Movie Review: The Devil’s Rain

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The Devil’s Rain (1975)
Directed by Robert Fuest
Starring Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn.

Back in the day when I was eagerly eating up any and all horror films I could get my hands on, I tended to laugh off this title, mainly because of the thought of Ernest Borgnine playing an evil character. From his days of McHale’s Navy, I just couldn’t see him being scary, let alone some demonic entity. But this film changed all of that.

The film starts out with the credits showing over Bosch’s beautiful and disturbing artwork of devils and demons before going to a local ranch house in the pouring rain, with the family waiting for the father to return. Ida Lupino plays the nervous mother, and William Shatner is the son. When the father does show up, he tells them to give Corbis (Borgnine) back his book, that rightly belongs to him. And then proceeds to melt away in the rain. How does that grab you for an opening?

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The next day, much to his mother’s dismay, Shatner goes to find Corbis at an old abandoned ghost town. This is one of my favorite sequences in the movie. Borgnine plays the scene so straight and almost friendly. But underneath this calm demeanor, you can sense the seriousness and deep evil of the character, where the threats are there under the surface. And that is when he becomes scary. Very scary. When Shatner never returns, the younger son of the family, played by Tom Skerritt, and his wife arrive to help. They soon learn, in a great flashback sequence, of the ancient curse that has been haunting their family for years and years.

The film has an all-star cast that really brings up the film higher than it normally would, with this subject matter. Not only do we have Lupino, but we also have Eddie Albert coming in as an Occult expert who tries to help the family defeat this evil. Even 70’s regular Keenan Wynn makes an appearance as the local sheriff.  Shatner does do his usual over acting bit, but not as much as he’s really known for. Yea, John Travolta is in here, as the front of the box proudly promotes. But he is really only in a few scenes, and has the eye-less makeup on. You can tell it’s him, but barely.

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I’m not really sure why this film sometimes gets the “it’s so bad it’s good” moniker. Sure, Shatner is Shatner, but I think everything else is played pretty straight, and done well. I still think Borgnine plays a great evil character here, and is highly memorable and should go down in cinema history as playing one hell of a badass! If there was any reason to check out this movie, it would be for him. Filmed in beautiful 2.35:1 ratio, giving us great wide landscape shots, it really puts the mood of being out in the middle of no-where. 

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The makeup was done by Ellis Burman Jr. and are really some of the best melting effects that I’ve seen. Keep in mind, this was made back in 1975, but they are gruesome, gory, and realistic. The “eyeless” makeup on the cult followers is just awesome and give off such an eerie quality. Usually the forehead it built out so much that it distorts the face, but here it is kept to a minimum, and it gives truly a haunting image. Of course, let’s not forget the demon makeup for Borgnine, making it (and him) a very memorable demon. But again, the real highlight is the melting effects. I don’t know how long it must have taken them to shoot those scenes, but it must have been grueling for those actors. Truly unforgettable.

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Directed by Robert Fuest, the man responsible for the giving us the two Dr. Phibes movies, as well as the 1070 thriller And Soon the Darkness. Fuest just gives us this simple tale of a man who wants something returned to him that belongs to him. Seems simple enough, right?

This film is definitely a example of cinema at that time. From the way the film ends, to the look, and even down to the basic subject matter, this is pure ’70s gold. And to think this actually got a theatrical release! Ah…those were the days.

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