The Devilís Rain (1975)
Hello dear readers, Nate here. Today I thought I'd pair up with the estimable Pam again to bring you a nearly-forgotten low-budget pseudo-horror movie from Gerald Ford's first year in office. It's not nearly as good as what that badass lobby poster up there might suggest, sorry.
We open at the isolated Preston family farmstead in the High Deserts of the Southwest, our timeframe is the modern era, which is going to mean a lot of wide lapels and tight Levis. A violent rainstorm is pounding the area and an old woman is fretting and worrying about her husband, who has not yet returned from a trip. She confides in her half-senile, dottering father and her high-strung manly-man son Mark that she's been having fever dreams about Satan and death and other spooky things. As to why she seems to have an English accent, who knows, but she really, really looks like an older version of Flo from those Progressive Insurance commercials (admit it, you know who I'm talking about).
Flo and her son have a moment.
Just then her husband returns, but he's "not quite himself". In fact, he seems to be a walking, talking, animated wax figure that is slowly and messily dissolving in the raging rain storm. Before melting away into a pile of goo at their feet, it/he manages to tell them that, to paraphrase, "Corbis wants the book back and he's waiting out at the old ghost town". This doesn't upset any of them as much as you might expect, but probably because it was the 1970s and LSD made you see lots of stuff that you couldn't explain.
Some nice make-up work here, top shelf.
All of this melting and bubbling convinces the mom that her devilish visions of upside-down crosses and demonic man-bear-pigs are coming true and she reluctantly shows her son Mark "the book". The book is just that, a tattered old leatherbound book that looks to be centuries old, hidden away in a safe place in the house. She tells Mark to take this evil book to this Corbis guy and get his (real) father back. Mark refuses to take the book for some reason (the script was written by a border collie...), but he does take a pistol and a huge, gaudy crucifix amulet, both of which he feels he needs for protection.
Drama in the Preston house.
Then unseen and violent devilwinds sweep into the house and take his mother away as well, leaving the son now on a quest to recover both his parents as well as restore his own failing faith. Mark scrunches down his Stetson, buttons up his flannel shirt, and jumps in his Dodge station wagon to drive off towards the old abandoned mining town. He drives and drives and drives and finally (finally!) arrives at the tumbleweed-infested collection of dilapidated buildings in the middle of nowhere.
That's either a reference to the Preston family farm or he's a Philadelphia Phillies fan.
I love any film set in a good Old West ghost town, even if they are one of the most overused cliches in cinema, and the one we see here is clearly an actual on-location ruined frontier village, as opposed to the studio backlot ghost towns you usually see in movies. As well, the background scenery is all endless miles of flat mesas and lonesome pinon trees, quite beautiful in a starkly drab No Country for Old Men-sorta way. Not sure where this is supposedly set, but the cars seem to have those old school canary yellow New Mexico plates on them, and this does fit the land down there. The director uses the table-flat emptiness of the landscape nicely, conveying a real sense of abandonment and desolation, both in the physical and the spiritual sense. And yes, when the best thing I can say about a movie is "gee, that cactus over there in the middle foreground looks pretty cool", then you know you're going to be wishing you had spent the 90 minutes you wasted on this movie doing something else more productive (like surfing Pinterest).
I bet land is cheap out here.
Anyway, it's just a minute or two before Mark meets Corbis, the leader of a satanic cult and Lucifer's right hand demon here on Earth. Evil-incarnate Corbis in human form is played by (no kidding) 60-year old Ernest Borgnine in all his portly, doughy, bag-eyed glory. This is the WORST miscasting ever, Borgnine is just too jovial and grandfatherly to be the Prince of Darkness and you just want to giggle every time he curses you to the pits of hell. Maybe that's what they were going for, that "anyone could be a Satanist", but you just can't believe the actor as the character in any way. Surely there was another kindly-looking older actor with a dark side who could have been better cast as Corbis. Was Fred MacMurray too busy in 1975 to cash a paycheck?
Corbis. I know I should be scared, but I'm not.
So Mark and Corbis banter a bit like they're in a Castiel-era episode of Supernatural before Mark offers Corbis a sweet deal he can't refuse. He'll enter the "dark church building" and witness Corbis' satanic ritual, and if he survives with his faith and sanity intact, then Corbis will release his parents to him. If he fails, however, Corbis gets both the book and the son (and by extension, gets to keep his parents). This is not a fair fight, of course, because the Devil rarely plays by the rules (that's kind of his idiom). As soon as Mark is in the church, he's besieged by dozens of black robe-clad, wax-blooded, undead zombie shambling demons and his fate is sealed. Mark does give a good account of himself before going down, though his bullets are useless against the brimstone zombies and Corbis turns his crucifix amulet into a rattlesnake (!). Off they haul him back into Satan's church.
