Retro Review: Shatner and Borgnine Give Satan His Due: THE DEVIL’S RAIN Will Fall on the 11th Annual Rock & Roll Monster Bash!

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 By:

Rock & Roll Monster Bash presents THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975); Dir. Robert Fuest; Starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn and Joan Prather; Sunday, June 2; Starlight Six Drive-In; Buy tickets here. Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Rock & Roll Monster Bashin’ time, kiddiwinkies! And if you’ve spent all day celebrating at the Starlight Six Drive-In, there’s no better way to cap off the night than with a double-bill of diabolical delights. And it doesn’t get more diabolical or delightful than THE DEVIL’S RAIN.

Okay, I’m biased. Let’s get that straight from the start. Around my house, if there’s a movie made in the ‘60s or ‘70s about a bunch of folks worshipping Our Downstairs Neighbor, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt. And likewise, if your name is Robert Fuest, and you’ve directed a movie about anything, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt.

This is why it’s constantly puzzled me that folks give THE DEVIL’S RAIN such short shrift. Even in the limited genre that is Satanic Cinema of the Sixties and Seventies, it gets relatively little love. And I’m not talking about pitting its reputation against that of established classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY. I’m talking stuff like THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, THE WITCHMAKER, BEYOND THE DOOR, ALUCARDA, and on and on and on. I mean, sure, huge chunks of the movie don’t make a lick of sense. But that’s never stood in the way of a film building up a cult following.

Partially, I think it’s got to have something to do with the prevailing notion that anything touched by the Hand of Shatner outside of the STAR TREK franchise is somehow shameful at worst, and best appreciated as camp at best. And maybe it’s got something to do with so much of the cast being composed of actors either well past their prime and heading for the Irwin Allen Disaster Movie Retirement Home (Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert) or so early on in their careers that they don’t make much impact (Tom Skerritt, John Travolta). Maybe it’s because Ernest Borgnine spends most of the movie going so over-the-top that you can’t see bottom anymore. Maybe it’s because the movie’s promotional tagline is so grammatically incorrect that I’ve been trying to decipher it for decades (“Heaven help us all when…The Devil’s Rain!” Huh? When the Devil’s Rain does what? Are you trying to say “when the Devils rain?” or “when the Devils reign?” Are you confusing your plurals and possessives?)

Or maybe it’s because some people don’t like to have fun, for crying out loud. Because this is one fun movie.

Re-hashing the plot won’t help anybody, so I’ll just say this: Ernest Borgnine is the reincarnation of a devil-worshipping warlock burned at the stake long ago, and he’s back (and holed up in a church in the desert) to obtain a book kept hidden over these many years by William Shatner’s family. There’s a Snowglobe of the Damned called “The Devil’s Rain” that contains the souls of those Borgnine has ensnared. There’s some pseudo-scientific gobbeldy-gook about ESP that brings Shatner’s extended family of Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert and Joan Prather into the mix. There are flashbacks to the burnings. There are lots of folks in black robes with no eyes (including John Travolta) running around doing Borgnine’s bidding. And maybe they’re made of wax or something because they all tend to melt.

Like I said: big chunks that don’t make a lick of sense.

Ernest Borgnine in THE DEVIL'S RAIN.

But what works in this movie, works like crazy. Fuest’s direction is—as always—stylish and visually fascinating. Don’t forget, this is the guy who directed THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, the Michael Moorcock adaptation THE FINAL PROGRAMME (aka THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH) and numerous episodes of THE AVENGERS. The guy’s got flash if he’s got anything. There’s a prevailing sense of dread cast over the entire film from its opening frames, with the stage being set by the opening titles presented over the hellishly hallucinatory artwork of Hieronymus Bosch. There’s the unique in media res opening that delivers the sense that we’ve been dropped into the movie after its first reel, leaving the audience disoriented as they try to piece together what’s happening. There’s Ernest Borgnine invoking the spirit of Satan and turning into a Baphomet-headed beast. There’s the presence of the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey (ANTON FREAKIN’ LAVEY, people!) as both the film’s technical advisor and Borgnine’s High Priest, playing the pipe organ and sporting a diabolically groovy helmet for some reason. There’s fantastic makeup work from Ellis Burman, Jr. There’s an insanely great score by Al De Lory. And it ends exactly like it ought to end.

