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Movie of the Week: The Devil's Rain (1975)

At some point in the mid-1970s, my memories of seeing movies at the drive-in shift from the Enid Drive-In out by the fairgrounds, to the Trail Drive-In on the south side of town. I don’t know if it was a new facility or if both remained in operation at the same time, but I definitely remember the Trail being the “nicer” of the two. One of the first movies I saw there was The Devil’s Rain. I didn’t like it in the summer of 1975 and I don’t like it much now.

The Devil’s Rain is one of the more slow, tedious horror movies I’ve seen. It’s not trashy, though, like Dracula vs. Frankenstein. Somehow, I think its intentions are better. And it does have some excellent makeup and special effects. For some reason, I watch it every few years, either forgetting that it’s not that great a movie or just wanting to have something on in the background while I’m doing other things.

The movie opens by throwing us right into the middle of what little plot there is. There’s no explanation; it’s like we walked into the room in the middle of a conversation and have to figure out what’s happening. During the first 30 minutes of The Devil’s Rain, the primary focus is a long discussion about some book, who has it, and who wants it. Then, Mark Preston (William Shatner) confronts Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) about it.

I guess it’s common knowledge that Corbis leads a Satanist congregation, representing evil, and Preston is a solid family man, representing good. They agree to a “challenge of faith.” If Preston wins, he gets to leave with his parents, who are being held captive. If he loses, he must surrender the book to Corbis. I guess that sounds like quite a bit of exposition, but it drags. It’s all talk and no action.

The movie then shifts to Dr. Sam Richards (Eddie Albert), who is performing experiments to “identify ESP activity.” His subject is Mark’s sister-in-law, Julie (Joan Prather), who is experiencing visions related to the history of Corbis and his church. Her husband, Tom (Tom Skerritt) enters the picture from nowhere and becomes the new hero of the story because Mark has become one of Corbis’s victims.

Julie has a lengthy flashback that reveals a centuries-long “feud” between Corbis and the Prestons. In 1680, Corbis was identified as a witch and burned at the stake, swearing vengeance upon the Prestons and their ancestors. Flash forward to the present where Corbis performs a ceremony. He gets so into it that he transforms into a goat-like demon. Tom, bowl haircut and all, infiltrates the ceremony, but is able to escape. And so on, and so on…

The movie doesn’t dig any deeper for explanations of any of its nonsense. In fact, when someone asks Dr. Richards why Corbis waited 300 years to come back, he ignores the issue by replying, “You’ll never know.” Let’s move on. He’s the one who has the final confrontation with Corbis, telling him he wants Tom and Judy Preston or he will destroy “the devil’s rain,” the vessel of souls that Corbis has stolen. Richards shouts to the minions, “Without the devil’s rain, he has no hold over you. Break the bottle!”

It may seem like I’ve told you the entire story. I’m sorry, but I believe I have. That’s about all that happens. However, as I review Wikipedia for plot points, it’s as if whoever wrote their article saw a different movie than I did. There are details in that summary that I just didn’t get by watching the movie and making my own notes. I’d say they’re subtle points, but nothing about The Devil’s Rain seems subtle to me.

Especially the ending… The effect of Corbis’s acolytes melting in the rain is quite spectacular. However, there are 10 full minutes of it and that is just too much. How many different ways can we look at people’s faces dripping off their bodies, as if a hose is washing away clay? It’s indicative of the entire movie: what could have been done briefly is stretched out three times longer than necessary.

This is a real disappointment considering that The Devil’s Rain was directed by Robert Fuest, who also directed one of my favorite 70s horror, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It took three writers to come up with this mess, so let’s blame Gabe Essoe, James Ashton and Gerald Hopman. There aren’t many credits to their names and I bet there’s a reason for that.


Written by Gabe Essoe & James Ashton and Gerald Hopman Directed by Robert Fuest Starring Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, William Shatner, Keenan Wynn, Tom Skerritt, Joan Prather, John Travolta Released July, 1975 RT 86 min. Home Video Severin Films (Blu-ray)

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