The poster tagline states, “Heaven help us all when THE DEVIL’S RAIN!”, and if that grammatical train wreck doesn’t break your brain, I promise you the following 86 minutes will. The Devil’s Rain (1975) is a glorious curiosity, a personal favorite, and thanks to Severin Films’ spectacular new Blu-ray release, one of the best reissues I’ve ever seen.
Meet The Prestons: Mark (William Shatner – Kingdom of the Spiders), his mom (Ida Lupino – Junior Bonner), and their ranch hand John (Woody Chambliss – Gargoyles) all await the return of Mark’s dad, and when he finally shows up, his eyes are missing and he starts melting in the rain (how bad is the humidity in the desert, anyway?). It turns out a fella by the name of Corbis (Ernest Borgnine – Deadly Blessing) is looking for a very special book in the Preston family’s possession, a ledger of souls for those who’ve pledged themselves to Satan. After mom is kidnapped by Corbis’ group, Mark heads out to their ghost town coven for a tête à tête with Corbis. Apparently the Prestons are great at being abducted, as now Mark’s brother Tom (Tom Skerritt – Alien), his wife, Julie (Joan Prather – Big Bad Mama), and their pal Dr. Sam Richards (Eddie Albert – Dreamscape) are desert bound to save the clan and stop Corbis from... adding more names to the book, I guess?
This is the basic gist of The Devil’s Rain, and I haven’t even mentioned the titular event, which happens when the large, horned bowling trophy housing the souls of the damned is destroyed and it rains for 15 minutes, causing all of Corbis’ minions to moan and melt (and moan and melt some more) in an orgasmic Crayola orgy—in real time, no less. And I’m throwing that information up front because one of the main gripes that people have with the film (including director Robert Fuest) is that the ending goes on for far too long. Which it does; but while we’re here, we may as well mention the fractured storyline (Shatner practically disappears from the film after the first act) that toggles from the satanic habitat to the ranch and back until all the strands are messily woven together for the messier climax. The Devil’s Rain lurches from present to past (Julie has visions, you see, including colonialist Corbis being burned at the stake due to Shatner’s ancestor Martin Fyffe ratting him out) and back again without any real momentum, just a series of scenes that unfold until the last moan is uttered and the Satanists swirl down the drain.
I cannot dispute any of these statements; I have eyes and ears and synapses that (more or less) fire on a regular basis. But if you are a fan of: a) the weird, b) ’70s horror with an occult bent, c) a cavalcade of B stars on various rungs of the success ladder, then The Devil’s Rain is the movie for you. Your weird is covered in the whiplash structure of Gabe Essoe and James Ashton and Gerald Hopman’s screenplay, as well as the oh-so-serious and melodramatic dialogue uttered by a cast well-groomed for future episodes of The Love Boat. Which isn’t a knock on our thespians; in fact, these are some of my favorite actors of the era, and work’s work and a Borgnine has to eat. Personally I think he’s great here; he plays friendly, folksy evil as well as anyone, and you probably won’t start laughing until he changes into the Dark Underlord, goat makeup and all (and then you can laugh, because it is a hilarious spectacle). Skerritt underplays (naturally), Albert seems unsure as to why he’s there (we all do), and Shatner aims for the raftners.
Let’s not discount the appeal of having Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan himself, as Technical Advisor. Following the huge box office success of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), Satan was a big go-to for horror, and The Devil’s Rain leans hard into it, with an eye for detail, I guess; the church ceremony performed here doesn’t seem any more interesting than a Christian one, and I have a feeling I’d be kicking the back of the pews regardless which deity was presiding. But the general public still had a lot of fear towards the darkness, and that pall hangs over the proceedings in an oppressive manner geared towards the easily swayed. Oh, and don’t forget your ’70s downer ending to cap off a doozy of a ride. I can’t explain how The Devil’s Rain comes together (because it really doesn’t), but it works for me as a unique take on an already shop-worn trope. Plus, goat Borgnine.
I wasn’t sure I could love this film any more than I already do, but Severin Films has proven me wrong with a disc that unlike the film, does not overstay its welcome. In fact, this reissue is loaded with enough extras to make Beelzebub himself blush.
First up is a commentary track with director Robert Fuest, which is a little dry, as one might expect from a man in his mid-70s at the time of recording this, ported over from the Dark Sky DVD. (Fuest, who also helmed the amazing The Abominable Dr. Phibes, passed on in 2012.) He is of sound mind, though, and shares many interesting memories of the shoot, as well as his previous and post The Devil’s Rain career.
Next up is Confessions of Tom, a terrifically candid talk with Skerritt, as he dishes on the lighter tone they tried for and were forced to reshoot, as well as other remembrances throughout his storied career.
But the bounty continues; there are chats with FX legend Tom Burman, script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana, the High Priest & High Priestess of Satan (a delightfully down-to-earth segment), LaVey Biographer Blanche Barton, and my favorite segment, actor/filmmaker/major horror collector Daniel Roebuck reminiscing about his very personal connection to the movie. All this, plus photo galleries, radio and TV spots, production Polaroids, and of course a theatrical trailer. If you wanted to know any more about this movie, you would’ve had to have been on set.
I’ve saved the best news for last, however: the transfer. I grew up with The Devil’s Rain on grainy videotape, smeared with Vaseline and ash from a hundred prints shown on a thousand drive-ins. (Or so it seemed.) it’s not that it was ever unwatchable, but it certainly adhered to its ’70s aesthetic (ahem) religiously. This transfer is a revelation; scraped away of its grime, we’re shown a film with gorgeous widescreen vistas and scenes bathed in Italian reds and blues that were never there before. The Devil’s Rain is a beautiful looking film, and as much as I love it, I’ve never been able to say that until this miraculous restoration.
So, it looks amazing. The special features run very deep. But above all, there’s the film itself. Only in the ’70s would money be thrown at a mish-mashed and misbegotten ooze of a film that in spite of itself, achieves a goofy nirvana of satanic how-to and B movie derring-do. I love this movie, and this reissue, as much as Corbis loves Satan. And that’s a love that can’t be beat.
Movie Score: 4.5/5, Disc Score: 5/5