Let me say this: if this movie had been made in Italy, the horror community at large would be salivating over THE DEVIL’S RAIN like it was Edwige Fenech in STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (Italian exploitation fans represent!). But because of its familiarity—being ever-present on late-night TV, the drive-in circuit and relatively easy to get on home video through the years—it’s easily overlooked. Don’t make this mistake, dear readers! This movie deserves a re-evaluation and a re-appreciation. Much like Shatner’s career has developed a post-TREK rehabilitation, we should go back and give the Devil his due.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kats of the Week: DILBERT Does Demonic: Raising Corporate Hell with the Pretty Faces of Shane Morton and Chris Brown

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Chris Brown and Shane Morton at The Lab. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

When Shane Morton, aka Atlanta’s Renaissance man of horror, and Chris Brown, mad mastermind of Macabre Puppets and the bloody musical SCARLET’S WEB (Dad’s Garage), first got involved with Adult Swim‘s  YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL, they immediately realized this grotesque and groovy gig was their dream, or should we say nightmare, job. The initial assignment was special effects makeup, but the show didn’t have an art director yet. It’s a story Shane has already told colorfully in several articles, but he asked them for a couple of days to film a make-up test to prove the pair could transform humans into demons in 45 minutes, then he got to work on sketches and models. Being old-school Ray Harryhausen fans, Shane and Chris wanted to do as much as possible with miniatures, but budgets and technological advances dictated a balance between digital effects for lava flows and heads spinning like Linda Blair and the old ways for blood spurts and HR Geiger-esque urinals. Still, the pair didn’t have to do much to convince everyone to let them take over much of what perhaps a little ironically is called the “practical” effects for the series.

“Maybe we were thinking too much about that,” Shane says, speaking about his passion for traditional effects from the monster FX Lab he’s built south of the city at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. The undead Halloween attraction is one of many horror events he has nurtured locally and is a big force behind the transformation of Atlanta into Halloween-town, USA. “We did sculpt and cast all the horns themselves,” he continues. “We didn’t want to be just painting people red and sticking horns on them, and we didn’t want anything store-bought.”

Ever since the Middle Ages, comedies about deals with the Devil have proven a surefire hit. Think about such Retro cult classic movies as BEDAZZLED (The 1967 version, of course, starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and POOR DEVIL (TV, 1971), starring Sammy Davis Jr.  and Christopher Lee). YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL mixes in-your-face crassness and generous gore with office comedy, reimagining Hades as a contemporary cubicle-ridden setting. Demon Gary (played by Henry Zebrowski) is dedicated but far too much of a screw-up to earn a promotion. Yet it’s hard not to empathize with the well-meaning “associate” because we all like to complain about our bosses, but his, well, has to be worst because it’s Satan. The original live-action series is created and directed by Dave Willis (AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, SQUIDBILLIES) and Casper Kelly (SQUIDBILLIES, HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW; STROKER & HOOP). The final installment of the six-episode run airs this Thursday May 23, 2013, at midnight.

Henry Zebrowski stars as Gary the demon in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

At the Silver Scream Spookshow, Shane’s homage to Retro spook shows of old, he regularly performs magic tricks as Horror Host with the Most Professor Morte. Whether transforming humans into monsters with make-up, conjuring up crazy sets or engineering a splattery gross-out nosebleed, Shane views his effects work equally as magic. A consummate showman, he “performs” for the crew and ultimately the TV audience. “When there is special effects stuff going on, everybody wants to be around to watch it,” Shane says. “You’re getting to see the trick in the magic trick. You’re getting to peek behind the curtain.”

Part of the magic on YOUR PRETTY FACE was having to be prepared for the unexpected every day on the set. The script served only as a loose guide because a great deal of improvisation happened, too, Shane says. With that in mind, he kept a “library of prosthetics” on set. At the AZA Lab prior to shooting, he crafted multiple “wounds and hanging eyeballs and sets of teeth, because you never know what these people are going to ask for.”

