Director: Robert Fuest
Dark Sky Films/MPI

With the enormous impact of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST dictating what made for a successful horror film, the 1970s were flooded with all sorts of worldwide efforts involving devilish shenanigans. Producer Sandy Howard (A MAN CALLED HORSE) also jumped on the bandwagon, making sure that his film was chock-full of over-the-top special effects as well as an all-star ensemble that could easily double for the cast of a disaster movie spectacle. And so came THE DEVIL’S RAIN, and its unlikely director was the British-born Robert Fuest who gave us the remarkably stylish “Dr. Phibes” films several years earlier.

On a violently stormy night, Mr. Preston (Ida Lupino) and her son Mark Preston (William Shatner) wait patiently for father to arrive. When he does, he’s an eyeless mess of melting puss. Mrs. Preston is then abducted and Mark goes out to the desert ghost town of Redstone to confront Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine), the mysterious leader of a satanic cult out to obtain a book filled a list of individuals who have pledged their names to Satan, which has been in the Preston family’s possession for three centuries. Mark makes a deal with Corbis in exchange for his and his mother’s lives, but ends up helplessly entangled in a satanic ritual. In the meantime, Mark's brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) and his young wife Julie (Joan Prather) are assisting occult authority Dr. Sam Richards (Eddie Albert) in an ESP experiment when they receive the news that the rest of the Prestons are missing. Although the local Sheriff (Keenan Wynn) warns them not to do so, they trek out to Redstone to find out what happened to their loved ones, but soon become entwined in the wicked world of Corbis and his hooded brethren.

Shot in Durango Mexico, THE DEVIL’S RAIN wastes no time getting involved in its sometimes confusing plotline, and the 86-minute running time consists of a visually satisfying, rather enjoyable, and ultimately dark and doom-ridden affair. The familiar cast easily keeps things lively, and even with the ham tendencies of Borgnine and Shatner (who despite several Shatneresque moments, is quite restrained), everything is taken dead serious. As Corbis, Borgnine savors his multi-faceted evil character, who is seen in cowboy gear, in red ceremonial gown, as a goat demon (an excellent make-up job), and even as a defiant Puritan in a red-tinted flashback. Soon-to-be superstar John Travolta makes his feature debut as one of the eyeless souls, and even though his part is very small, he does show up in three or four different scenes. When Joseph Brenner Associates re-released the film in 1978, they capitalized on Travolta’s success by having his name heavily played up in the advertising. The late Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, appears as a high priest and is credited as technical advisor.

The make-up and special effects are the highlight and are the ingredient that was boasted about the most in the original advertising. The lengthy climax has a church (it explodes!) full of lost souls under Corbis’ command disintegrating into piles of oozing goo, with the stuff shooting through their eye sockets like water gushing through a dam's floodgates. Since Ellis Burman, a member of the famous Burman family, was involved with the make-up, the trailer screamed “created by the masters of magic of PLANET OF THE APES.”

THE DEVIL’S RAIN was previously available from VCI Entertainment in a not too impressive non-anamorphic release during the early days of DVD. Dark Sky’s new disc is a major improvement, presenting the film with a definitive anamorphic transfer that preserves the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are true and vivid as evidenced by the nice reproduction of the blue skies in the daytime desert scenes. Detail is very sharp and clear, with deep black levels, and darker scenes do not obscure images as with previous video versions of this title. Transferred from 35mm vault materials, the picture is virtually free of any blemishes, scratches or dust marks, and there is very little in the way of grain. The 2.0 mono audio presents a very clear track, with only the occasionally pop. Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras on the disc include an audio commentary with director Fuest, moderated by fellow Englishman Marcus Hearn. Fuest discusses aspects of THE DEVIL’S RAIN (including tidbits about the cast and the mostly non English speaking Mexican crew, his meeting with producer Sandy Howard, etc.) as well as other projects in his impressive career like “The Avengers” TV series, films like AND SOON THE DARKNESS, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, THE FINAL PROGRAMME and more. It’s too bad the film is only 86 minutes because Fuest (who done commentaries for several of his other films) is always great to hear from, and his body of work is quite interesting. Other extras include the original Bryanston release trailer (“absolutely the most incredible, unforgettable ending of any motion picture, ever!”), three different radio spots, an Anton LaVey newsreel (about 35 seconds of black & white footage of LaVey performing a wedding ceremony), and a still gallery which contains some risqué shots of actress Lisa Todd that are not represented in the PG-rated film. (George R. Reis)