Ol’ Scratch himself, and that was this one; the criminally underrated (and I don’t care how much it’s been re-appraised and appreciated as a cult film since its initial savaging by critics – it’s not enough!) The Devil’s Rain.

Ernest Borgnine

Yes, the script is a bit thin (even with its short running time, with a lot spent on the spectacle of all those melting wax people who have had their souls ripped out of them), but director Fuest does a masterful job (with the cacophonous ambient score providing a big helping hand) of wringing every bit of atmosphere from the vast desert locations. Even with the dialogue scenes, Fuest has a field day creating tension through movements (both large and small, with both camera and character) that film students would do themselves a big favour to study. The careful editing and use of sound is equally effective. I have no idea where they found the dilapidated church and accompanying deserted town in the middle of nowhere (the film was shot in Mexico) the Satanists use for their lair, but it’s simply perfect, and feels like a still-evocative left-over from a 60’s Spaghetti Western.

The narrative gets all gobbledegook at times, with a lot of things not adding up (so, if the screaming souls being rained on and cramped in that very cool ornate bottle are of all those ‘wax’-like people with the unconvincing black silk over their eyes meant to be empty eye sockets – I think that’s what they’re supposed to be, anyway – how come when the bottle gets smashed, they all melt?), but the sense of mood created manages to (mostly) obfuscate those deficiencies enough that it never really troubled me.

It all came across absurd enough on the page to Skerritt (who clearly had little appreciation for this type of genre cinema) that, according to one of the Blu-ray extras (which, not surprisingly as it’s Severin who released it, are chock full of delights, including an interview with the very engaging script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana, who tells of bluffing her way as a young un’ who knew nothing about her job on The Devil’s Rain, to eventual major success supervising for major directors like Steven Spielberg), initially convinced Fuest to let the actors play it in wink-wink, nudge-nudge fashion, which the producers – thankfully and wisely — outright rejected after seeing the early dailies. As deliriously crazy as it all is, the film – right from the start, with the credits playing out over Hieronymus Bosch’s nightmarish depictions of Hell, on to the opening mysterious attack on the Preston family in the rain, to the next scene of Shatner’s Mark confronting the demonic Corbis in the abandoned desert town leading to questions of whose faith is stronger –has an undeniable air of menace, a queasy sense of the supernatural akin to many of the better 70’s B-horror pics.

There is still a scene, with Skerritt’s Tom and Albert’s Doctor character facing, for the first time, the supernatural realities as they read from the arcane book that the Preston family has held – and that Corbis and his cult desperately want – in which they clearly play the scene in way too matter of fact of a manner, which might still be a bit of a holdover from that tongue-in-cheek manner the actors wanted to approach it from, but fortunately, it’s a quick scene, and the howling wind and setting still managed to imbue it with menace.

William Shatner

I recently had the good fortune of catching Grady Hendrix’s one man show, “Paperbacks from Hell”, in which the white suited Hendrix affectionately celebrates the crazy, demented, often inane and always go-for-broke horror fiction boon of the 70’s and 80’s. The Devil’s Rain reminds me of an example of the parallel cinematic examples that were occurring at the same time – I can only dream of a fevered satanic paperback of the day with that amazing title, picturing that incredibly cool-looking goat demon that Corbis turns into (Borgnine, by the way, plays him with a conviction and sense of ease of power that is just great) gracing the cover, surrounded by those soul-less wax figures screaming in holy terror as they melt into multi-colored goo. I don’t care if I’ve seen the movie. I wanna read that book!

With its overtly stated issues on faith and literal representation of the supernatural fighting forces of good and evil (all while thankfully never taking its eye off the entertainment exploitation prize – I mean, I simply don’t believe it was any other reason than pure sensationalism that the producer brought the Satanic flavour of the day — the founder of the Church of the Dark Lord himself — Anton Lavey, on board as a consultant), for a fun film pairing, I say let’s put it up there on a shared screening night with lionized Danish filmmaker Carl Dreyer’s far more didactic (and less fun) religious tract, Ordet from 1954.

While Dreyer’s film has its powerfully stern moments, and its cinematic place in history is assured… hell, push comes to shove, I know which movie I prefer to spend time with (and, yeah, I used the word ‘hell’ on purpose).

The Devil’s Rain (Robert Fuest, 1975)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

Buck A Review   horror   robert fuest   supernatural   william shatner