THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975) Blu-ray
Director: Robert Fuest
Severin Films

"Heaven help us all when THE DEVIL'S RAIN" breaks the floodgates and spills on Blu-ray from Severin Films.

Burnt at the stake along with his followers three hundred years ago in New England, "Satan's Minister on Earth" Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine, MARTY) has tracked down the Preston family in the remotest part of the American Midwest (actually Durango, Mexico) having cursed their line after ancestress Aaronessa Fife (Erika Carlsson, DEMONOID: MESSENGER OF DEATH) for betraying his cult and making off with his book of the damned which he needs to deliver to hell the souls he has converted. With the book passed down through the generations and guarded by the Preston family, Corbis has been virtually powerless while the souls for whom he has not procured human vessels have suffered the torments of "The Devil's Rain" in limbo. When Corbis and his cultists abduct his mother (Ida Lupino, FOOD OF THE GODS) and demand the book, Mark Preston (William Shatner, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS) confronts him in the long-abandoned mining town of Redstone but is overcome by the cultists and tortured to reveal the location of the book. An urgent plea from the Preston family caretaker Jonathan (Woody Chambliss, GARGOYLES) to Mark's scientist brother Tom (Tom Skerritt, ALIEN) comes in the midst of an experiment in extrasensory perception conducted by colleague Dr. Sam Richards (Eddie Albert, DREAMSCAPE) upon Tom's psychically-sensitive wife Julie (Joan Prather, BIG BAD MAMA) who has visions of Mark's torture and the induction of his mother into the cult. Finding the local sheriff (Keenan Wynn, PIRANHA) unhelpful, Tom and Julie visit Redstone alone and discover proof of devil worship and the faceless cultists Jonathan raved about. When Julie does not make it back to the family farm after she and Tom separate, he must rely on the occult expertise of Richards to help him combat Corbis and unleash "the devil's rain."

Starting with a wonderfully eerie and mood-setting title sequence unfolding over details from Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights", THE DEVIL'S RAIN moves a rollicking pace so the overall hokeyness – from the usually great Borgnine's amateur hour performance of "The Crucible" to technical advisor Anton LaVey's rituals – is forgivable in light of the film's wonderful melding of spaghetti western action and Boschian Satanic tableaux embodied in the Todd-AO scope compositions of Alex Phillips, Jr. (FIREWALKER) and the bracing score of Al De Lory (BUSTER AND BILLIE). The melting climax of Tom Burman's (CAT PEOPLE) prosthetics goes on for a ridiculously long amount of screen time while the surprise ending is less prophetic of the de rigueur shocks of horror movies in the second half of the 1970s onwards as reminiscent of the ending of DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS. Claudio Brook (ALUCARDA) appears in flashback as the preacher who consigns Corbis and his followers to the stake, and THE ROBOT VERSUS THE AZTEC MUMMY's Rafael Portillo served as second unit director. A pre-fame John Travolta (CARRIE) is hidden behind prosthetic make-up and has no significant dialogue, but his presence has been highlighted on as many video releases as Meg Ryan's supporting turn in AMITYVILLE 3D. Future seven-time nominated, three-time Oscar winner Michael Kahn (SCHINDLER'S LIST) edited the film.

Released theatrically by Bryanston Distributing (DEEP THROAT, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), THE DEVIL'S RAIN went to video through VCI in 1987 and stayed with them through its first DVD release in 2000 featuring a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer. The film got an HD-mastered upgrade through MPI's Dark Sky DVD release which also included an audio commentary by Robert Fuest moderated by Marcus Hearn and a newsreel piece on LaVey. Obviously not transferred from the original camera negative, Severin Film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is a very grainy experience even in well-exposed daylight exteriors. The saturated reds and blues are bold, the browns of the desert and the overcast sky striking, and the shadows deep but detail is variable. It is no doubt the best the film has looked on video, but it is still a bit rough. English, French, and Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks are offered, and the latter is reasonably clean for a production of its period and budget, with the score coming through effectively and even calling attention to itself more in scenes where it is mixed low and did not make as much of an impression on DVD. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Carried over from the DVD is the Fuest commentary in which he discusses his beginnings as a painter before moving onto television as an art director before becoming frustrated with the budgets and no opportunity to direct until he joined Richard Lester's company making commercials and started directing within three months. While directing a television commercial in New Orleans, he got a message to meet producer Sandy Howard (DARK TOWER) during his connection in New York on the way back to the UK. Howard had already utilized the Mexican town of Durango for A MAN CALLED HORSE, and Fuest reveals that a lot had been set up before his involvement, including the casting of Borgnine and the hiring of DP Phillips. He admits that aspects of the script still do not make sense to him and the importance of keeping the film moving at an unrelenting pace to prevent audience speculation on the holes in the plot while also discussing working with LaVey and the lack of time to really get to know performers like Lupino.