Shane and Chris started each day by getting the cast into make-up. As simple as it may seem to paint someone red and stick on horns, Shane notes that because the body is organic–yeah, people sweat and rub against things–there’s a nonstop need for  reapplication. “We were constantly touching up their noses, painting in their ears, touching their beards up, molesting them all day long,” Shane says. “You have to get intimate.”

That process became trickier when on location, such as for the third episode, Take Life By the Horns,” in which Gary found himself fallen into a ravine. That shoot involved dodging poison ivy and copperhead snakes and having to rappel camera equipment down the side of a mountain, Chris recalls.

After make-up, the pair would launch into preparing the special effects and any additional props needed for the day. Sometimes that could be blood or pus or a potion of extreme projectile vomit, also needed for the ravine shoot. “We had a limited amount of time, so I literally used a sump pump, like you use to bail water out of your basement,” Chris says. “I put together a big plunger and a giant syringe, and then opened the nozzle to spew out a rainbow collection, which included stew, cream of mushroom soup, I made some gelatin and crunched up into chunks. The smell quickly turned rancid so it even smelled like vomit.” In addition, Gary broke his leg from the fall down the cliff, and Chris had to create nauseating pus to spew from the wound. Yes, it did involve black blood, red blood and tapioca pudding!

Satan (Matt Servitto) gets a touch-up from Shane Morton. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane and Chris are used to working wonders on a tight budget and schedule whether it’s for local theater or DEAR GOD! NO!, an over-the-top neo-exploitation movie involving bikers, Bigfoot and a Nazi mad scientist which scored awards at grindhouse festivals across the nation. While the budget was not huge for YOUR PRETTY FACE, it was much larger than the typical indie which allowed such treats as Chris was crafting Satan’s legs out of actual yak fur rather than a used gorilla suit. “The original talk was that Satan would be fat, over-the-hill, and extra lecherous like the demon in LEGEND (1985) as if time has caught up with him,” Shane says. “We were really gung ho for that, but we loved the look he ended up with.”

A secret ingredient underneath Satan’s furry legs was spandex tights, that could easily be changed out if Matt Servitto, the actor who plays Satan, felt sweaty. A lycra lining gave four-way stretch which, as Shane notes, even allowed Matt to do David Lee Roth kicks in a photo shoot. As for costume maintenance, well, “it was like combing out a big dog,” Chris says.

Perhaps Shane’s favorite set pieces are the aforementioned H.R. Geiger-esque urinals, the bowls of which needed to accommodate the heads of demons who displeased Satan. Yeah, he pees on them, including sometimes poor hapless Gary. Originally they were supposed to be clean, standard urinals, but then Shane had the crazy idea to make them scary: “Everything in hell is monsters, so let’s make the urinals monsters, too!”

Shane Morton at work on Claude (Craig Rowin), Gary's over-dedicated intern in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane went home and crafted a miniature model, brought it in, and got the greenlight to create a urinal that looks like an extra-large facehugger. He toyed with various color ideas but finally decided that the bathrooms otherwise would be spotless in Hell.

The demonic duo were impressed that the show really did follow through with Satan actually peeing on the demons’ heads. Of course, even with a program that prides itself on shock value, some things inevitably didn’t make the final cut. For example, Satan won’t poop on Gary’s face, even though the scene was filmed. “It will end up on DVD maybe,” Shane says hopefully. “Somebody getting pooped on or an arm hacked off is a good day at work! It keeps the energy up.”

Satan’s office is packed with props created by Shane and Chris, though it is not perhaps quite the devilish “greatest hits” collection that they originally envisioned. Instead of the trophies and plaques that have become de rigeur in executive offices, Shane wanted to include on the shelf Eve’s apple, Christ’s crown of thorns and Hitler’s head in a jar. And clearance couldn’t be gotten for Wall of Shame photos of Satan flashing a big grin with dubious celebrities such as David Hasselhoff and the Octomom. Still, those who look carefully will see many subtle Shane and Chris touches such as faces of tortured souls on the steel balls that click back and forth on the Devil’s desk. “Everything is pumped up a little bit because after all we are in hell,” Shane says. “Even the elevator switch looks like something scary.”

