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.
- 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
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video
Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering
Directed by Mick Jackson
Distributed by Severin Films
Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.
The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.
As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.
Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.
Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.
Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.
Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.
Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.
An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.
“Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.
“Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.
“Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.
“Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.
A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.
- NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
- Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
- Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
- Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
- Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
- Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
- U.S. Trailer
Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.
Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror
Written and directed by Alex Garland
Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.”
An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.
The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.
Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.
Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.
The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.
Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.
Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.
I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.
Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.
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