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Devil’s Rain, The (Blu-ray)

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Starring Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino

Directed by Robert Fuest

Distributed by Severin Films


Ironically, despite the dubious prestige of being “endorsed by the Church of Satan” director Robert Fuest’s The Devil’s Rain (1975) doesn’t actually appear on the list of approved films on the church’s website. This can probably be chalked up to oversight, though, because the long-clawed fingers of former High Priest Anton LaVey are all over this picture. Many critics (ok, maybe all of them) dismissed the film as an incoherent bore devoid of scares – and objectively, they may not be wrong. But here are two things the film gets unquestionably right: the reverence & ritual of black mass, and casting. Oh, Lord Satan, did the casting director ever nail this one. William Shatner. Tom Skerritt. Ida Lupino. Keenan Wynn. Eddie Albert. And the unequivocal magnetism of Ernest Borgnine, whom I can watch in any film at any time no matter what it is about or who else it stars. These ingredients combined form a potent brew that overcomes any perceived problems with the narrative, because the real treat is watching a powerhouse troupe of actors deliver damnable dialogue and recreate rituals all in an effort to sate the Dark Lord of ‘70s Camp.

Centuries after betraying satanic priest Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) and stealing his tome of rituals, the Preston family continues to live under the curse he cast upon them so long ago. Late one night, Steve (George Sawaya), patriarch of the family in modern day, stumbles home to his wife, Emma (Ida Lupino), and son, Mark (William Shatner). His eyes are black and his skin waxy; after relaying information from Corbis, specifically that he wants his book back, Steve collapses to the ground and melts away in the rain. Mark, full of hubris and that wily Shatner edge, travels to a ghost town in the desert where Corbis and his followers are congregated. Unexpectedly, Corbis appears almost genial, striking up conversation with Mark and cheerily accepting his request to a battle of faith. As Mark enters the church, however, his choice proves foolish as Corbis’ mind tricks are too powerful, leaving Mark panicked and reaching for a handgun. His faith shattered, Mark is easily overcome by Corbis’ followers and brainwashed into submission.

Tom (Tom Skerritt), Mark’s older brother, learns of the family problems and heads off to do what his younger brother could not: stop Corbis. Accompanying Tom is his wife, Julie (Joan Prather), who has psychic abilities she does not fully understand; glimpses of future events come to her in dribs and drabs. The two are joined by Dr. Sam Richards (Eddie Albert), a leading psychic researcher. An investigation leads the three of them to Corbis’ church, where Tom goes undercover as a disciple to witness a black mass ritual. During the event Corbis transforms into a horned demon, akin to Satan himself, before turning Mark into another one of the eyeless horde who worship at his altar. Tom is spotted and barely escapes. Later, he and Dr. Richards unearth Corbis’ book and learn that he derives his power from the souls of his congregation, trapped within an ornate urn housing The Devil’s Rain. Armed with the knowledge of how to stop Corbis, Tom heads off into the desert for one last trip with Satan.

This has been one of my favorite ‘70s chillers for years and I can’t recall a single time when weak scripting or muddled motivation even crossed my mind. This isn’t a film you watch for the story; you watch it to see Borgnine going toe-to-toe with Shatner; to see a young Travolta attempt acting underneath a clumsy facial appliance; to see Eddie Albert confusingly ask “What about that Devil’s Rain?”; and to see “absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture ever!” No hyperbole there… It’s not about the destination but the journey, and The Devil’s Rain takes viewers on a bizarre trip through arcane mysticism and strange Shatnerisms that eventually culminates in an ending that, while maybe not exactly “the most incredible”, is certainly a showcase for gooey makeup FX work. And really, the opportunity to watch Ernest Borgnine spit hellfire and brimstone from beneath goat makeup is truly a cinematic treasure.

Fun as it is to revel in the sheer campiness of Fuest’s direction, the film ends on a rather somber note thanks to an alluded-to downer of an ending. Without getting into spoilers (yes, even for 40-something-year-old movies) the film does a commendable job of convincing viewers all threats have been vanquished until making a startling reveal that could easily justify a sequel, except no follow-up could hope to capture the black magic seen here. Besides, given the film’s insane production history (much of which is covered in the bonus features) the fact this was completed is miracle enough.