Ok, now I'm a little scared.
I have to stop here and say that this movie has been miserably dull so far, despite the subject matter. Way too many panning landscape shots and way way too many scenes wasted in following characters around doing nothing that pays off. The director is trying to be spooky and atmospheric, I get that, but he seems unable to create any real sense of dread and fear in the audience. His shots are just too open and steady, if you know what I mean, you feel detached from the characters, even when they are "in peril". A few more close-ups of nervous and sweaty faces, a couple more steady-cam shots over character's shoulders as they creep through darkened hallways, some better music cues, anything would be welcome if it gave you a real, tangible feeling of danger. I'd even take a "jumping cat scare" at this point, anything to get my heartbeat up. Even the fight between Mark and the zombie Satanists is lame, every shot is either in the dark or from too great a distance to even see if Mark is afraid or amused.
A spooky church holds limitless possibilities for scares, use it wisely.
This is not helped by the fact that the hack actor playing Mark (William Shatner) seems to have flunked out of his community college acting class and is completely incapable of making the audience care a hoot about his character's predicament. I hadn't heard of Shatner before this movie, but a quick Google search shows that he's a career bit-part actor whose few film credits are most in crappy b-movies like this one. Interestingly, Shatner was all set to play the legendary Captain Kirk in the first Star Trek series, before the part was given to Jack Lord. After watching Shatner's "acting" in The Devil's Rain, being overly histrionic for no reason and flailing at his lines with a verbal sledgehammer, you can't help but offer up a silent prayer of thanks that Gene Roddenberry didn't pick him to helm the USS Enterprise. Shatner did finally make it aboard that starship, however, having a two-minute scene as a Redshirt Ensign in the 13th season episode The Rigelian Complexity in 1978, notably getting into a one-sided phaser shootout with Lord's Captain Kirk when the alien spores turned half the Away Team into kill-crazed lunatics.
Can you imagine this uncultured goon saying Lord's trademark line,
"Beam me up, Scotty."? I sure can't.
Anyway, back to our movie. So Mark is hauled up on the black alter, stripped bare and branded with a pentagram. Shatner's hairless, lumpy upper body is disturbingly out of proportion to his head size, and we can all be thankful that he never had the chance to rip his shirt off in any other shows (some actors should just keep fully dressed at all times, Shatner is one of those). Corbis dons his velvety blood-red Satanic High Priest robes and begins the process to deliver poor Mark's soul to Lucifer. This can't be a pleasant experience for him, and I'm kinda wondering how he's going to get out of this alive.
Best filmed in shadows.
But, oddly, Mark is not actually our movie's main protagonist, despite being in every single scene for the first 30 minutes. Pam, could you please tell us about Mark's older brother Tom. Specifically, why does he look like Ben Affleck in Argo? And why is his wife lying on a table in front of a bunch of lab-coated grad students? And what the unholy hell is the old guy from Green Acres doing here?
Apparently the farm didn't work out for him.
Well, Nate, it turns out that Tom Preston's wife Julie is there to learn to control her body by willpower alone. At this particular moment it's her heart she's controlling, although I guess we'll have to take her word on that. After all, as long as she's breathing, we can't know if it's only because she's controlling her heart or if it's just, you know, happening naturally. The wrinkly man is indeed Eddie Albert from Green Acres, and he and Tom are working together to learn how people can control their body's functions. At first I don't see the need for this, because the involuntary nervous system generally does this just fine, but Dr. Richards, the wrinkly guy, says that ESP can also be controlled this way. And I have no idea why Tom looks like the Frito Bandido's younger brother. (By the way, Eddie Albert seems to be having a little trouble remembering his lines, and he does a lot of glancing to the side, which suggests that he was relying heavily on cue cards.) Although it seems off-the-wall to me, the experiment is being taken seriously enough so that there's a lab-coated audience watching Julie's demonstration.
Julie, a character in desperate need of being cut from the script.
