Saturday, September 05, 2009

In which most of the cast melts

Wikipedia's article about "The Devil's Rain" (1975) has an arresting opener: "The film is remembered primarily for its over-long and drawnout ending, in which most of the cast melts." Yes, yes, but check out the cast: William Shatner. Ernest Borgnine (as a Satanic priest who occasionally morphs into the Beast himself!). Ida Lupino, whoever that is. Tom Skerritt. Eddie Albert. John Travolta, even! It was a lovely choice for the Final Girl Film Club and I am so happy to have resurrected the blog in time to join in.

The plot concerns a family -- brothers Shatner & Skerritt and their parents, who do not survive the movie for long -- and the Secret Book it is concealing from Satanic preacher Borgnine. As Borgnine tries to get the book back, he seizes the souls of various family members and replaces them with waxen-faced, empty-eyed cultists. Yipes! The souls themselves evidently go into a little sort of aquarium, in which it is always raining. I had not envisioned hell as being particularly rainy, but whatever. Eventually there is a Confrontation and the promised melting takes place -- there goes the wax, I suppose.

Director Robert Fuest (who ended his feature-film career with this movie) also made "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," which I watched a couple months ago and quite enjoyed. The films have a few things in common: a glacial pace, hammy leading performances and an epic sense of composition. Set largely in a ghost town with a creepy New England-style chapel ("This doesn't belong here"!), this movie has some gorgeous vistas of sunlit mountains and wind-blasted trees. The scenery doesn't help the movie much, but it's nice to look at while you're waiting for something to happen.

My favorite thing about this movie is the crackling chemistry between Shatner and Borgnine as they face each other down on that ghost town's main street, each vying for dominance of the screen. Every look says, "No, I can overact more!" and these men are serious. They purr, hiss, snarl, arch their backs, strut, and eventually just launch themselves at each other. These two need to be in every movie. They could power a town glaring at each other.

Actually, that's just my second favorite thing. My real favorite thing -- spoiler-- comes after Shatner tumbles before Borgnine's maniacal, goat-horned splendor and becomes a cultist himself. Shatner's face becomes waxen. His eyes are blacked out. His expression is vacant. Three years after "The Devil's Rain," this face will become famous...

And then, of course, at the end, everyone melts. And melts. And melts. It's actually pretty creepy looking; I could sort of sympathize with Fuest, thinking "no, THIS one is the most horrible; I have to get THIS in too." I also thought about the "Chubby Rain" scenes from "Bowfinger"; surely they were inspired by this film.

While the faces are melting, you can contemplate the film's remarkable tagline: "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain." What is this even supposed to mean? How could one edit it into coherence? I occasionally get sentences like this from reporters, and I just take them out, but I guess the poster would look silly with no words on it at all. What can you expect from a movie in which Borgnine, in an exciting Puritan-era flashback, addresses a crowd of underground satanists as "thee"? That's a singular pronoun, silly! (Spoiler note: This flashback ends with Borgnine's character being burned at the stake, except instead of being tied to it, he sort of lounges next to it as if it were a hitching post. What a badass!)

There is much fun to be had here on many levels. Make yourself a nice big pitcher of martinis (two pitchers if a friend is over), kick back and enjoy the face-melting fun. Heaven help us all when The Final Girl Film Club!


rob! said...

The scenery doesn't help the movie much, but it's nice to look at while you're waiting for something to happen.

Ha! That and the martinis really help make the movie go down.

Hallospaceboy said...

Nice review! I should have a few drinks when watching this movie as well. Oh well, for next time, I suppose! Good catch on the Myers mask. Never heard anyone discuss it's connection to Devil's Rain before now.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was aggravated by the "Heaven Help Us..." tagline! Awesome review!

Emily said...

I didn't even think of Chubby Rain! That's brilliant! And I do love your observation about Borgnine's cabaret-esque lean on the stake.

AE said...

Borgnine's like, "Burn me at the stake? I'll show you: I'll burn MYSELF at the stake!"

Hallospaceboy, I can't imagine why the historical importance of this movie is not more often discussed.

Hallospaceboy said...

AE, what you did there. I see it.

Well played. :-)

Emily said...

So this film inspired the Michael Meyers mask AND introduced Travolta to Scientology, thereby being the sole reason Battlefield Earth exists on film. Doesn't that automatically land it in the AFI vault?