Friday, April 1, 2011

The Devil’s Rain (1975)


          Ernest Borgnine as a bug-eyed Satanist, complete with ram’s horns and a shaggy fright wig. Bit player John Travolta as a victim of supernatural forces, his eyes weeping blood and his face melting away. A shirtless William Shatner crucified, upside-down, in a church defiled by Satan worshippers. All this and more can be yours for the price of admission to The Devil’s Rain, a perpetual contender for the title of Worst Movie Ever Made, and therefore cinematic catnip for masochistic viewers. Directed by cult-fave Brit Robert Fuest, who cleverly blended camp and horror in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and therefore should have known better, The Devil’s Rain makes the fatal mistake of taking itself seriously. So even though Fuest’s innate artistry gives a few scenes visual grandiosity, The Devil’s Rain is dull and sluggish, and only the scenes of shameless scenery-chewer Shatner getting tortured achieve campy bliss.
          The big problems are the unnecessarily convoluted story and the lackluster production design. The backstory of the picture has something to do with a cult of Satanists who populate a ghost town in the American Southwest, performing human sacrifices in order to gain immortality or power or whatever; the current story depicts a family rebelling against the Satanists’ oppression, which leads Mark Preston (Shatner) to confront the bad guys. Not the smartest move. For reasons that strain credibility, Mark’s mom (Ida Lupino) owns a book that’s mystically connected to the Satanists’ power, so head villain Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) tries to exchange Mark’s life for the book. However Mark’s brother, Tom (Tom Skerritt), will have none of this, so he storms into town with a shotgun hoping to rescue his sibling. Also drawn into the overcooked mix are a local doctor (Sam Richards) and a local sheriff (Kennan Wynn).
          One might assume that The Devil’s Rain zips along with this much plot crammed into 86 minutes, but that’s not the case. Instead, the movie lumbers slowly because the filmmakers favor lengthy setpieces like people melting to death in what appears to be real time. Furthermore, the picture’s ghost-town sets are cheap and sparse, the shocker moments are so clumsy and obvious that tension never builds, and stiff acting by nearly the entire cast gives every scene a leaden quality.
          Through normally an energetic asset to any picture, Borgnine is a weak link, because he’s miscast as an aristocratic character in the classical mold—he looks ridiculous spouting verbose curses in monster drag. Even solid actors Lupino and Skerritt are hamstrung by the goofy goings-on. Only Shatner gets into the spirit of the thing, dropping to his knees and flailing and shouting like he’s playing grand opera—or at least Grand Guignol. Accordingly, the fact that he’s only in the movie for a total of about twenty minutes is a shortcoming.
          Still, there’s no denying that The Devil’s Rain comprises 86 of the weirdest minutes in ’70s cinema, even though it’s more of a slow-moving unnatural disaster than a high-speed train wreck. And as for the poster's claim that the flick features “absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever”? Let’s just say you can’t blame the hypesters who sold The Devil’s Rain for trying.

The Devil’s Rain: FREAKY

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