In the wake of all those very intense (and weird and problematic) Brian De Palma movies, I wanted something very different for my next entry in It’s All Connected 2020. I also really enjoyed seeing vintage John Travolta in Blow Out, so his was the first page I began going through on IMDb. There I found a real doozy of a picture called The Devil’s Rain that is a star-studded Satanic romp featuring Ernest Borgnine as a cult leader and brothers Mark and Tom — played by William Shatner and Tom Skerritt — opposing him! This film also marked the first film appearance by John Travolta (though I don’t think you can actually see him), the first appearance of an iconic horror mask AND the first time Ernest Borgnine threw up the devil horns. And it’s streaming on Amazon Video right now!
In addition to the actors I already mentioned, this film also features Ida Lupino as Shatner and Skerritt’s mom, Eddie Albert (from Green Acres!), Keenan Wynn as the sheriff and even founder of the Church of Satan himself Anton LaVey (who was also a technical advisor)! As you can imagine, I was very excited as I took all of this in, but the absolutely delicious icing on the cake was the fact that Devil’s Rain was helmed by Robert Fuest who did the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes movies! I could not have pressed play faster.
Okay, so here’s the deal. Mark (Shatner) is with his mom (Lupino) and they’re both worried about their missing father/husband. Mark’s ready to roll out and track down this Corbis fellow (Borgnine) and get pops back. At that point, a strange looking version of dad shows up without eyes and begins to melt! Corbis wants a book that Mark’s family has, so he drives off and hides it before rolling into a ghost town that plays home to Corbis’ Satanic crew. He gets snatched, but then Tom gets involved and starts tracking down his brother.
I really enjoyed the wild and chaotic vibe of this film. Plot-wise, it reminds me of a Hammer film, but then it’s got this very American setting which is very cool. On the outside, the Satanic church looks like any one you’d see in a western. Once they go inside, though, it’s this huge, awesome place of darkness with a huge altar and these great stained-glass windows. Plus, it’s filled with all these creeps in hoods with no eyes. Such great imagery!
The parts with Skerritt running around trying to figure out what’s going on are less interesting, but the film is just shy of 90 minutes, so it moves along at a pretty solid clip. By the end, you’ve got this huge, epic black sabbath with the family getting back together for a bummer of a reunion while everyone tries to lay claim to The Devil’s Rain, the vase holding the souls Corbis collected over time.
The following is a bit spoilery, but might also make you want to watch the movie, because it’s awesome. After throwing up the devil horns, Borgnine eventually turns into a goat-ish demon guy which is a pure delight to see. Shatner also falls under his sway, so he gets the eyeless look like the rest of the minions. Here’s why this is cool and historical! Look at the above image and then think about iconic slasher masks. The Devil’s Rain is responsible for the Michael Myers mask! Don Post worked on the mold for this film which he later reused to make a Captain Kirk mask. That was what the Halloween crew used to create Myers’ iconic look. I read that bit of trivia on IMDb before getting to this scene, but I recognized it right away! For that alone, I consider Devil’s Rain a must-watch.
Gang, I loved this movie. That cast is perfect, the plot is wild and unique. There are some killer gloppy effects, which get the spotlight at the end for WAY longer than expected. But it sounds like the behind the scenes of this film are even more interesting. Again, according to IMDb, Borgnine thought the picture was bankrolled by mobsters. This was also supposedly the film on which Travolta was first introduced to Scientology. Plus, can you imagine what it was like for all of these actors to be isolated in the middle of nowhere together? I bet it was wild! Unfortunately, the film was a bomb that may have ruined Fuest’s career, which is a damn shame because he had such a unique way of putting films together that can be fun and silly while also being very scary.
Up next, I went very obvious as a way to get into one of my all-time favorite actors. You can probably already guess who it is! Find out tomorrow…if you dare!