You can usually distinguish casual film fans from horror buffs based on their appreciation of the rare and, sometimes inept examples, of the genre. The Devil’s Rain is probably a good litmus test. Among the number of ‘Satanic Panic’ movies from the 70’s, this one straddles that fence between ‘so bad it’s actually good to ‘just plain bad’. Originally released in 1975, The Devil’s Rain has recently gotten the special edition Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Severin films. A part of a Hollywood cycle of occult-themed films that characterized the horror genre in the 1970s, The Devil’s Rain was notorious at the time for hiring Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey as a technical advisor to ensure the film’s satanic rituals were realistic.
The film features a ‘who’s who’ of 1970s B-list stars and up-and-comers including a post-Star Trek William Shatner, Tom Skerritt (Alien, Top Gun), Eddie Albert (Green Acres, The Longest Yard), and a woefully miscast Ernest Borgnine hamming it up in full-face goat make-up as the cult’s Satanic priest. Before he joined a real cult, John Travolta also makes a ‘don’t blink or you’ll miss it” appearance. I missed it.
The story revolves around the Preston family who, generations ago, betrayed a desert-based Satanic cult led by Borgnine’s Jonathan Corbis, stealing a powerful book containing trapped souls fuelling Corbis’ power. Or something like that. You won’t get far into the movie before you realize that the somebody must have also stolen a coherent plot.
The Devil’s Rain Squanders Opening Potential with Incoherent Story
For 20 minutes or so, The Devil’s Rain looks promising. After a suitably creepy opening credit sequence, director Robert Fuest foregoes a traditional narrative opening. Instead, he drops the audience in the middle of the Preston family home during a rainstorm facing an unknown threat. While the special effects are obviously dated, it’s an atmospheric start. That is, The Devil’s Rain hooks you early as you try and decipher what is going on. Not fully knowing the threat is at the family’s doorstep offers just a bit of dread. .
To say that the plot is muddled and convoluted is an understatement.
Sadly, as The Devil’s Rain settles into traditional narrative, things derail quickly. Any mystery probably owes more to a confused screenplay than deliberate storytelling. To say that the plot is muddled and convoluted is an understatement. Shatner’s ‘Mark Preston’ disappears from the storyline abruptly, replaced by his younger brother, played by Tom Skerritt, and a psychic researcher (Eddie Albert), only to re-surface later. The film’s plot is driven by a Satanic book, trapped souls, and something about “Devil’s Rain”. And that ‘rain’ literally melts people. Why? Who knows. None of this really matters, The filmmakers seem to making it up as they go along.
Cheesy Special Effects Fail to Mask a Lack of Scares
At a lean 86 minutes, The Devil’s Rain feels like it is dragging after about 30 minutes. For a film apparently informed by the Church of Satan founder, there is not much in the way of any kind of scares or tension. The atmosphere from the film’s opening disappears about as quickly as a summer rainstorm. Borgnine’s goat make-up will undoubtedly leave young modern audiences laughing; in fact, it’s hard to imagine that the make-up would have done much to scare up screams even in the mid-1970s. The film’s ‘melting faces’ in the Devil’s Rain, while outdated by today’s standards, still make for a somewhat memorable albeit utterly nonsensical ending. And like many 1970s horror films, The Devil’s Rain tacks on a completely unearned ending suggesting that the curse will persist – nothing in the film explains why this would be the case but most people will likely shrug it off, just happy that the entire affair is over.
As harsh as I am in my review, I’ll admit that I still rather enjoy The Devil’s Rain. A guilty, nostalgic pleasure, this was one of those films that I can remember sneaking up in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse while my parents watched it on TV. The kind of film that popped up on cable television on a rainy Sunday afternoon or midnight showing on local cable, The Devil’s Rain has a special place in my pop culture treasury. I wouldn’t recommend it to casual fans but if you count yourself as a horror film aficionado it’s well worth checking out.