Julie's babbling on about what a great feeling it is to unleash the brain waves that control ESP, but her monotone recitation is intercut with shots of Ernest Borgnine in his red robes, so we're made aware that this experiment is likely to have immediate relevance to the Preston family's predicament. Without warning she breaks off to scream loudly, and immediately we cut to Tom and a sheriff back at the Preston house in New Mexico discussing the disappearance of Ma, Pa, and Mark Preston. The sheriff seems completely unconcerned, despite the fact, as Tom points out, the Preston house was found to be in considerable disorder when they checked there. The sheriff's explanation? The storm did it. Tom is understandably upset with the sheriff's refusal to do anything. I'm wondering if this indifference will turn out to have a sinister meaning, although I also know that until fairly recently, law enforcement didn't put forth much effort in investigating the disappearance of adults unless there was clear evidence a crime had occurred. The thinking was that an adult had the legal right to pick up and leave whenever he felt like it, and it was nobody's business where he went as long as his disappearance wasn't related to anything illegal.
No one in this movie smiles, ever.
Somehow Julie's rambling remarks clued Tom in that his family's disappearance was connected to the ghost town in some way, although I couldn't tell you how. It appears that Tom called earlier and asked the sheriff to check the town, and the sheriff found nothing. He says he and his men are too busy dealing with the destruction left by the storm to help look around the ghost town again. Keenan Wynn, the actor who plays the sheriff, does some overacting himself here, and it sounds as though he may be improvising his dialogue. However, I'm beginning to feel some sympathy for the sheriff, since the ghost town is so tiny it was probably already thoroughly searched, and whatever happened to the Prestons, there's no evidence it was connected to the ghost town.
Keenan Wynn just wants to keep Tom away from the soda machine...no one will get that.
Tom and Julie, who's been hanging around but not saying anything, go into the house, where Grandpa Preston greets them. Okay, what's going on? Earlier when Mark found that his mother was gone, he also found his grandfather hanging upside down from the ceiling with blood all over his face. Surely this would be enough to convince the sheriff that foul play was involved in the disappearance of the Prestons? And come to think of it, why didn't Corbis take Grandpa, too? Although Grandpa is feeble, he seems coherent and able to tell what happened to him, but there's no evidence he said a word to anybody. Why didn't he tell his story to the sheriff? But Grandpa doesn't bother to tell Tom either, and he watches silently as Tom and Julie drive off in a remarkably beat-up car. I mean, Tom's a scientist of some sort and seems to have funding for his research, surely he could afford a better car, or at least afford a new paint job for this one. Grandpa is clutching the book of contention as Tom drives away. Does Tom not know the book's significance?
Maybe someone should get Grandpa some medical attention?
Were you thinking Mark was dead? So was I, but we find out it isn't so. Corbis has him chained down on a slab and is asking him repeatedly where the book is. Mark refuses to tell. Corbis threatens him with hell, offers him a beautiful woman, and shows him his zombified mother, but it's no-go. Corbis finally tells him that the "vessel is prepared" and the "journey is about to begin." Mark must suspect, and so do I, that this doesn't mean anything good, and he screams and falls off the table. As he does, we can see that he's actually chained to a cross, which might have been a very effective sight if we'd been given more than a glimpse of it.
Corbis is not a happy demon.
Shortly thereafter, Tom and Julie arrive at the ghost town. As Nate said, I think this is a genuine abandoned town, or more accurately a small cluster of buildings. These aren't that uncommon in the Southwest. I suspect that the filmmakers enhanced it a little to make it look more old-Western, since the buildings don't seem in bad enough shape to date from the time when the hitching rails we see were a common feature. I also see intact glass in some windows, further evidence that this town hasn't been abandoned that long. Tom doesn't see anything strange when he looks around, although we see a couple of things that let us know that Evil is present: a shadowy figure moves away from a window as Tom approaches, and a rocking chair has a knife stuck into one of its armrests.
Lots of wide lapels in this movie.
Tom gives up on the buildings for now, but as he drives away, he spots the church and stops to investigate. As he and Julie walk toward it, Julie remarks that the church doesn't belong there. She's right, such a tiny town wouldn't be likely to have a church complete with steeple. Tom is worried enough so that he carries a rifle we haven't seen before. As he walks up the church steps and reaches for the door handle, there's some genuine suspense, then Tom opens the door (which isn't locked), he and Julie walk in, and find...nothing. At first. Then they spot the stained-glass window with the Devil's head on it, and it dawns on them that this isn't your usual church. By the way, I have no idea how they can see to walk, since the windows are boarded over except for the Devil's-head one, and the sun isn't shining through it. They see a large wooden cross leaning against the altar, and Tom pulls away the blanket covering it to reveal...nothing. However, the stained-glass window, the pentacle on the wall, and the peculiar statues on the altar do clue Tom in that something other than the Christian God is being worshipped here. (There's also the outline of a large pig's head on the wall which breaks the mood some, since it would look perfectly appropriate on a sign advertising Leroy's Real Downhome Bar-B-Q and doesn't look at all scary.) Then Julie finds a puddle of melted wax that resembles the one they found at the Preston house (the remains of poor zombie Pa Preston). Then Tom finds Mark's shirt, which for some reason has "PRESTON" written on it in large red letters. They're staring at the letters when two shots ring out from outside the church.
