In the 1970s, there was a cultural rekindling of interest in Satanism, and in devil worship. Thanks to hits such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, along with the rise in popularity of Anton LeVey, many musicians, storytellers, and filmmakers began to capitalize or express enthusiasm for the topic. The Devil’s Rain feels like an attempt to cash in on all of this and to generate an American version of a Hammer style horror film, without the regal quality.
We are thrown into the middle of things with little clue of what the hell is going on. This is less In Media Res, more In Media Mess. There is an alarming amount of exposition in the opening exchanges, yet it’s useless as none of it makes sense and the people don’t talk like any actual person would, with plenty of ‘in the name of Satan’ and ‘old mine shaft’ talk. The creepy intro sets a suitable tone though, with ‘evil’ music and droning voices being quite effective. On the plus side, the opening scene does feature some guy’s face being melted away, but rather than focus on this we also get a voodoo doll, a mysterious book, some prophetic rambling about ‘this is how it always starts’, and a magic protective amulet. The movie sets these things up as if they are and will be significant – they’re not… much.
The film features Ernest Borgnine, the least likely evil doer in history, as some sort of immortal satanic warlock priest. For generations he has been trying to acquire a mystical book which will give him… even greater powers? A local family apparently keeps this book, all until William Shatner decides to foolishly challenge Borgnine and is promptly defeated and converted. Enter Tom Skerritt, an outsider of the family, appears out of nowhere and attempts to save the day. It’s all very weird, the editing is jarring, little makes sense, the atmosphere and tone shifts wildly and dubiously – we get a hilarious scene featuring Shatner running away from hooded goons one moment, Tom Skerrit teaching a dull science class the next, but it’s not without some scares and tension which may affect a younger or more susceptible viewer. Naturally, there’s a twist ending too.
For such an old film, it’s interesting that so many well known faces turn up – Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, and even Anton LeVey himself turn up and some point. John Travolta makes a cameo, but you probably won’t notice him as he isn’t dancing – if he was it wouldn’t be any less bizarre than what does transpire. The performances aren’t bad… they’re just there – Borgnine actually is a charming, eye-sparkling villain, Skerritt is stoic, Shatner isn’t full Shatner yet. With all this criticism you’d be asking yourself why to watch – it’s a cult film, and it’s a little camp, and it’s interesting that it even exists. If you’re a fan of cult movies, of the curio, of horror in general, it’s worth seeing once to say you’ve seen it.
Let us know in the comments what you think of The Devil’s Rain and if you feel it’s more enjoyable than what I have said!