In other words, Shane and Chris had one of a helluva good time. At an apartment location, some little old ladies told the crew “they were going to pray for us because we were doing the devil’s work,” Shane says. “We joked every day and maybe it did get a bit old but ‘it’s really hell getting all this done today!’”

Shane holds up his own head, a prop he crafted for DEAR GOD! NO! Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

As the season draws to a close, the pair are now just waiting to hear the final ratings and whether the show gets greenlit for a second season. If yes, they’re hoping for a bigger budget and the chance to play around more with more practical special effects over CGI–“to raise the bar,” as Chris says. “If we end up getting multiple seasons, it’s only going to get more extreme,” he adds. And maybe there’ll even be a cameo for that giant spider with the humungous nut-sack hanging on his back that turned out to be expensive to cast.

In the meantime, Chris will be working on the script for a $3-4 million movie version of SCARLET’S WEB. And Shane recently wrapped the indie feature, TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY. In it, he appears as Professior Morte, fulfilling the Cryptkeeper role, introducing the segments and holding the show together. He’s also involved in preproduction with director Jimmy Bickert for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, the much-anticipated sequel to DEAR GOD! NO! It will be filmed in 35mm widescreen hopefully by the end of 2013, he revealed, and include a lot more special effects and monsters. Look for Shane, or rather his Professor Morte alter-ego, at the 11th Annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Six Drive-In on Sunday June 2. The movies this year are THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975) and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), not to mention six bands, scary shopping and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling! [ED. Note: Watch for Retro Reviews of both movies next week]

Editor’s Note: Shane and Chris are just a few of the talented local folk streaming by in the end credits of YOUR PRETTY FACE. More ATLRetro friends include producer Linda Burns (V/H/S, THE SIGNAL), set decorator/property master Laurie Garner, who’s played bass in so many Atlanta bands (She-Monster and Vietnam to name a few), and the indomitable Eddie Ray (SATANIC PANIC BAND OUT OF HELL and a previous Kool Kat to boot!).

ALSO: Learn some of the make-up secrets Shane Morton used in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL at his Monster Make-up Class on Sunday May 26 in his Lab at AZA. For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page here.

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The Devil Lives in Jake La Botz’s Throat: The Dark Pleasures of Raising Hell as the Trickster Who Tempts and Teases the GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 By:

Jake La Botz and Kylie Brown in the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere production of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.

As the highly anticipated world premiere production of the Stephen King/John Mellencamp/T-Bone Burnett GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY hits its final week at the Alliance Theatre, there’s one thing critics and audiences seem to be able to agree on. Jake La Botz lights the stage on hellfire as The Shape, a supernatural trickster, tempter and Greek Chorus to the Southern Gothic Cain and Abel tale. Arms and chest riddled with tattoos with a slicked back pompadour that conjures images of Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, La Botz looks like the older man your mama warned you to stay away from but who you were certain held the keys to Elvis’s “One Night of Sin.” His untamed bump, grind and sensuosity can’t help to remind one of the scandalous early days of rock ‘n’ roll when church moms sought to ban Elvis and THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW refused to shoot the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll from the waist down.

All of which makes it a bit of a surprise that GHOST BROTHERS is Jake’s first go at musical theatre. But he’s a veteran musician who often plays tattoo parlors and a character actor in movies ranging from independent cult features like Terry Zwigoff‘s GHOST WORLD to major Hollywood pictures such as RAMBO. His vocals and lyrics reverberate with dark poetry and raw energy. He even sings a song called “The Devil’s Lives in My Throat.” He’s been compared to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and a “modern day Hank Williams” by Steve Buscemi who has cast him in two of his movies, ANIMAL FACTORY and LONESOME JIM.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Jake to find out more about how he approached the role of The Shape and what’s next for him after the curtain falls on this virgin run on Sunday May 13.