Written in blood? Never answered.
They run outside to see that their car is on fire (not much of a loss). The car's on fire for real, which might be why the actor had such a beat-up car in the first place. He and Julie are watching their car burn, when the Preston station wagon, recognizable by the "P" on its side, zooms by, nearly hitting them. Tom fires a couple of shots at it, although it seems to me he should have held his fire until he could be sure it wasn't a family member driving it. They run after the car, to see it crash into a porch and the driver jump out and run inside the house. They follow him in, Tom with his rifle at the ready. They spend too much time walking slowly through the empty house, but the monotony is finally broken when a dark-haired man springs out of a bedroom and tries to escape downstairs. Tom catches him and after a bit of a struggle subdues him. The man is another blank-faced zombie, but neither Tom nor Julie remarks on this, not even when orange flames start burning in his eye sockets.
I could do this better with MS Paint.
Julie is a bit preoccupied, though, by visions of a book, and we cut to an orange-illuminated room where Corbis in Pilgrim clothes addresses a group of people also dressed as though they just got off the Mayflower. The book, he announces portentously, is missing. It appears that this book contains the signatures of these people, who have pledged their allegiance to Satan. Corbis states that if the book isn't found, none of these people will go to Hell when they die. Right away this gives me an idea of why the book is missing, but Corbis acts as though going to Hell is the greatest thing in the world. Oh, dear -- one of the men is Mark. The scolding is interrupted by a knock on the door, which Corbis opens to reveal a crowd of people carrying torches and looking very unfriendly. He turns on the smarm and tries to talk his way out of it, but the leader brings forward a woman (Julie) to bear witness to his evilness. It appears that she's the one who took the book. It also turns out that Pilgrim Julie is married to Pilgrim Mark. Corbis has just enough time to give a few objects, which must be especially Satanic, to a little boy who manages to escape moments before the angry crowd breaks in. The crowd promptly drags everyone out and burns them at the stake, including Mark and Julie, but not before Corbis puts a curse on Mark and Julie's descendants. This is not historically accurate -- the Puritans executed witches by hanging, not by burning them at the stake, but it does make for a more dramatic scene.
PuritanVision comes factory installed with an orange lens filter.
Julie eventually pulls out of it and says they'd better leave, which they do, forgetting all about looking for Mark and leaving the zombie just lying on the floor (he seems to be unconscious or dead). Of course their own car was burned up, but fortunately for them the Preston station wagon is still drivable, although at this point it's pretty beat-up, too. As Tom and Julie drive away, we can hear weird chanting in the background, but it's not clear if they do. I don't think so, I think they'd be a lot more scared if they did. After a few minutes, Tom stops the car, gets out, and starts walking back, even though Julie tells him that he can't go back there. I have to agree with her, the sight of that zombie should have suggested to him that something far outside of the ordinary was happening there, and it was time to back off and give some thought about what to do. Of course Julie's warning might have been more effective if the actress hadn't delivered it in the same quiet breathy monotone she's been using throughout the movie. And why didn't she bother to tell Tom about what she saw in her vision? At least Tom's still carrying the rifle, and we see him walking back to the town as Julie drives away.
Tom has a heavy burden to carry.
We're treated to a little more driving, but this time the drive is broken quickly by Zombie Ma rising up from the back seat. (Ma Preston, as it happens, is played by the once-A-list actress Ida Lupino, doing some serious slumming here. She also produced, directed, and wrote a number of successful movies. I wonder what she thought of this one.) Look, guys, remember, when you park your car in a haunted ghost town, always, always check the back seat before you get in. Julie forgot that simple rule, and she also forgot she was driving, since her response is to scream and cover her face with both hands. Natural under the circumstances, but not a good idea, since the car goes off the road, down a slope, and hits a tree. (From the gentle way the car hits the tree, I'd guess that whoever was driving was actually braking like crazy as the car went down the slope.) There's no sign of what happened to Julie.
This "scare" was telegraphed so obviously that it only made you laugh out loud.