In "Confessions of Tom" (10:59), actor Skerritt discusses his initial intent to be a screenwriter, mentoring under Robert Altman and Hal Ashby, and learning how to act as well because he wanted to emulate Orson Welles. He took THE DEVIL'S RAIN because the script made it sound campy, and he recalls the incredulity of Borgnine and his suggestion to Fuest that they play it in a more tongue-in-cheek manner (requiring re-shoots when the producers objected). In "The Devil's Make-up" (5:05), Burman recalls having not only to teach an inexperienced crew how to cast molds and paint, but having to invent a lot of the effects and utilizing sex shop inflatable dummies because there was not enough money to cast and sculpt all of the melting cultists. He also provides some gossip about Lupino's drinking, Albert's attitude towards the project, and the mafia men on the set.

A 1975 archival interview with Shatner (3:46) finds him pondering whether a STAR TREK movie would be a step back creatively while also discussing his subsequent television and film work including THE DEVIL'S RAIN in passing. Most interesting is "First Stop Durango" (14:47), an interview with script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana (TINTORERA) who got her start on THE DEVIL'S RAIN by winging it and learning as she went along with the sympathetic help of producer Michael S. Glick (ROCKY V) and cinematographer Phillips (nicknamed "The Golden Taco" because of his Aztec features and long blond hair). Her career took off after that, working between Mexico and the United States (garnering more experience in the former than she was likely to north of the border because of the volume of production at the time), and has worked consistently since then in mainstream productions, joining Steven Spielberg's crew from HOOK onwards.

"Consulting with the Devil" (10:17) is an interview with interview with the Church of Satan's High Priest Peter H. Gilmore and High Priestess Peggy Nadramia who draw upon LaVey's notes about his work as consultant on the film, including designing the costumes, various accessories, input into the script and rituals (noting the presence in the novelization of some material that he scuttled), and teaching the Spanish extras Enochian for the chanting. They also reveal that he was a great admirer of Phillips who had shot his favorite film YANCO (1961), as well as of Lupino as actress and filmmaker, and that he had even performed a success ritual for Travolta (who would soon land his star-making turn on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER!). "Hail Satan!" (8:04) is interview with LaVey biographer Blanche Barton who provides a bit of background on the Church of Satan, the difference between lesser and greater magic, LaVey's working relationship with Fuest (she suggests that he also consulted on one of the Phibes films), Shatner being put off that LaVey got more coverage in the Mexican press than he did, and his admiration of Travolta's apparently dead-on Marilyn Monroe impersonations.

In "Filmmaker/Collector Daniel Roebuck discusses THE DEVIL'S RAIN" (10:33), the CAVEGIRL director recalls going to see the film in costume as a child expecting to get a poster as the theater's promotional "free gift" only to be disappointed. He shows off his memorabilia from the film, including the novelization, one of Burman's background cultist masks, a reproduction of Borgnine's ram's head, and autographed photographs of Borgnine. Extras close out with a gallery of on-set Polaroids (7:57) from Quintana's documentation played under a series of radio spots, the film's theatrical trailer (2:46), a selection of TV Spots (1:33), and a poster & still gallery (7:74). The cover is reversible, and a limited run directly from Severin Films include a slipcover. (Eric Cotenas)