dir. Robert Fuest
"That devil's rain, that's new to me. I've never heard of that."
-Dr. Sam Richards
As any reader of my blog knows, I occasionally get obsessed with random movie sub-genres (killer animals, disco pictures, blaxploitation, etc...) for a few weeks and then quickly lose interest. Although some might say that my movie love is quite ADD, I prefer the term eclectic; it sounds more sophisticated. This is not to say that I lose interest in said genres forever. Far from it, my love goes in cycles. Indeed, my latest infatuation, seventies Satan flicks, started when I was quite young. Although this could be traced to the time I saw The Exorcist at a friend's house when I was ten, the genesis more likely came from my early love for the Joe Dante directed/Tom Hanks starring horror comedy The 'burbs [easily, the best work of either of their careers]. Along with Back to the Future and Superman, I probably saw this more than any other movie while growing up. Indeed, when I saw the Peter Fonda vehicle Race With the Devil many years later, I had a major moment of Deja Vu, as a clip from the Fonda picture was used prominently in the Dante movie.
Seventies horror was dominated by two major movements: the move towards brutal realistic horror as typified by such low budget films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, and the aforementioned Satan flicks. One explanation for the primacy of the former movement was the growing discontent with Vietnam, doubled with the fact that Americans now saw brutal footage from the war on the evening news. The rise of the latter sub-genre is most attributable to the double successes of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Producers went with sure money makers.
My interest in these supernatural flicks has grown despite, or maybe because of, the fact that they don't scare me. Something has to actually exist for me to be scared by it in a movie. Indeed, although it is a masterfully made film that I quite like, The Exorcist contains only one scene that still freaks me out, the spinal tap sequence. What I learned from The 'burbs, however, was that most Satan movies (The Exorcist excepted) work amazingly well as comedies. It is amazing to me that anyone would find such silliness scary.
Perhaps in an attempt to provide unintended humor to future lovers of cheese, director Robert Fuest and three screenwriters produced the Satanic uber-camp masterpiece The Devil's Rain. [Wow, three screenwriters! When there are that many people behind the typewriter, it's just gotta be good.] As a concoction of fallen/up and coming movie and TV stars, The Devil's Rain is second to none. With such performers as: Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert, Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, John Travolta, Tom Skerritt, and High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey; this film's cast seems like the product of a casting agent's fever dream. I think, were a calamity to befall the set, killing off the entire cast, the resulting rip in the space time continuum would have destroyed the universe.
This film concerns Tom Preston's (Tom Skerritt) attempts to rescue his parents (Ida Lupino and George Sawaya) and brother Mark (William Shatner) after they are abducted by Satanic priest Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine). The three hundred year old Corbis has hunted the Preston clan over the centuries, as they hold a book containing the names of all the souls that Corbis has captured for Satan over the years. Although it is not explained in the movie why Corbis covets this book so; apparently, it would seem that the uptight Satan is quite a stickler for paperwork. If he does not have the ledger containing all of his souls, the year end tax paperwork can be a real bitch. Tom's search leads him to the Satanic desert ghost town where Corbis resides. Shenanigans/face meltings ensue.
With the colorful cast that this film contained, it is not surprising that egos raged and personalities clashed. Indeed, things got quite testy on one of the many nights in which LaVey and Travolta went cruising for chicks. After several attempts at numerous bars, the duo finally landed at a hopping club with plenty of available women. Travolta managed to snare a couple of gals: Susan, a flight attendant, and Tisa, a receptionist at an ad agency. While Travolta worked on Susan, LaVey would attempt to work his magic on Tisa. Although Travolta tried to play wingman for LaVey, the high priest managed to shoot himself in the foot.
(Anton LaVey (right) seen here with his faithful manservant)
Tisa attempted some small talk with LaVey. "That's a pretty cool beard you got there. I love a man with facial hair."
"This is not a beard. This is a goatee, in honor of the goat, Beelzebub's chosen form. This is my tribute to my lord and master, the ruler over all."
Travolta, sensing that LaVey was in trouble, piped in. "Mr. L. you should tell her about the other day when the grip brought you cold coffee, and you said, 'in your face, basketcase.' It was like, unbelievable."
"Silence, mortal. No such doggerel would exit these lips."
The confused Travolta replied, "that's right, I said it. I like totally forgot."