The next scene opens with smoke rising in the background, and at first I thought that this car must have caught on fire too, but then we see robed, hooded figures carrying torches. They're chanting, and two of them are dragging a struggling Mark. This scene might actually have been scary if it hadn't been shot in broad daylight. It's been lit so the hooded figures are in shadow, but you can clearly see blue skies and sunlit ground around them. If this was a deliberate effect meant to be frightening, it failed miserably. By the way, for a man who's been tortured the way Mark has, he's putting up quite a fight, and his shirtless torso reveals no marks except for the pentacle that Corbis put there earlier. I also notice that Shatner hadn't been missing any meals, as Nate pointed out earlier. But where's Tom? Is he still walking back to the town? No, one of the hooded figures turns around, and we see that Tom has somehow acquired a robe of his own, and he's tagging along. He seems to have ditched the rifle.
Mark has seen his end and it's not pretty.
There's more chanting, and lots and lots of hooded figures assembling. Where did all these people come from? From what we've seen, the area is very sparsely populated. Is everybody in the county a member of Corbis' cult? If not, doesn't anybody notice a lot of people periodically gathering in the ghost town? Where do they all park their cars? However, now that I look closer, they don't seem to be in the ghost town. They've all assembled in a very large cave instead of the church, and Corbis has swapped out his red robes for black ones that are trimmed in what looks like white lace (!). The lace may have some Satanic significance, because after making his invocation, Corbis ducks out of the frame and reappears with what's supposed to be the head of a goat, complete with horns, in place of his own. This should be scary, but it actually looks like a grouchy gray-haired old man with horns pasted on his head, and that face over the lace-trimmed robe is more funny than frightening. Tom remains commendably calm during all this, as though things like this happen to him a lot.
Not a bad mask, even if the rubber horns jiggle a bit too much when he moves.
It appears that this isn't just the usual Satanic ceremony, it has a special purpose. You'll recall that Corbis mumbled something earlier about a vessel being prepared in connection with Mark, and it turns out that Mark isn't going to be put in a vessel, Mark is the vessel. Corbis' ceremony fills Mark's body with what is probably a demon. We can tell because he now has the empty eye sockets all the zombies have. Wait, I guess that means they're not zombies after all, they're actually possessed by demons. Of course this contradicts Ma's statement at the beginning of the movie that Zombie Pa wasn't Pa at all, and it doesn't explain why Pa's body melted. Hey, now that Mark's a demon, why doesn't he tell Corbis where The Book is?
Eeek, Shatner looks terrible here.
Tom's just been standing there while all this was going on, and his hood was far enough back on his head that you could see his entire face. I wondered why nobody spotted him as an intruder, but just now somebody does. An anonymous member of the congregation steps forward and points out that he's a stranger. Tom's a bit startled by this, and he's further distracted by the sight of his demonified mother, but he recovers, produces the rifle that he must have somehow been carrying under his robe, and starts shooting. By the way, the alert Satanist is played by John Travolta, who had had a few small parts before this movie was made but was still pretty much unknown. For another piece of trivia, Joan Prather, the horsy-looking actress who plays Julie, was the one who introduced John Travolta to Scientology.
He never really seems too worried about his mom, that's a bad son.
Tom gets out of the cave pretty easily, although he loses his rifle when he uses it to shove away a demon (was he out of bullets?), but somehow right after getting out of the cave, he ends up on the exterior staircase of a building in the ghost town! What just happened? Is the cave under the town? Can he run really fast? Has he learned to teleport? Tom makes his way inside the building, and the scene is so murkily lit I can't be sure what's going on, but it looks as though a hooded figure attacks him and he stabs it with something he found in the building. Any readers who wish to enlighten me may do so, watching this movie once was enough for me, and I'm not going back to try to figure out what happened. In fact, if you think I'm wrong about this or anything else that happened in this movie, I'll take your word for it. No way am I watching this movie again. But to get back to the action, Tom makes it out of town without further incident and gets home somehow, because in the next scene it's daylight and he's on the porch of the Preston house.
There's a couple of nicely framed shots in this movie, but just a few.
