Hail, readers! Welcome to Devils in the Details, a monthly column examining the satanic and occult influences in horror. This column provides a non-sensational look at these influences by examining their history through the perspective of modern Occult scholarship. The study of the satanic and the occult is a life-long endeavor, and I have much yet to learn. I hope you will join me in this sojourn into the darkness!
The Devil’s Rain (1975) is certainly a B-movie, though not one like you might expect. The film stars William Shatner as Mark Preston, the youngest son of a cursed family who have been hunted by the Satanic cult leader Corbis in an attempt to retrieve a Satanic book. As a B-movie, you can expect cheesy acting and some pretty hokey effects which sounds like the makings of a cult classic. While that is true to some extent about The Devil’s Rain, the scares are few and far between and the plot is almost incomprehensible. What makes the film stand out, instead, is its place in history. Particularly in Satanic history (queue metal guitar riff)!
A Story of the Devil
Backtracking a bit to the origins of Satan in Judeo-Christian theology (Satan as a concept predates both religions, but we’ll focus on the familiar heck boy), “satan” appears as a word describing an opposition, or defiance against someone or something often translated as “accuser.” Essentially, this is the supernatural equivalent of a “vibe checker.”
In fact, other references to Satan in the Old Testament have him in the role of prosecutor, almost as the angel in charge of critical thought. In the Book of Job, Satan appears to evaluate whether Job is in fact devout in his faith because he fears God and not simply because he lives a rich life. Without recounting the entire story, Satan’s doubting of Job’s faith is told almost as an investigation, as if he is a spiritual auditor. Certain interpretations of the tempting of Jesus in the desert support this argument as well.
Satan, the Ultimate Bad Boy
If you’re wondering when we’re going to get to Anton LaVey and The Devil’s Rain, don’t worry, we’re getting there! It’s important, though, to first address John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and its introduction of Satan as the rebellious bad boy that Satanists around the world would come to admire. The poem recounts the Lightbringer (Lucifer) and his fall from heaven after daring to oppose God’s authority. This struck a chord with Romantics of the time adding another archetype of Satan for future worshipers to revere. If you’re interested in a more in depth review of Satanic history, this article is a great read!
This archetype of Satan as an exemplar of critical thought and healthy rebellion would later be used as one of the guiding principles of modern Satanism. All of this to say, where was this in The Devil’s Rain? With Anton LaVey as technical advisor, you would think that at least some of this would have made it into the film.
The Devil’s Rain
At the beginning of The Devil’s Rain, Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) is after a book that holds the names of his past satanic disciples from colonial-era America. Mark Preston (Shatner) and his family have kept this book from him for generations, but Corbis has finally tracked it down. After an unsuccessful confrontation with Corbis, Mark is taken captive and is in the process of becoming a soulless minion. At which point, Mark’s brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) goes in search of Mark only to discover he is too late. Having finally retrieved the book and regained the lost members of his congregation, Corbis prepares a ritual to… well, I’m not really sure what.
The fact is that at over an hour into the film we finally get the first mention of The Devil’s Rain which turns out to be a phylactery of some sort that fuels Corbis’ powers. Again, this is in direct contradiction to LaVeyan Satanism which begs the question of what LaVey was actually advising on. The film ends in spectacular fashion with The Devil’s Rain being destroyed by Mark, resulting in a downpour that melts the cultists! If there’s one thing to be said of The Devil’s Rain it’s that it has some truly metal iconography! However, for a film touting the fact that they have the High Priest of the Church of Satan as a technical advisor, it really does not take into account the religion itself.
Anton Szandor LaVey
In the early 1960s, Anton Szandor LaVey, a former carnival worker, founded the Church of Satan, the first official Satanic religion (although not formally recognized). LaVey proposed Satanism as an atheistic, highly individualistic religion with common sense ideals based upon the moral exemplar interpretation of Satan. Eventually publishing the Satanic Bible, LaVey quickly became the face of modern Satanism. Enter The Devil’s Rain!
By 1975, LaVey was the High Priest of the Church of Satan with nationwide name recognition. Having names like Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, and Tom Skerritt would be a major draw, but for a movie about a Satanic cult, LaVey as a technical advisor would be quite the draw in itself. It seems, though, LaVey’s advice did not extend beyond some small details during the ritual sections.
What is LaVeyan Satanism?
LaVeyan Satanism is an atheistic religion, meaning members do not actually worship Satan as a deity. This is one aspect that is somewhat portrayed well in The Devil’s Rain. Corbis and the other members of his cult do not always directly address Satan in their rituals. Instead, they demand powers of darkness and the abyss to come forth not to aid them but to exact their will. This is another guiding principle of LaVeyan Satanism in that one’s power comes from oneself rather than any otherworldly force.
Unfortunately, that’s about the extent to which the movie gets things right. While LaVey may have been advising, and his influence is everywhere if you look close, the story at large does not hold true to the Satanic brand that LaVey worked to cultivate. In The Devil’s Rain, the cultists are closer to Dungeons and Dragons warlocks slinging spells left and right. Even their demise is straight out of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. In fact, now that I think of it, the entire film feels like it is the retelling of someone’s strange D&D campaign!
Is The Devil’s Rain a Satanic Movie?
Maybe, but not for the reasons you might think. Despite their High Priest being a technical advisor for the film, The Church of Satan does not list The Devil’s Rain as one of their recommended “satanic” films. While I couldn’t find a specific reason as to why, I believe the answer is obvious. Other than some accurate iconography and ritual procession, the film really doesn’t have anything much Satanic about it.
The plot is hard to follow, but what is clear is that the intention was never an accurate portrayal of Satanism. I mentioned that by 1975 LaVey’s name recognition was at an all-time high. While that is true, the reason for his infamy was not simply because he was High Priest. Anton LaVey was a genius when it came to branding. He would attach himself or the church to events or projects for publicity, growing the Church (and his fame) as a result. I believe The Devil’s Rain is one such project.
“[…] if LaVey indeed simply used the publicity from this film to bolster the reputation of The Church of Satan, that is in effect the most Satanic aspect of the film.”
That’s not entirely a negative, though. In fact, if LaVey indeed simply used the publicity from this film to bolster the reputation of The Church of Satan, that is in effect the most Satanic aspect of the film. LaVeyan Satanism advocates for an “individual gain mentality” where one looks out for oneself since we are in effect our own gods. Regardless of whether LaVey was stifled by the film’s production or whether it was his own choice to “phone in” his technical advice, the film and the Church both gained notoriety from it. I would likely not have had any interest in The Devil’s Rain were it not for LaVey’s name being attached to it.
So, is this a Satanic movie? Yes, I believe it is, and it’s worth checking out to see Ernest Borgnine as a humanoid goat creature and the Bosch intro alone! What is your take on The Devil’s Rain? Do you have any thoughts on Satanism? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, and in Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.