This has got to be one of the strangest movies ever made, yet somehow I still find myself revisiting it at least once a year despite the fact that it’s seriously flawed. I will attempt to explain why that is. Let’s begin with trying to decipher some sort of “plot” out of this mess: From what I can surmise here after multiple viewings, Mark Preston (William Shatner) has possession of an important book which has been hidden by the Preston family for some 300 years. It contains signatures written in blood of the scores of people who have sold their souls to the devil over the years. There is also an immortal disciple of Satan named Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) who has spanned these centuries terrorizing the Prestons in a failed attempt to obtain the book, which is required to deliver these souls to Lucifer. In the meantime, the tortured victims wait and moan in eternal limbo trapped inside a large vessel called “The Devil’s Rain” until Corbis can locate the book he seeks. Corbis has succeeded in seizing Mark and his mother (Ida Lupino) and turning them into brainwashed cult members, and it’s up to Tom Preston (Tom Skerrit) and Dr. Samuel Richards (GREEN ACRES’ own Eddie Albert, looking totally lost) to join forces in foiling Corbis’ plan.
At least that’s what I think is going on. Director Robert Fuest (1970’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, the two DR. PHIBES films) does a horrible job in trying to tell a linear story, and there are more holes in the plot here than you would find on 42nd Street back in the 1970’s. Just about everything going on in this movie may be pointed out as not being adequately explained. And yet — and yet — the film is still not without some things to enjoy for fans of cheesy horror… It’s a treat getting to watch Ernest Borgnine (Marty himself) really getting into his diabolical role, and it’s an added kick seeing him in monster makeup whenever he summons up a goat-demon from the pits of hell, emerging with huge ram horns! Eddie Albert seems to be as confused as we are, and this is most obvious in an outside sequence late in the film where he and Skerrit are arguing over the meaning of The Devil’s Rain; it’s hilarious watching them stepping over each other’s words, and you get the impression they just winged all their dialogue for that scene. William Shatner gets his moments to shine where he goes over the top as we’ve come to love from him (“Corbissss!!!! Goddamn you!!!”). You also gotta love seeing Ida Lupino sink further in her later years to the point of walking around as a mindless zombie with her eyeballs blackened out, which is the preferred manner of initiation for the souls of Satan. And then there is John Travolta — this was his first movie, but it’s nearly impossible to spot him as one of the black-eyed cultists in his few very brief appearances. Real-life member of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, was an “adviser” on the film, and appears wearing a mask as one of the devil’s servants.
The climax of the movie is worth waiting for, and it was touted highly as the main selling point back in its day… we get to see the results of The Devil’s Rain on the minions of cult worshipers when the skies open up and pour down upon them. There are some good effects there, even if it’s obvious how the sequence was being milked for all it’s worth. THE DEVIL’S RAIN is not a good movie, but all the same it’s one of those weird horror pictures that may appeal to fans of “so bad they’re good” flicks.