Horror Film Review: The Devil’s Rain (dir by Robert Fuest)

Was I the only one who was relieved that William Shatner didn’t die this week?

Seriously, when I heard that the 90 year-old Shatner was going to be taking a trip on one of the Amazon rockets, I was really worried.  First off, you’re taking a 90 year-old into space.  Secondly, you’re doing it with a rocket that people don’t really know that much about.  And third, that 90 year-old is a cultural icon and one who probably played no small role in causing people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to become obsessed with conquering space in the first place.  With the exception of George Takei, everyone loves William Shatner.  (And, at this point, Takei’s constant sniping about Shatner is coming across as being just a little bit petty.  Move on, George!  People love you, too.)

As I watched Shatner land back on Earth, I found myself thinking about The Devil’s Rain, a film from 1975 that starred William Shatner as a man whose exploration of the unknown led to a far less triumphant result.   

In this film, Shatner plays Mark Preston, a youngish man who lives on ranch with his father (George Sawaya) and his mother (Ida Lupino).  For some reason, the Preston family owns a book that is full of evil magic.  Satanic high priest Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) wants the book and when the Prestons refuse to hand it over, he makes it his mission to destroy them.  He gets things started by turning Mark’s father into a weird, waxy zombie who melts in the rain.  Not wanting the same fate to befall the rest of the family, Mark grabs the book and heads to a desert ghost town that has been taken over by Corbis and his followers.  Mark never returns.

Mark’s older brother, Tom (Tom Skerritt) then shows up in town, searching for Mark.  Accompanying him are his wife (Joan Prather) and a paranormal researcher (Eddie Albert).  Tom discovers that Corbis is transforming his followers into zombies who have no memories and who exist only to …. well, I’m not sure what the point of it all is but I guess it basically comes down to Corbis needing something evil to do.  Not only has Mark become one of his Corbis’s followers but, if you keep an eye out, you might spot a very young John Travolta in the background.  This was Travolta’s film debut.  According to the end credits, the character he plays is named Danny.  Danny Zuko, perhaps?  That would serve him right for making Sandy doubt herself.

The Devil’s Rain is one of the many low-budget movies that William Shatner did between the end of the Star Trek TV show and the start of the Star Trek movies.  It’s a bit of an disjointed film, as I think any film starring William Shatner and Tom Skerritt as brothers would have to be.  Skerritt gives a very laconic performance, playing his character as if he was the star of a Western.  Shatner, meanwhile, does that thing where he randomly emphasizes his words and gets the full drama out of every sentence and facial expression.  But, as much as Shatner overacts, you can’t help but enjoy his performance because he’s William Shatner and that’s what he does.  The same is true of Ernest Borgnine, who overacts in his role just as much as you would expect Ernest Borgnine to overact when cast as an evil cult leader.  For that matter, Eddie Albert isn’t exactly subtle as the paranormal researcher.  Don’t even get me started on Keenan Wynn, playing yet another small town sheriff.  Let’s just say that, with the exception of Tom Skerritt, the cast of The Devil’s Rain is not necessarily full of actors noted for their restraint.  That said, there’s something rather charming about everyone’s attempts to steal every scene in which they appear.

The Devil’s Rain is a deeply silly film but that doesn’t make any sense but it’s hard not to get caught up in it.  Even if the fact that this film is perhaps your only opportunity to see John Travolta melt on screen isn’t enough to make you watch, Shatner vs. Borgnine with Skerritt approaching in the distance is just too entertaining to resist!  Thankfully, Shatner survived appearing in this film and revitalized his career through a combination of Star Trek movies and Canadian tax shelter flicks.  He’s a survivor.  In fact, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that, even at the age of 90, Shatner has no trouble going into space.  William Shatner’s going to be around forever.

One response to “Horror Film Review: The Devil’s Rain (dir by Robert Fuest)

  1. Rumor has it that the film was supposed to be called The Devil’s Reign, but the marketing department got the name wrong and prepared posters with Rain, and so they made the rain part of the story. But I don’t know if that’s true.


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