Dr. Richards is now there, and it seems that Julie has gone missing. The sheriff's looking for her, but Tom isn't optimistic that she'll be found. One contributing factor is that he feels the sheriff won't believe him when he tells him what happened last night. While this is probably true if Tom mentions the head transformation and the eyeless demons, surely it wouldn't be too hard for the sheriff to believe that there are some weird people doing strange stuff at the ghost town? That church should be proof enough. Dr. Richards is thumbing through The Book in a very casual way, and he points out some things in it to Tom, who has apparently never seen it. Mostly all that it contains are a bunch of signatures, but lest Tom mistake it for an antique autograph album, there's a sheet of paper conveniently in it that kindly explains that the names are those of people who sold their souls to Satan, and as long as Jonathan Corbis doesn't have it, he can't deliver their souls to Satan. There's also mention of someone suffering the tortures of the Devil's Rain, with no explanation of what that is. It's signed "Aaronessa Fyffe" and dated 1680. Tom and I are both asking why Corbis has taken so long to try to find the book, and I'm wondering how he's still around to do it when we saw him burned at the stake. Dr. Richards answers the first question by saying, "Maybe he was waiting for the right moment." I suppose this is as good an explanation as any. Tom takes one last look at the book, sees "Mark Preston" written at the end, and says it wasn't there yesterday, although we'll just have to take his word for that since we didn't see him so much as touch the book yesterday.
What an odd name, Aaronessa, never seen that one before.
Tom storms off to try to find Julie, but he'd better hurry up, because she's being carried into the cave, in which Corbis is once again presiding. This time he's back in his red robes. Julie's in pretty much the same state she's been in most of the movie, quiet and passive to the point of almost seeming drugged no matter what's happening to her or around her. She's conscious but makes no attempt to move or make a sound. You know, this would be a good time for her to get that control over her involuntary nervous system and fire up the ESP. Some teleportation would help her here, or making a big rock fly up and hit Corbis on the head, or at least letting someone know where she is. She finally screams as Corbis anoints her with blood.
Where does a demon buy his clothes at, anyway?
Tom and Dr. Richards show up at the church in the ghost town, Tom clutching the rifle he must have retrieved somewhere along the line, and Dr. Richards carrying The Book. It seems like a really, really bad idea to bring it where Corbis is known to lurk, although maybe they're planning to trade the book for Julie. They do a little looking around, and Dr. Richards notices that a large metal pentacle on the floor isn't embedded in the floor, but can be lifted up to reveal what appears to be a large blue ball with horns and feet. They pick it up, and a frontal view shows that it's more like an oval blue TV set with a goat's head on top. Somehow Dr. Richards knows that it's a container for souls, and the writhing figures seen on what would be a TV screen if this were a TV are actually the souls that are trapped inside. Tom just instinctively knows that this is "the Devil's Rain" (catchy name!) that the letter referred to, although if there's one thing it doesn't remind me of, it's rain.
Crappy insert effects tell the tale.
Just then, who should saunter in but the sheriff. Tom greets him matter-of-factly, but the sheriff responds by attacking Tom with an axe, which Tom parries with his trusty rifle. I knew the sheriff's reluctance to search for the Preston family meant something! Dr. Richards grabs the sheriff and throws him into the pit under the floor, which causes flames to shoot up. What is in that pit anyway? We may never know, because the action cuts to the cave, with Corbis leading a procession, among which is Julie, now, or maybe still, tied to a wooden cross carried by four husky hooded figures. She's moving a little but doesn't say anything. Back at the church, Tom and Dr. Richards waste no time pondering the sheriff's fate but start to leave, carrying the Devil's Rain with them, but not, it would seem, The Book. What happened to it? They reach the front door and look out to see...oh, no, more people carrying torches. The movie's set in 1975, why can't these people use flashlights?
Not to mention Eddie Albert's eyesight is so poor he can't see at night
(how is he supposed to read his cue cards!?!).
It is, of course, Corbis and his congregation carting Julie into the church. I don't know why they couldn't have saved themselves a lot of trouble by doing the blood anointing inside the church, but whatever. I'm not an expert on Satanic rituals, after all. If you'll recall, just minutes ago Tom and Dr. Richards pulled the cover off the pit in the floor, and they didn't bother to replace the cover after the sheriff was dumped in. This is extremely obvious, since there's a fire of some sort inside the pit, but Corbis and Co. continue with their procession toward the altar and don't seem to notice, even though the pit's directly in their path. Perhaps fortunately for Corbis, Tom can't hold back any longer, and he rushes to save Julie. Tom's rifle has been in the habit of appearing and disappearing, and sadly for him it's gone right now. Two men, one quite elderly, against a bunch of whatever-they-ares don't seem to have much chance in hand-to-hand combat, and a rifle would have come in handy, even though Tom seems to use it mostly like a club. Indeed, he's caught in short order, although Dr. Richards hung back and is still free for now, and still has the Devil's Rain. I still don't see The Book. Mark is one of Tom's captors, and he takes a few seconds to give Tom a long, searching look. Mark moves away when...oh, I do not believe this! Remember John Travolta, who spotted Tom as a ringer earlier? Well, those empty eye sockets of his must be exceptionally sharp, because he found the book -- the book that is keeping who knows how many people out of the Devil's clutches, the book that the Prestons faithfully kept hidden for 300 years, the book whose location Mark refused to reveal even under torture -- LYING ON THE FLOOR WHERE DR. RICHARDS LEFT IT!!! Yes, after being vitally important for the first part of the movie, it's now become just another musty old book.
