Hello ICONS OF FRIGHT readers! Smith here. This is the first installment of my new weekly column, EXPLOITATION ALLEY. Every week, I’m going to talk about a different exploitation film that I dig, dislike or downright loathe. I’ll be skipping around different time periods, different genres and am quite open to suggestions. Here at Icons of Fright, we definitely appreciate our readers, so if there are any films that you think I should check out and add to the EXPLOITATION ALLEYcolumn, feel absolutely free to suggest them. Thanks everyone, enjoy!
For the kickoff to EXPLOITATION ALLEY, I thought I’d choose one of my favorite movies from the boom of 70’s Satanic Cult films: THE DEVIL’S RAIN. 1975 gave us both this film and also the equally fun Peter Fonda classic, RACE WITH THE DEVILbut alas, let’s focus on this Shatner/Skerritt/Borgnine/Satan filled greatness of a film. Hold onto your butts, it’s time for some 70’s devil worship.
Right from the credits, you know you’re in for a treat with this one. Released by Bryanston Distribution Company, the distro team responsible for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Andy Warhol’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and John Carpenter’s debut DARK STAR, it’s obvious that you’re going to get a fun exploitation ride. There’s something about those unintentionally shaky Celtic credits and moaning/crying over artwork by the great Hieronymus Bosch that brings a smile to my face, and Anton Lavey as the church of Satan technical advisor? These guys didn’t hold back did they?
THE DEVIL’S RAIN begins with an opening scene that scared the living SHIT out of me as a kid. A woman played by Ida Lupino (who also starred in one of my favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine) stares out of a window, scared. Her son, Captain Kirk himself (William Shatner) shows up and is adamant that she’s over-reacting (oh the irony) with her paranoia that something has happened to her husband. Well, faster than you can say “ruin Smith’s childhood” , the father shows up wearing what is still one of the scariest damn masks of all time. Basically a rubber melting version of the guy’s real face. The father says that they should give “Corbis” back a book of some sorts, then melts. He effin melts everyone…and LITERALLY, by the time Shatner gets to the truck in hopes of driving to and meeting Corbis, all hell breaks loose back in the house, and Shatner decides to find Corbis and take him down. If only it went according to plan..but then if it did, we wouldn’t have anything past the 12 minute mark. What Shatner gets however, is a challenge between his faith and the faith of Corbis, played by the late, great Ernest Borgnine. Suffice to say, Borgnine wins and things only go even more downhill from there. Instead of just focusing on Shatner, we then find his brother played by the always entertaining Tom Skerrit, looking for him, and his character takes over the lead slot.
Without giving away anymore major plot points than I already did, what follows is a series of rituals, showdowns and some of the most interesting and downright WTF moments committed to film (Borgnine filled with Satan so much that at one point he turns into a human goat?…trust me, I can’t even make this stuff up). We get weird ass cult scenes, even MORE weird rubber masks, and even a young John Travolta as one of the cult members. Is all of this supposed to be an Oscar worthy film on par with Schindler’s List or The Godfather?, nope. What it is, in my opinion, is a fun, ballsy for its time film that you can watch over some beer and pizza and enjoy as a drive in movie featuring some really good performances, scary ass masks and like RACE WITH THE DEVIL, a somewhat downer of an ending. I’d really recommend giving this one a try, and by all means, invite your religious family members over and watch them squirm. Until next week, have a good one everyone.