How did you land the role of The Shape and why did you personally want to play the part?

I got an email from Laura Stanczyk, a heavy-hitting New York casting director, a couple of years ago to come in and audition for a show called HARPS AND ANGELS that was set to Randy Newman’s music. At the time I was living in New Orleans, touring as a singer/songwriter, and occasionally acting in films… no background whatsoever in theatre. To this day I have no idea how Laura Stanczyk found me. After flying to New York to meet with Laura, Randy and director Jerry Zaks – and not getting the part – I thought ‘musical theatre… hmmm… what a fluke… but that was interesting.’ Laura must’ve kept me in her mental Rolodex because when GHOST BROTHERS came along, she sent me an email that said “Jake, I have something you are PERFECT for” She was right. I took the job because I wanted to work with an exciting group of people and explore new territory as an actor – both the role and the medium.

Jake La Botz as the malevolent character The Shape in Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.

Your performance can’t help but remind me of a time when rock n roll was down ‘n’ dirty and just emerging from blues and honkytonk, Elvis Presley was still scandalous with his hip grinds and Johnny Cash wore black. Which musical performers inspired you and why?

Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment. That was an interesting time in music. It’s almost as if white people were able to touch back into their pre-Christian roots. The stuff Elvis was doing had been done for years by black blues and R ‘n’ B singers before him. Sex and music is primordial –  imagine a ‘pagan’ ritual, Greek god Dionysus.

I’m inspired by all the great roots-American music (blues, gospel, field hollers, hillbilly, ragtime, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, etc). My favorite singers are the ones that sound unique and otherworldly: Skip James, Hank Williams, Blind Willie Johnson, Bob Dylan, Tommy Johnson, Howling Wolf. I like to listen to music that sounds like it’s coming directly from “the source,” i.e. not manipulated too much by the entrepreneurial efforts of ego.

Seems like there could be quite a bit of Randall Flag (THE STAND) in The Shape, too—the manipulator, the trickster. Did Steve give you any background reading or direction in how to prep for the part?

No background or prep work from anyone particularly, although the entire cast was asked to watch Tennessee Williams films. The Shape I’m doing now is the same character I created for the audition, though he has filled out quite a bit since then. And I received quite a bit of good suggestions from John Mellencamp, director Susan Booth and choreographer Danny Pelzig along the way.

Your dialogue makes lots of intimations that The Shape might be The Devil. Is he?

Intimations? You mean like riding up from ‘below’ on an elevator? Wearing red? Talking about how I get bad reviews in church?

In the elevator down to the parking garage after the performance, two older blonde yuppie women told me they liked the show overall but that the language didn’t have to be so obscene, i.e. “tone it down.” Why are they wrong?

I’ve heard that a lot. I’m not sure they are wrong.

What was it like working with John Mellencamp and T-Bone Burnett? Did you collaborate with them at all on the music, or was it more just taking what they gave you and bringing the character to life?

What an honor to work with both of them. The direction I was given was to take the songs and make them my own… make them like The Shape. I’ve enjoyed doing that. I’m playing two of T-Bone’s guitars in the show… how cool is that?!?!

Have you heard anything about where GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY may be performed next and will you be reprising the part of The Shape?

There’s no telling at this point about the future of the show or the cast. I haven’t heard anything confirmed. Of course, I would love to be part of this if it goes to Broadway.

Have you had a chance to get out on the town at all while you’ve been in Atlanta? Any favorite hangout or local musician?

Haven’t had much time to explore. Cast member and country music legend Dale Watson had a Monday night residency at Smith’s Olde Bar that many of us frequented and also performed at. That was a hoot.

What’s next for you after GHOST BROTHERS? I saw something on your Website about a European tour and we’ll be seeing you onscreen in a new movie version of Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD (Directed by Walter Salles; Starring Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen) and in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER?

From here I head to Cannes for the premiere of ON THE ROAD, followed by a European tour. Then back to NYC to look for a job! Yeah, both movies [are] coming out this year.

If you missed James Kelly’s Retro Review of GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY, you can catch up on it here. To purchase tickets for the final performances, click here.

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