I wonder what the ISBN number is.
However, Dr. Richards is undaunted and steps forward to save the day. He seems completely unembarrassed about losing The Book, but he still has the Devil's Rain. The trapped souls are moaning louder than ever, and when you look closely, you can see what first appeared to be poor TV reception is actually some sort of liquid falling on the people. Hence the Devil's Rain, I suppose. He threatens to destroy the Devil's Rain unless Corbis releases Tom and Julie (it seems Mark and Ma have been written off completely, but if their souls are in the container, couldn't they be restored?) But the man who was dumb enough to leave The Book just lying around hasn't gotten any smarter, and Demon Mark is able to take the container away from him. Dr. Richards begs him to destroy the container so his soul will be freed and Corbis orders him not to, and both have started calling him "Martin Fyffe." Both Eddie Albert and Ernest Borgnine gnaw quite hard on the scenery here, and maybe because he can't stand the corniness anymore, Mark ends up hurling the container into the pit.
Tom is going to need some therapy after all this.
The container, which is perhaps two feet tall, duly breaks, and collateral damage is unexpectedly severe. In fact the church roof collapses, revealing to everybody that it's now raining outside. What does a little rain matter, I ask, but if you'll remember the start of the movie, Pa Preston came home in the rain and dissolved into a puddle of wax. It was hinted then that Corbis had caught him and produced an animated wax dummy that just looked like Pa, but we find out that this wasn't the case. It seems that the demon bodies dissolve when they get wet. Why? Earlier we saw a demon being put into Mark's body. Does the mere presence of a demon change the composition of the body to something that falls apart when it gets wet? A quick shot of the church exterior shows that most of its roof is still intact (in fact, all of its roof looks intact), but the demons, being idiots I guess, choose to huddle under the part of the church that's open to the sky, where they all dissolve. By the way, contrary to what Dr. Richards promised Mark, he still doesn't seem to have his soul, and neither do any of the other demons. Corbis has turned back into the goat, but it doesn't help.
Stuff blows up real good.
While the demons are screaming and melting, Tom and Dr. Richards are untying Julie. Corbis grabs Tom and comes within an eyelash of throwing him into the pit, but just in time, the rain has its effect, and Corbis collapses and falls in himself, causing a burst of flames that sets what's left of the church on fire. Tom, Julie, and Dr. Richards seize the chance and beat it out the door, where there are even more demons lurching around and melting. It doesn't appear that breaking the Devil's Rain did any of them any good. And why were the souls in the container anyway? The whole first part of the movie claimed that as long as Corbis had the book, the people whose names were in it were safe from Satan (although by now they'd all be dead, and presumably either with him anyway or gone where he can't get at them). Mark and Ma Preston are forgotten and must have melted along with everybody else. As the melting goes on, the camera gets closer to the agonized demons, which wasn't a good idea. The closeups show that it was most likely butterscotch and pistachio instant pudding they were leaking, and the cleanup after that scene must have been a horrendous chore.
Still, gotta love these old school, pre-CGI practical effects.
The scenes of the demons collapsing, moaning, and slowly melting go on way too long, but eventually we see Tom and Julie, safe and hugging each other in the rain. But what usually happens at the end of this kind of movie? That's right, there's a twist that shows the principal characters didn't really escape after all. And so it happens here, because as Tom and Julie are hugging, the camera moves around to Tom's back, and we can see that it's Corbis he's hugging. Not only that, but we cut to Julie behind glass, screaming for help as some kind of liquid rains down on her. Okay, this gives us a cheap scare, but it makes no sense at all, based on what we've learned from the movie. If Corbis could transform himself all along, why couldn't he have transformed himself into one of the Prestons and found out where the book was kept? And just a few minutes ago, he melted when the rain hit him, why doesn't he melt now? And how could Julie be inside the Devil's Rain when it was just destroyed? And what kind of a moron is Tom anyway, to be unable to tell the difference between a large middle-aged man and a petite young woman when he's hugging him/her?
Alright, that's creepy.
