Color, 1975, 85 mins. / Directed by Robert Fuest / Starring Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, William Shatner, Joan Prather, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Woody Chambliss, Keenan Wynn, John Travolta, Anton LaVey / Dark Sky / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), VCI / WS (2.35:1)

Ah, the wonders of movie salesmanship. Thanks to a completely wacko cast and an ending touted in the ads as "absolutely the most horrifying ending of any motion picture ever," The Devil's Rain became a familiar staple in U.S. drive-ins and on late-night TV. Not surprisingly, a bit part by John Travolta (as "Danny") before he became the world's most famous Sweathog helped this one milk out even more bucks through endless reissues, and on some venues he even supposedly got top billing (a la Brooke Shields in Alice, Sweet Alice). Even today, many horror fans still feel nostalgic about this shaggy little beast of a film, which marked a rare American outing for British director Robert Fuest (best known for the TV series The Avengers and the Dr. Phibes films with Vincent Price).

The surreal, often disjointed plot kicks off rather atmospherically in mid-drama as Mrs. Preston (Lupino) panics during a rainstorm following a dreadful nightmare about her husband, who has gone missing. Her son (Shatner) tries to reassure her, but that doesn't do much good when the family patriarch shows up with a dripping, gooey, eyeless face at the door, mutter a satanic chant, and falls down dead. Turns out the Preston family has been targeted by relentless cult leader Jonathan Corbis (Borgnine), who is determined to recover a book containing the names of souls belonging to Satan (now trapped in a large glassy, water-filled container, "The Devil's Rain"). However, the search for Corbis does not go as planned, and soon the other Preston son, Tom (Skeritt), is on the hunt as well with his wife, Julie (Prather), and a wise professor (Albert). Corbis' evil ultimately pays its price in the infamous, lengthy finale, which features most of the cult members reduced to mounds of slimy goo (not much of a plot spoiler since this scene was splashed all over the posters and video art.)

Sporting amusingly weird and colorful special effects, The Devil's Rain isn't exactly an epic work of pioneering horror, but it does kill an hour and a half rather nicely. Unintentional chuckles abound; watch for Travolta yelping "Blasphemer! Blashphemer!" and having his face dribble off - does the Church of Scientology know about this one? - and Borgnine even metamorphoses into a goofy-looking ram (complete with horns). Even the founder of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey, puts in an appearance as a cultist and served as a consultant on the film (a service he also performed on The Car, another guilty favorite). Wild stuff, to be sure, and not unlike another fun '70s rural horror vehicle with Shatner, Kingdom of the Spiders; oddly, both films boast extremely horrific imagery but managed to squeak by with PG ratings. Ah, the good old days. Fuest keeps the proceedings moving along nicely, though as he himself admits, the effects scenes tend to linger quite a bit longer than necessary.

After suffering for years in horrendous pan-and-scan prints, The Devil's Rain first got the widescreen treatment courtesy of VCI in a nice-looking but non-anamorphic DVD, cropped a bit in its framing to about 1.95:1. The evocative scope photography (in Todd-AO - how often do you see that on a horror movie?) makes excellent use of shadows and weird spatial compositions, though most general circulating prints were chopped off to 1.85:1. The VCI disc also includes a brief photo gallery and a tacky U.S. video trailer that spoils the entire story. Dark Sky's anamorphic upgrade restores the entire 2.35:1 framing and looks more vivid, thanks to being sourced from a more recent hi-def transfer. Color and detail level look dead-on throughout, though the additional clarity makes some of the directorial choices a bit puzzling; for example, Lupino's backseat car attack on Prather would have been quite frightening except that it takes place in broad daylight, where every flaw in her make-up stands out like a sore thumb. The extras are easily worth the spin as well, kicking off with Robert Fuest's lively commentary track. He discusses most of his career from his early production design days through his most famous titles, discussing the actors along the way and even debunking Cinefantastique's claim that he suffered a breakdown after shooting this film. Also included is the crackerjack theatrical trailer (much better than that VCI one) which includes some great '70s paintings, three radio spots, and a brief (30-second) B&W newsreel clip of LaVey in action.

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