Friday, January 21, 2011

Film Review: The Devil's Rain - 2009

A 2009 review of one dilly of a horror movie, if you can forgive my extreme language. As the poster ungrammatically says, "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!":

This movie is a goodie--The 1975 film The Devil's Rain, starring a Love Boat-esque cast: Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, William Shatner, Ida Lupino, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn, and, in his first film, John Travolta!

The opening credits run over a series of Hieronymous Bosch paintings, a nice touch:


...ok, there is one credit in this movie that you probably wouldn't see on
The Love Boat:
Not only is High Priest of the Church of Satan Anton LaVey the technical advisor to this movie, he's also in it! I'm trying to picture Anton LaVey applying for a SAG card.

Anyway, the movie is about a cult of devil worshippers operating out in the desert. It opens with Ida Lupino (that makes me sad, typing that) distressed that her husband has disappeared. She calls her son, Mark (William Shatner), to try and find him--she's worried he's been grabbed the weird cult that's hanging around.

Mark dismisses this, but pretty quickly we see that, yep, Dad's in a lot of trouble:

...I hope you like this melting effect, because you're going see a lot of it in this movie.

The father dies, melting into a puddle in the rain. Shatner and Lupino go back inside, where he prepares to find the leader of the cult:

"I'll show that punk J.J. Abrams a thing or two."

The next day, Shatner drives to the spooky ghost town where the church resides, and pretty quickly he meets the head of the cult, Jonathan Corbis, played by Ernest Borgnine, in an intro scene that is mostly about cowboy hats:
Turns out the reason the cult is targeting this family is that they possess an ancient book that is an artifact of the cult, and they want it back. The cult eventually grabs Shatner and Lupino, turning them into mindless zombies.

After that, the family's other son, Tom (Tom Skerritt), investigates to see what's going on, along with his wife Julie (Joan Prather). They snoop around the town, and are attacked by another member of the cult, Danny, played by John Travolta:

...we never see the future Vinnie Barbarino without his creepy black eye sockets, so its hard to see that it is Travolta. And he really doesn't have any lines outside of grunting, so it was hardly an auspicious start.

Anyway, it turns out that Julie is some sort of psychic, and has the ability to see into the past. Looking into the eye sockets of Danny, she sees the past, back into the 1600s, when the cult ran afoul of the local, God-fearin' townspeople.

This sequence is pretty goofy, what with Shatner wearing a puritan-style wig, but the way the movie chooses to visually represent Julie's ability to see the past is nifty:

...that's a great, simple way to convey this: just having Julie, in her modern clothes, sitting by as if she's watching all this transpire. Another nice touch.

Like I said, the cult runs afoul of the townspeople, and they show up to burn the cult and its hideout to the ground:

"We're here to discuss healthcare reform!"

Turns out this past lives version of Mark Preston had a wife that double-crossed the cult, to save her own life and her husband's, so as they burn Jonathan Corbis he laughs and promises revenge.

Back in the present day, Tom decides to infiltrate the cult, and sends Julie off to where its safe. But they grab Julie, and prepare to use her as a sacrifice. Its here the movie really breaks the Goofy Meter.

During the ritual, Jonathan Corbis transforms into...

(Wow, those McHale's Navy wrap parties got wild!)

Tom gets the help from a Dr. Richards (Eddie Albert), who is an expert in the occult. While sneaking around the cult's church, they find a giant orb that seems to house all the souls of all the people the cult has enslaved (looking a little like The Phantom Zone from Superman II).

They grab it and, when in a face off with Corbis and his cult, threaten to destroy it, releasing all the souls and "the devil's rain" which will kill all the cult members.

Unfortunately, Dr. Richards is a hapless foe, and about two seconds after his threat, some cult members grab the orb from him. ends up in the hands of Mark, who is only recently converted to the cause.

Richards pleads with Mark, trying to tap into the real human inside, telling him that if he smashes the orb, it will free him from Corbis' control. Mark pauses, thinks, and then smashes the orb! Yay, I love it when William Shatner gets to be the hero!

That blows a hole in the church's roof, and the devil's rain starts to fall, melting everyone in sight:

sg, I admit, this is a great, gross-out effect. The F/X crew should have been proud.

The only problem is, F/X-wise, this is the only trick the movie had up its cloaked sleeve, so they wanted to get their money's worth out of it, and they do: there's approximately fifteen minutes of footage of people melting, writhing, melting, and writhing some more. It goes on and on and on, until you're like, Okay, enough with the melting people already!!

Tom and Dr. Richards escape, just as the church blows up. They grab Julie, but she's acting a little odd. She embraces Tom, and he reciprocates, but when he turns we see that Julie is actually...Jonathan Corbis!!

Somehow, Corbis escaped and is inside Julie, while she remains trapped in some version of hell:

She screams, pounds, all to no effect, as the credits roll. Finally, after they're over, she stops, and just blankly stares into the camera.

Sure, its kind of a cheat of an ending (how did Corbis escape?), but it is genuinely creepy nonetheless, especially with how quiet it is--like Julie has just accepted she's trapped in Hell. *shudder*

I saw this movie once years ago, and watching it over again I see that its really not that bad--its got a nice paranoid feeling, and the cheap sets actually give it a sort of grubby realness that something with a bigger budget might not have had.

The only minus to me is the cast: I'm sure the movie makers were thrilled to have all those "names" in the cast, making the movie easier to sell, but...sorry, I just can't take Ernest Borgnine in a goat mask seriously. Maybe if they had given a couple of the bigger roles to unknowns it would've felt more "real" to me. In any case, there's a lot of potential here.

And maybe a little less melting people. That might have helped too.

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