This movie started out to be a not-too-bad low-budget horror movie, and it could have achieved that, but something must have happened near the end of filming. The last twenty minutes or so almost completely ignore what happened earlier in the movie. William Shatner's character, who started out being a chief player, dwindles to almost nothing, and the once crucially-important Book also becomes just a side item. I wonder if somebody didn't have an idea along the lines of, "We may have hit a dead end with that book. If Corbis does get it, what happens then? I know, let's say that there's a bunch of souls trapped and suffering torment from a burning liquid that continually rains down on them! We can build a spooky-looking thing to be the soul container! And then we can call the movie The Devil's Rain, how cool is that? " Unfortunately, besides giving the movie a title and providing an excuse for a long-drawn-out scene of demons in agony, this idea doesn't do much to help out the movie. There must not have been enough time or money to go back and reshoot to bring the first part of the movie into accordance with the ending, so they decided to chuck continuity and hope nobody would notice. Among other problems, it ignores the question of how the Prestons got The Book in the first place. As best I can figure out, back in 1680 Mark was Martin Fyffe and Julie was Aaronessa Fyffe, but there's no hint as to how they were able to pass the book on to the Prestons, since they were both burned at the stake immediately after capture. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure Julie was supposed to be Aaronessa Fyffe , since IMDb lists another actress as playing that part. The minister who led the lynch mob probably got the book from Aaronessa, but nobody mentions his name. Would it have been so hard to throw in a line where somebody calls him Reverend Preston, or for that matter to have called the couple Martin and Aaronessa Preston? Martin's reincarnation, if that's what it was, doesn't seem to have any relevance to the plot, except maybe to allow Julie to remember what happened in 1680, and she was supposed to have developed her special ESP powers as part of a scientific experiment, anyway. This is unless Julie was reading the demon's mind and saw what happened in 1680 that way, but the demon sure looked dead when he hit the floor, and Tom and Julie acted as though he was dead.
Immortal Puritan Devil Corbis never really got much of a backstory either,
and he really needed one.
Other problems: if demons disintegrate when a little water hits them, how do they manage to survive any length of time, especially since they don't seem (hee, hee) to have enough sense to come in out of the rain. I've brought this up before, but it's difficult to believe a bunch of weird-looking people could go unnoticed in an area that seems to have so few inhabitants that strangers must stick out like sore thumbs, especially strangers that wear long black robes and have empty eye sockets. Oh, and what was up with the sheriff? He had eyes, so he couldn't be a demon, but we were shown no connection between him and Corbis. I could go on and on, but everything I could say would be summed up by: This movie doesn't make any sense. Either whoever made it was under such pressure there was no time to even attempt a coherent plot (possible, since those well-known actors must have eaten up a lot of the movie's budget, not to mention that nobody's giving away instant pudding), or several people wrote this movie and nobody was willing to alter his section to make it agree with anybody else's. And this is a shame, because if some care had been taken to write a decent script, this movie could have been a good little cheapie horror movie, something like Black Noon. As it is, it's a well-known joke among bad-movie aficionados. This movie was directed by Robert Fuest, and it seems to have derailed his once-promising career. Seriously, I wonder what happened to him to make such a bad movie. He'd done some good work before, but a quick Google search doesn't turn up any explanation for why his skills went downhill so drastically.
Seriously, look at that cast list, you'd think they could have used all that talent better.
This isn't a complaint, more of an observation: somebody who had a lot of influence on the movie must have really, really admired Hieronymus Bosch. The opening credits are accompanied by shots of Bosch's paintings and last longer than necessary, and that prolonged scene with the melting demons was directly inspired by them. Although the scene is relevant to the movie, it went on way too long and became quite repetitious, so it must have had some special significance to somebody. Wikipedia says that director Robert Fuest had "a passion for painting," so this scene may be his tribute to Bosch. As one last comment, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, served as technical advisor to this movie. If so, it makes both him and the Church of Satan look bad, although I've read some things about him, and he seems to have been of the "There's-no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity" school of thought. He may have been wrong about that.
Crazyass Anton LeVay had a kid and named him
Satan Xerxes Camacki LeVay, I shit you not.
Nate, do you have any comments you'd like to make?
Thanks, Pam. Well, I'm sure what else I can add, other than to say that this movie was one recast (Borgnine) away from being a pretty good movie. The exteriors and location shoots were excellent, the dialogue was on par for the era, Tom Skerritt really knocked it out of the park, and even the music was acceptable. But, seriously, Ernest Borgnine? Really?
Written in January 2013 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
comments powered by Disqus
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...