The Devil's Rain

Director:Robert Feust                         
Ernest Borgnine, Ida Lupino, William Shatner

Heaven help us all when....THE DEVIL'S RAIN! (sic)

                                             - Original poster blurb for The Devil's Rain

I'm sure that there will be a number of people out there who will greatly enjoy The Devil's Rain for its cast alone. Besides cult favorites like Borgnine, Lupino, and Shatner, the cast also includes Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert, Keenan Wynn, and John Travolta. Not only is a cast like that unforgettable, but there is also the added bonus of seeing these people humiliate themselves in a movie that is B-grade, even less so at times. I did enjoy seeing all those actors in one movie, and seeing them thrash around and try to fit in, like non-swimmers in a pool of water, was undeniably funny at times.

The problem I had with The Devil's Rain was when the movie tries something else, and those segments of the movie are terribly uneven; sometimes amusing, but more often serious and solemn enough to be almost dull. Whenever I was rewarded with something like a funny moment or a special effect, I knew I would then have to wait some long minutes before something like that would happen again, just like when I watched Slaughterhouse Rock. No, I didn't hate this movie, but I didn't exactly enjoy it at the same time. The movie just seems to be there, and that's all - like it's given the work of making it enjoyable up to you. If there's a movie where you have to be in the exact mood to enjoy it, then that movie is The Devil's Rain.

Back to speaking about the performances: Borgnine is the highlight of the movie. He plays Jonathan Corbis (Borgnine), leader of a secret coven of witches in Puritan society who is "killed" along with his followers. His powers caused him to survive, of course, and he has lived on into present-day society. He plans to retrieve a holy book which will enable him to deliver all the souls he has to his "underworld" boss. For much of the movie, Borgnine is pretty restrained, even when he delivers a line like, "What say thee??" to his flock. However, when the lights flash and a puff of smoke occurs, he transforms into a half man/half goat, complete with large curly goat horns on his head! In these scenes, Borgnine goes ape, shrieking and screaming, and bulging his eyes almost out of his sockets. This helps to make the second half of the movie much more successful than the first.

The second half of the movie is definitely more campy than the first half, not just from Borgnine, but our old favorite, William Shatner. Though he does manage to generate some laughs in the first half as well. He plays one of the members of the Preston family, which have kept Borgnine's book safely hidden for many generations. When his father suddenly melts into pools of milkshakes and candle wax before his eyes, Shatner tries (very unsuccessfully) to show how upset he is, while his mother (also seeing her husband melt) looks at Shatner as if to say, "What's up?" Shatner also finds time to gape his mouth open at several key points, which is even more funny when he's staring off into space at the same time. During the course of the movie (after his mother is kidnapped, and he traces her to a ghost town), Shatner takes off his shirt (calm down, ladies), and subsequently transformed into a black-eyed zombie, which makes him give an even stiffer performance than usual. What's interesting is that with the pale makeup, and those black eyes, he looks strikingly like the mask Michael Meyers wears in the Halloween movies. (And it's a fact that the original Michael Meyers' mask was a William Shatner mask painted white - no joke.)

It does sound like a pretty fun movie, doesn't it? And there are some fun scenes, where we see other people melt into gooey piles onto the ground, actors dressed in bizarre costumes, a "soul vessel" that looks very much like a portable TV (complete with a screen), and hilarious dialogue and scenes. One of my favorite scenes is when Shatner gives a long verbal list of instructions to a man who is obviously very senile. Unfortunately, there's a lot to be disappointed about with this movie as well. Travolta, (who plays one of Borgnine's followers) well, he only gets two words of dialogue in the entire movie, and we never really see his face (*). Besides this, the movie also suffers from the fact that the script is pretty thin - a lot of the movie has people wandering around the streets of the ghost town and the surrounding area, and in the scenes where things do happen, many times the pacing seems to have been deliberately slowed down. One scene has someone having a psychic vision of what happened in the past, which does explain a lot of questions we have, but it goes on forever. I got a headache from the visual look of everything - throughout the movie, there are very poorly lit scenes, scenes where the level of lighting changes from shot to shot - sometimes even in the same shot, and colored filters that obscure the action onscreen. To make matters worse for the visual quality, the print used for the United Video version I saw was, let's say, substandard. All of these things sometimes make The Devil's Rain look like you are watching a multi-generation pirated tape.

I neither liked or disliked The Devil's Rain enough to give it a blessing or a curse. Though that's because maybe I didn't know what to expect when I rented it. As I said earlier, you need to be in the right mood to enjoy it. Except maybe for those few who are real fans of these actors (especially  the combination of them), it's not just enough to read about the elements that I liked, and decide if they appeal to you; you have to be accepting of a movie that is somewhat half-baked. This is one movie that should have stayed in the witch's cauldron a while longer.

UPDATE: An explanation for Travolta's role being so tiny was provided by reader William Norton:

"As for Travolta in The Devil's Rain, he originally had A LOT MORE scenes, but was either edited or wasn't shot. When (producer) Sandy Howard FIRST announced the shooting of this film, he took out a full page ad in Variety back in 1974, and had the whole cast take a publicity still, and had everyone who is billed in the poster smiling in a group pose, INCLUDING Travolta, as the original credits read "...and introducing John Travolta as..." So apparently, he was to have a much bigger part."

* It's not surprising to find out that in a movie concerned with a nutso religion, John Travolta first learned about Scientology from a crew member on the set.

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See also: Shadowbuilder, Ticks, Curse Of The Cannibal Confederates