9.28.2010

HORRORTHON '10: The Devil's Rain (Robert Fuest, 1975)

Rarely do I find myself so much as budged by righteous Christian symbolism on film. The use of a crucifix to hamper a vampire's approach, or worse - the last-minute invoking of Jesus Christ to save us as though we're a nearly defeated Megazord and he's our heavenly Power Sword? Congrats, you just took me right out of the picture. The forces opposing that righteousness, though... the threat of a shrouded demon world ruled by Satan? In spite of my lack of regard for the Gospel of the Lord, the antithesis of that Gospel literally freezes me with terror. Rosemary's Baby and The Devil Rides Out may hold a slight quality edge, but The Devil's Rain is an ultimate in cinematic Satanism. Sympathetic protagonists do take spotlight and good-versus-evil themes are very much present, but the duly motivated, sinister overtones are merciless. The film often seems an evil entity in and of itself.

Before we thrust into a bloody thick of generational mystery surrounding dark family secrets, we open with credits laid over segments from the Last Judgement panel of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (my favorite work of fine art, incidentally). These consistently breathtaking images in this case serve as warning for what lay beyond should we not accept Satan as our lord. An ambience of desperate, lethargic voices calls out for release from an unseen prison, establishing dread that refuses to yield as the film mounts. From this point forward in my viewing, I dared not extend a limb from my personal bubble for fear I may be snatched away.

Star William Shatner, acting on hiatus between the original Star Trek series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, delivers the ham as only he can. He and Ernest Borgnine clash with the fires of their characters' respective faiths roiling behind their eyes. Things do gear down in act two when Tom Skerritt takes the stage, wandering 'neath dauntingly photographed Satanic symbols (and at one point facing down a pre-fame John Travolta, who is concealed by makeup but still recognizable for his lips), but get going again once a climactic sacrificial ritual to end all sacrificial rituals commences and encompasses act three.

It's truly a pity The Devil's Rain, my movie to beat in this still-young horrorthon, was so detrimentally received upon its release, but that seems the way it goes for many a film I personally consider monumental. Director Robert Fuest's (of Dr. Phibes phame) silver screen career was essentially crushed by Rain's critical failure. The film is topped with a historical cherry, though, as the empty-eyed makeup worn by Shatner (as well as the supporting cast's majority) inspired a holiday costume that eventually became the iconic Michael Myers mask in John Carpenter's legendary Halloween.

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