Cult Movies: The Devil's Rain - Incomprehensible... but still huge, messy fun

Ernest Borgnine doing his best to stay dry and make sense of The Devil's Rain
Ralph McLean

WHAT attributes do you need a movie to have to make you really want to watch it?

Say to me it's an American occult thriller made in the mid-seventies and that it features the great Ernest Borgnine as a disciple of Satan and I'm certainly interested. Add in that Borgnine's character transforms from human to a kind of hilarious goat-like beast halfway through and that he must defeat a wild-eyed William Shatner in his quest to complete his macabre mission while a host of familiar faces from Ida Lupino to John Travolta, in his first onscreen role, lurch around in the background like empty-eyed zombies dressed in monk habits and I'm out of my seat and reaching for the play button.

Finish off your sales pitch by telling me that it's directed by Avengers man Robert Fuest, who gave us the arch Art Deco delights of the Abominable Dr Phibes movies, and boasts special effects delivered by the team who brought the simian scares of Planet Of The Apes to our screens and I'm already there elbowing you out of the way to get at the popcorn.

The Devil's Rain (1975) is simply one of the strangest, most inexplicable and utterly insane horror movies ever made. A half-baked attempt to cash in on the big screen devil worshipping trend kick started by Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, its scary bits don't scare and its thrilling bits don't thrill. In many ways it's a complete shambles albeit one that's impossible to stop watching.

A devilish stranger called Corbis (Borgnine) comes to town looking for a ledger of lost souls promised to Satan himself that a local family, the Prestons, have been hiding for hundreds of years.

Mark Preston (Shatner in all his full blown scenery devouring glory) is abducted which leads his brother Tom (Tom Skerritt from Alien) and his wife Julie (Joan Prather) out to the desert to try to rescue him and free the multitude of souls trapped in a kind of massive glass sports trophy that's kept under the floorboards of a nearby deconsecrated church.

At least I think that's what happens. It's hard to tell when the plot keeps jumping about through history and lead characters like Shatner seem to disappear for large chunks of time.

It's stylish looking and despite all the silliness the sheer bravado of the actors carry it through despite the overuse of the one special effect the makers really pull off, the repulsive but oddly effective 'rain' of the title that melts the disciples skin to mush the moment it touches them.

In short, it is, much like the writhing eyeless zombies who melt like cheap Christmas candles on screen for a good 15 minutes at the end, a total mess of a movie but what a fun mess it is.

Fuest himself moaned to his producers that the story was incoherent nonsense when he started filming.

"Don't worry," they said, doubtless chomping on a big Hollywood cigar as they did so, "It'll make sense in the end."

Needless to say it doesn't but The Devil's Rain remains a pure cult delight all the same.

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