Susan let out a hearty laugh. "Oh my God, Johnny, you're so funny. I can call you Johnny, right?"
Susan let out another hearty laugh and then made out with the future sweathog.
Tisa again attempted to engage the dark priest, "So what is it that you do? Anton, is it?"
"I command all the powers of hell at my fingertips. Does that frighten you?"
"Huh. So, uh like what does that involve? Are you-"
"I am a 12th level high priest in the dark church. The righteous tremble at my awesome power."
"Ok, cool. Priest, huh? Spiritual stuff. I can dig it. Yeah, I'm actually like really into like the zodiac and stuff and spiritualism. I feel like I'm really in tune with that spiritual stuff. You know what I mean?"
"I command you to go home with me."
Tisa let out a nervous laugh and then pulled Susan aside. "Alright, this is not cool. How is it that you always luck out, while I get stuck with the loser? You always go home with The Professor while I'm stuck trying to entertain Gilligan while he whines about being an inadequate man or some other such nonsense."
"First of all, if anyone's with Gilligan tonight, it's me."
"Well, he sure don't look it."
"Secondly, the professor was not a catch."
"What are you talking about? He was smart, he could fix anything and he was kinda sexy."
"On what planet? That man had dork written all over him. Listen, if you think The Professor was a catch, maybe there's a reason you attract that kind of guy."
"The professor wasn't a dork."
"He was a Professor. I think you'll have to come to terms with the fact that there weren't any decent men on that island."
"There's nothing wrong with being a professor. Smart men make more money."
"Look, Anton seems perfectly fine. Just give him a chance. Like you said, guys that dorky have to be rich."
Travolta interrupted them. "Like, oh my God, I've gone a whole minute without kissing someone." Susan went back to making out with Travolta.
Tisa let out an annoyed grunt and turned back to the over-excited Anton.
"By the power of Lucifer, I command you to remove your panties."
Tisa grabbed Susan and brought her to the bathroom.
The usually jovial Travolta was growing more annoyed. "Like, oh my God, Mr. L., these foxes are ready to go. You're gonna blow it for us."
"Satan commands you to disappear." LaVey threw a smoke bomb on the floor and was shocked when he saw that Travolta was still standing there.
"Mr. L. what are you doing? I don't think these girls are into magic tricks."
"This isn't magic. This is one of the dark arts. You have not begun to witness my power. As soon as I bed one these succubi, we will produce an army of hell-spawn to wreak havoc over the land."
"Mr. L., they're coming back. You gotta drop the dork talk."
The two women came back and pulled John aside. Tisa was blunt. "I gotta leave. I'm sick of your weird friend. King dork is getting me drier than the Mojave desert."
"Look, you gotta get to know him. He's like not that weird. I'll talk to him. Everything will be cool."
Travolta pulled Anton aside. "Mr. L. look, these girls really want-" Interrupting himself, Travolta pointed at the other end of the nightclub, "Hey, what's that over there?" The confused LaVey turned around. Travolta grabbed both girls and they fled the club to his hotel room. The three of them banged all night. LaVey later joined Borgnine and a few crew members in a circle jerk.
The Devil's Rain is one of those films that can't help but fall short of expectations. With such a cast, the movie one imagines this to be, is certain to exceed anything that any film crew could assemble. It is something best left to the imagination. Since LaVey served as the film's technical adviser, in addition to giving a small performance, The Devil's Rain also contains some unnecessary insight into the church of Satan. Apparently, Satanic black masses are just as boring as Catholic masses.
This is not to say that The Devil's Rain isn't entertaining as a whole. It produced quite a few laughs, mostly courtesy of Shatner's hamminess and Borgnine's maniacally over the top performance. The film is also full of unexpected charms. The desert sequences, for instance, are intended as obvious homages to the works of Sergio Leone. Although these scenes are certainly low rent Leone, the attempt at something grand is admirable. Honestly, though, any shortcomings the movie had were redeemed by the elaborate face melting sequence finale. It is also interesting that the film's three screenwriters/future youtube commenters could not come up with a grammatically correct tagline--"Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain". Apparently, it requires a lot of work to make crap this good.
[Side note: For those interested in watching this film for Travolta, his role here is actually quite small. I think he played one of Borgnine's possessed henchman, but to be honest, I didn't even notice him. I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to write a LaVey/Barbarino cruising for chicks story.]