On a personal note, back in 2009 I was fortunate enough to meet Ernest Borgnine at a convention. He was 92 years old and full of more life and energy than I could ever hope to attain. We spoke briefly and I had him sign – of all possible things – my original one-sheet for The Devil’s Rain, a poster that has been hanging above my desk for nearly a decade. They say “never meet your heroes” but Mr. Borgnine could not have been a nicer man.

Severin Films has been doling out cult classics one after the other in 2017, but The Devil’s Rain stands not only as one of their finest releases, but also as a strong contender for Top 10 of 2017. And a big part of that is due to the wonderful extras produced for this release.

Although no technical information is presented regarding the HD restoration process done for this film, the 2.35:1 1080p image is a true sight to behold. Aside from a couple emulsion scratches seen during the opening credits, this is a stunning picture with organic film grain, vibrant colors that stand out among a bleak palette (check out the red of Corbis’ robe), and solid, stable black levels. The only real complaint I can lob is during the climax there are a few moments when quality dips and the image is a little scratchy. Otherwise, this is a pleasing image that blows away the previous DVD release.

The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is a sparse affair, with no major moments to offer up impressive sound immersion. Still, dialogue is presented clearly and cleanly, with no hissing or pops. Al De Long’s score is menacing, with a slightly exotic quality to it. The satanic chants of Corbis’ followers ring loud and clear through the front end, adding the only true moments of amplification to this soundscape. Subtitles are available in English.

An audio commentary with director Robert Fuest is available.

“Confessions of Tom – Interview with Actor Tom Skerritt” – Despite shooting the film so long ago, Skerritt has a few great anecdotes regarding the shady production and the cast of venerable actors.

“1975 Archive Footage – Interview with Actor William Shatner” – This is gold. Shatner, eating during this interview, spends most of the time talking about a potential “Star Trek” movie before offering up a few sentences on “The Devil’s Rain”.

“First Stop Durango – Interview with Script Supervisor Maria Quintana” – I loved this interview. Quintana, who had never done script supervising before and only wanted a stable, secretary-like job in Hollywood, faked her way onto the production and eventually went on to work on many blockbuster films, including several with Spielberg.

“Consulting with the Devil – Interview with the High Priest & Priestess of the Church of Satan” – You know, Satanism is just as ridiculous as any other religion and seeing two members of the Church dressed like Old Goths is a reminder.

“Hail Satan! – Interview with Anton LaVey Biographer Blanche Barton” – Yes, even Barton comes off as ridiculous when trying to discuss La Vey is any sort of serious fashion. I just can’t take these people seriously.

“Filmmaker/Collector Daniel Roebuck Discusses The Devil’s Rain” – Strap on those rose-tinted glasses and wax nostalgic as Roebuck painfully recounts his childhood trauma of going to see “The Devil’s Rain” at a drive-in and learning the promised “free gift” was not what he had hoped. This is a touching and hilarious tale and Roebuck should probably just be interviewed for every cult release because his enthusiasm and passion for the genre are palpable.

“On Set Polaroid Gallery over Radio Spots”, featuring snapshots as taken by Quintana.

A theatrical trailer, three TV spots, and a “Poster & Still Gallery” are also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary With Director Robert Fuest
  • Confessions Of Tom – Interview With Actor Tom Skerritt
  • The Devil’s Makeup – Interview With Special FX Artist Tom Burman
  • 1975 Archive Interview With Actor William Shatner
  • First Stop Durango – Interview With Script Supervisor Ana Maria Quintana
  • Consulting with the Devil – A Conversation with the High Priest & High Priestess of the Church of Satan
  • Hail Satan! – Interview With Anton LaVey Biographer Blanche Barton
  • Filmmaker / Horror Collector Daniel Roebuck On The Devil’s Rain
  • On Set Polaroid Gallery Of Script Supervisor Ana Maria Quintana
  • Radio Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Poster/Still Gallery

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  • The Devil's Rain
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.6 (15 votes)
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.59 (22 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.13 (23 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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