William Shatner's back for a second week in the Midnight Movie of the Week spotlight, but this time he's just a small reason I'm talking about a kooky '70s desert-based horror. This week we're talking about The Devil's Rain, which allows one of my all-time favorite actors (and possibly one of my all-time favorite people, even though I've never met him) to lead a Satanic cult through a demented plot.
That actor is the unmistakable Ernest Borgnine, who gained my love through roles like the lead character in the Oscar winning romance Marty and the memorable Cabbie from Escape from New York. But The Devil's Rain lets him - under the "techinical" guidance of real-world Satanist cult leader Anton LaVey - take on a heavy role as the high priest of a dangerous church. His character, Corbis, turns out to be more than 200 years old, and is still leading in his attempts to get revenge on a family that once betrayed him.
The first antagonist from that family - at least that is shown in the film, which means that nothing too memorable must have happened in the last 200 years of him torturing the family - is Mark Preston, played by The Shat. We meet him as the film opens, and are quickly made to know that Corbis has some kind of power over his family. How do we know that? Well, we know that because Mark's dad's face melts.
The result is a showdown in the desert between Borgnine's Corbis and Shatner's Mark, which the satanist dubs "a battle of faith". Using plenty of conjurer's tricks, Corbis defeats and enslaves Shatner, which leads to two things. In the film, it leads to Tom Skerritt and his attractive young wife (Joan Prather) teaming up with an expert (Eddie Albert) to try and get to the bottom of things and stop Corbis' reign. In the world of horror, Shatner's capture leads to him wearing a cheesy looking mask....the same mask that would be painted white and become the face of Michael Myers three years later.
The rest of the eighty-six minute film - whose plot moves swiftly and carelessly and often doesn't make a lot of sense - focuses on the trio of Skerritt, Prather, and Albert and their attempts to stop Corbis, while Corbis performs ceremonies on Shatner and a young John Travolta and turns into a horned demon. Certain critics have stated that The Devil's Rain doesn't really have enough material in it to be a full feature film, and they're probably right - especially when you get to the end of the film and realize that the climax happens with about 12 minutes left and the rest of the film is the chaotic aftermath.
The titular Devil's Rain is a glass jar/crystal ball lookin' thing that holds the souls of Corbis' slaves, and it plays heavily into the film's final act. At this point in the proceedings we know that everything the film offers is pretty ridiculous - as a Christian, there's a voice inside me that says "What did you expect from a movie whose technical consultant invented a Satan religion?"- but there's a kitschy charm throughout the film thanks to the cast. Director Robert Fuest was no stranger to campy cult flicks - he'd previously directed both Dr. Phibes films with Vincent Price - so he handles things admirably when you consider the script. (I also can't believe that it took three people to write this thing.) Unfortunately, the film's poor reception from critics and failures at the box office pretty much ended Fuest's genre feature career.
It sounds like I'm dissing The Devil's Rain a lot here, and that certainly wasn't my intention when I started typing this. You see, despite all its silly flaws, there's certainly a one-of-a-kind charm to Fuest's film. I attribute much of that to Borgnine, who buys in to the role and makes Corbis a menace throughout the film, and the rest of the cast, and the director's willingness to let things spiral out of control as the film goes on. The effects might not hold up - those masks on the members of Corbis' congregation do the film no favors - and the plot may be lacking, but fans of Satanic cinema will find some great images and fun performances throughout this one.
I've just experienced The Devil's Rain for the first time this week, so the fact that I'm sitting here and talking about it right now is a pretty strong testament regarding the film. I'm willing to give a lot of its more obvious shortcomings a pass. The short run-time ensures that the film doesn't overstay its welcome, and the odd chain of events that we see through the film is certainly unique and interesting. And it has Borgnine. And that's pretty much enough to keep me interested in checking out The Devil's Rain again when I'm craving some cheesy '70s satanism and some diabolical Borgnine goodness.