Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Appreciation: The Devil's Rain

"Heaven Help Us When...The Devil's Rain!"

During those Lost Years between the cancellation of The Original Series and the release of The Motion Picture (1969-1979) William Shatner never stopped working, and even though the majority of the scripts that came across his desk were dogs he still managed to throw himself into every role.  During this period, he made a lot of thoroughly enjoyable cheese--Impulse, Big Bad Mama, Kingdom of the Spiders--but my absolute favorite is The Devil's Rain.

Released in 1975, the plot attempts to cash in on the satanic success of The Exorcist which struck mainstream gold just two years earlier.   After his eyeless father melts before him and his mother (Ida Lupino!!!) is kidnapped by mysterious cloaked madmen, William Shatner dons his straw cowboy hat and heads into the desert to battle faiths with Ernest Borgnine's Dark Master.  

Honestly, you're not here for the plot.  What makes The Devil's Rain something special is the direction of Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, And Soon The Darkness) and cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr (Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia).  The film is just gorgeous.  Widescreen Glory.  Masterful tracking shots, fantastic blocking.  Seriously, pop the DVD into your player and I dare you tell me that it doesn't look beautiful.

And then there is this great scene between Shatner and Borgnine within the Ghost Town.  Shatner has brought The Book as a bargaining chip.  But Borgnine really doesn't care.  He wants Shatner as a vessel for "The sacred right of the holy water."  Basically, way back when in Pilgrim Times, Shatner's ancesstor's wife gave Borgnine's ancestor over to some Witch Burners and now Borgnine is pissed.  Naturally, he's gonna open wide the gates of hell!  It's a phenomenal scene in which both actors really throw themselves into the crazy of the plot.

What is so amazing about this hokum mumbo jumbo is that Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan,  served as a technical advisor for the movie.  WTF?  In the early 70s, LaVey received quite a bit of media attention in Time Magazine, Newsweek, and even appearing on Johnny Carson.  And I'm sure he just loved the thought of helping Hollywood understand his nuttery, but to think that any of the ridiculous proceedings found inside The Devil's Rain could be part of any religion, even that of the Church of Satan, is ridiculous.

I would be lying if I said this was Shatner's movie.  Shortly after the Ghost Town confrontation he leaves the story for a while and his brother, Tom Skerritt steps in to do most of the battle with the satanists.  A man of science, he quickly learns to believe when forced into hand-to-shotgun battle with a Welcome Back Kotter John Travolta.  Obviously, Skerritt is no Shatner, but he makes for a fine lead especially when the Satanic shenanigans start cracking his noggin.  

To say the least, The Devil's Rain did not do well upon it's release.  And I would even argue the validity of its cult film status.  Seriously, is there anybody out there besides myself that thinks it's a classic exploitation gem? Please, prove me wrong.  I'm happy with my standard def DVD, but I want my Blu Ray!  Alex Phillips Jr deserves it!  But the box office failure, and the critical lambasting pretty much ruined director Robert Fuest's career.  Shatner, Skerritt, Travolta, Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Keenan Wynn...actors can almost always survive, but Fuest was relegated to the world of crap TV movies (seriously, The Big Stuffed Dog???).  

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