Thursday, May 21, 2015

Final Girl Film Club - The Devil's Rain

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Satanists are prone to melting in this 1975 film.

The Devil's Rain is a film that I would say benefitted greatly from the names attached to it. Not that the high profile people involved were able to elevate the material, but their involvement draws attention to a film that otherwise might have sank deeply into obscurity.

Here we have Robert Fuest, the director of And Soon the Darkness 1970 and the Dr. Phibes duology, making a horror movie with a cast that includes William Shatner and Tom Skerritt as the heroes, Ernest Borgnine as the villain, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, and Keenan Wynn in supporting roles, and the theatrical feature debut of John Travolta. You hear a project has a pedigree like that, and you go into it expecting a treat. But despite its stars, The Devil's Rain doesn't shine very brightly.

After a four minute title sequence with the sound of wailing over images of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, padding out the movie's 86 minute running time, the film dives right into what seems to be the middle of a story. It's a dark and stormy night, the phones are out, and middle-aged Mrs. Preston (Lupino) is worrying that a recurring nightmare of hers has come true as her son Mark (Shatner) searches the countryside for his missing father.

Mark comes in from the storm and Mr. Preston soon turns up at the door on his own... with his eyes missing and his skin like melting wax. After warning that someone called Corbis wants a book that belongs to him, the man collapses and his body completely melts in the rain. That ain't natural.

Within minutes, Mrs. Preston has been abducted and the elderly family servant brutalized by people he claims "had no faces". To save his mother, Mark heads into the desert to confront Corbis in the abandoned mining town where he resides.

Corbis (Borgnine) is the leader of a Satanic cult who has a vendetta against the Preston bloodline. He and Mark have a battle of faiths, which Mark loses, as Corbis is so in tune with his dark lord that he has mystical abilities and can alter someone's perception of reality. For example, he can make Mark think that the protective amulet around his neck is actually a snake so Mark will take it off and throw it to the ground. Mark, like his mother, is captured by Corbis and his cult.

This leaves just two more Prestons out in the world, Mark's brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) and his wife Julie (Joan Prather), who have been working with Doctor Sam Richards (Albert) on his research into ESP. Mid-demonstration, Julie has a vision that clues them in to the fact that something has happened to Tom's family.

The couple head to the Preston family home, with Richards following soon behind, and it's through Julie's abilities that the back story between Corbis and the Prestons is revealed, a story that stretches back to the time of the witch trials, when Preston ancestors were part of Corbis's cult. That's when the book was stolen from Corbis. And when he was burned at the stake.

Ultimately, that is the only thing the ESP element brings to the table. It's simply a way to show the back story.

Dr. Richards is in the movie so he can learn all about Corbis and the book he's seeking - but we're not shown Richards receiving this information, it happens offscreen. Richards ends up being the person with the most knowledge of the situation aside from Corbis, and he just got here.

There are cult member attacks, car crashes, and more meltdowns, we discover what the devil's rain is (it's not the rain that people melt in, but a container full of wailing souls), and the film often has an odd, eerie atmosphere to it, but the feeling The Devil's Rain delivers most of all is tedium.

I really don't think The Devil's Rain is a very good movie. Given who was on the set, it's surprising what a subpar exploitation B-movie this is. The storytelling is exceptionally poor. There are three credited screenwriters, and the movie plays like they had no plan for the story going into it. It's like they would just pass the script along to each other scene-by-scene. One writer adds in ESP, the next writer has no real use for that nonsense. We've reached feature length, now let's wrap it up, just have that one character know everything already.

The cast has a lot to do with why The Devil's Rain is still remembered, but there is some very effective imagery in here as well. The kind of imagery that will stick in your mind regardless of the quality of what's around it. That imagery is of the eyeless faces, the melting people, and the form Corbis takes while conducting a Satanic ceremony - when Satan himself inhabits Corbis's body, he takes on a horned, goatman appearance that looks awesome. In fact, these images are enough for me to recommend horror fans check out The Devil's Rain. These are images they should see in action. Just don't expect to get much else out of it.

It's worth noting that the life casts made of the actors for the facial prosthetics used to achieve the eyeless look were done by a man named Don Post. William Shatner gets the eyeless treatment in the movie, and Post would later use the life cast he got of Shatner during the production of The Devil's Rain to create a mass marketed Captain Kirk mask. It was a Don Post Captain Kirk mask that received some modifications to become the mask of Michael Myers in John Carpenter's Halloween a few years later.

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