The Aberrations #3: The Devil’s Rain

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The Aberrations aren’t likely to spawn sequels or inspire remakes. No one will mistake them for classics; their supporters are a silent minority. Yet there’s something interesting about them, something odd or provocative enough to warrant a bit of consideration.

The Devil’s Rain begins with the Prestons – son Mark (William Shatner) and mother Emma (Ida Lupino) – living out west, worrying about the family patriarch’s whereabouts during a thunderstorm. Dad arrives home as an eyeless (but not sightless) zombie, muttering about someone named Corbis wanting a book. The rain melts Dad down to a puddle of gooey wax, which is longingly gazed upon by director Robert Fuest. We soon learn that Corbis is a Satanic priest holed up with his followers in Redstone, an abandoned mining town. Corbis has been persecuting the Prestons because they’ve been stashing a book that would bolster his power.

Mark vows to counterattack, but Corbis’ followers immediately kidnap his mom. Mark eventually reaches Redstone by way of a leisurely, scenic montage and confronts Corbis (Ernest Borgnine). The proceedings liven up with some Shatner v. Borgnine smack talk until Corbis’ eyeless followers capture Mark. However, Corbis still doesn’t possess that all-important MacGuffin book.

Mark’s mustachioed brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) learns of his family’s plight and comes to the homestead with his wife Julie. The sheriff proves to be useless even by stock-character standards, so Tom and Julie investigate Redstone and discover the Satanists themselves. Julie heads back to the Preston home while Tom witnesses the cult performing a ceremony to convert Mark to their ranks. Corbis also transforms into some kind of goat-demon at this point. Tom heroically stifles his laughter at Corbis’ ludicrous new appearance, but the cult spots him anyway. Tom escapes back home but realizes that the cult has seized Julie. It’s up to him to rescue her from Corbis.

If this all sounds like a muddle, then I’ve done some justice to the viewing experience. There’s a lot of Just Because duct tape and twine trying to hold The Devil’s Rain together. It’s the kind of movie where Tom and Julie knock out a cultist (John Travolta) in an abandoned building, and there just happens to be some rope lying around so they can tie him up, too. Why would that rope be there? Just Because. A dozen cultists chase Tom on foot and are closing fast only to vanish after the cut, enabling Tom to slip free. How did that happen? Just Because. Why does Corbis magically turn from Ernest Borgnine to Ernest Borgnine made up to look like a goat-demon? Just Because.

Even the marketing people joined in the half-assed hijinks. The tagline on this 1975 movie’s poster reads: “Heaven help us all when The Devil’s Rain!” Which means what, exactly?

Sound plotting and logic clearly aren’t The Devil’s Rain’s strengths, and I guess we shouldn’t expect them to be. I came to this one for stupid fun, and sometimes it delivers. Shatner yells, “Damn you, Corbis!” as only he would. Borgnine likewise hams it up with and without the horns. An amusing flashback to the old Salem witchcraft days shows where it all went sour between Corbis and the Prestons.

Overall, though, The Devil’s Rain doesn’t deliver enough. This is surprising considering that Fuest had directed the very entertaining The Abominable Dr. Phibes just four years before, and the Church of Satan’s founder Anton LaVey was on hand as a technical adviser as well. Despite the talent and colorful personalities on both sides of the camera, Rain somehow ends up being a snooze. It runs just eighty-five minutes but often feels like it’s straining to fill that length.

This problem overwhelms the climax, when the titular rain drenches the cult and causes it to melt. Aside from exposing the cult as lame and weak – good luck harvesting souls when you can’t even bear a thunderstorm, O Cloaked Eyeless Ones – the sequence drags on for about six minutes. Fuest shows melting, wailing cultists, and melting, screaming cultists, and melting, moaning cultists. The sequence goes from being effective to baffling to numbingly tedious.

It seems Fuest had seen the Wicked Witch’s death scene in The Wizard of Oz and thought, “I need to make a movie where that plays out for six minutes!” Mission accomplished, man. For anyone turned on by actors wallowing in melting makeup, congratulations: The Devil’s Rain is your specialty porn.

For the rest of us, there is an alternative. The 2015 documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief led me to The Devil’s Rain; it mentions that Travolta first learned about Scientology during the Rain shoot. Going Clear turns out to be the disturbing and darkly hilarious cult-themed movie Rain should’ve been. It also features brief appearances by Travolta, albeit as himself. In Rain, his character had no eyes but still could see. In Going Clear, he has eyes but apparently can’t see. The documentary finds him older, no wiser, but much richer than he was in 1975.

Robert Fuest would not be so fortunate. The Devil’s Rain was so poorly received that his career never recovered. Nor did LaVey’s involvement accomplish much for his Church. In fact, Rain only succeeded in doing what Christian propaganda never could: it made Satanism look silly, sexless, and boring. It’s worth noting that the Church of Satan has a LaVey-approved film list, and Fuest’s Dr. Phibes makes that list, but Rain doesn’t. That snub may tell you all you need to know.

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