Saturday, June 20, 2015

Newsploitation: Bryanston makin' it rain!

Shark! Shark! Shark!  That is pretty much all you’ll hear this weekend from entertainment sites as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975).  Now don’t get us wrong, we love that monster shark opus (after all, it begat Bruno Mattei’s CRUEL JAWS [1995]), but we probably can’t say anything about it that hasn’t been said before.  So let’s take the time to acknowledge another birthday for a film that was brave enough to go hoof-to-fin with that blockbuster.  Yes, today also marks the 40th anniversary of release of the Satanic shocker THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975).

Ol’ Beelzebub was always a go to evil figure for filmmakers and Satanism was big business again in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s thanks mostly to ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973).  Producer Sandy Howard must have had his finger on the pulse as the first mention of THE DEVIL’S RAIN as a potential project of his came in a December 5, 1973 issue of Variety, a few weeks before the aforementioned EXORCIST caused a phenomenon in the United States.  The worldwide tallies for that film must have certainly influenced the shady distributor Bryanston Pictures to announce in June 1974 that they were going to finance and distribute the picture with Howard.  Headed by the mafia-connected Peraino family, Bryanston had made bank on the X-rated features DEEP THROAT (1972) and THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973) and were looking to expand their horizons (they would score their first massive mainstream hit in late ’74 with Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE).  Seriously, if you’re making a film about a deal with the devil who better to fund the film than the mob?  In the press release the script was credited to Gabe Essoe and Jim Ashton.  By the time the film was in production, a third screenwriter, Gerald Hopman, was also credited.

The fall of 1974 saw the momentum pick up on the project.  On October 25 it was announced that Robert Fuest signed on as director.  Hailing from the UK, Fuest certainly had the credentials at this point to do a satanic shocker as he had previously helmed AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) and the two DR. PHIBES films with Vincent Price. November saw announcements of the supporting actors signed including Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn.  On December 19, it was announced that William Shatner had been signed for a lead role.  December also saw producers Jim Cullen and Mike Glick head to Mexico to scout locations in Mexico City and Durango.  Also announced in this blurb was mention of the casting of a Broadway actor in his first film role; some dude named John Travolta.  The production was scheduled to begin on January 27, 1975. Early in the new year on January 3 the company announced their final casting acquisition – Ernest Borgnine had been signed to play the head of the cult.  And to ensure authenticity on the subject matter, they hired occultist and Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey to be the “technical advisor.”  The production shot for five weeks on a budget of approximately $1.5 million and wrapped filming on March 3, coming in just one day over schedule.  The most amazing thing is on April 29 it was listed in Variety that the film had secured a PG rating.  So the turn around was just a few weeks.  Gotta love the old independents that could get a flick from start-to-screen in five months.

Since it came out in the ‘70s and that was a billion years ago, there is a lot of confusion online about when this film first came out.  You’ll see July 1975, August 1975, and October 1975.  Truth is Bryanston got the film in theaters regionally and the first area THE DEVIL’S RAIN unspooled for paying audiences was in theaters in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri on June 20, 1975.  Bryanston was so impressed by the film’s success that they took out advertisements in Variety and Box Office magazine crowing about the haul during the first five days.  Unfortunately for them, they were gobbled up as the melting minions proved no match for Spielberg’s shark.  The company again took out an ad in Variety in August 1975 boasting about the film having made $8,735,000 in its first 45 days of release.  The sound you hear is Bruce the Shark yawning (JAWS had made over $100 million – an all-time record in those days – by that point).  Regardless, THE DEVIL’S RAIN still found its audience and is considered somewhat of a classic of the genre today.  It is definitely the world’s best melting Satanists film of all-time.

JAWS leaves THE DEVIL'S RAIN in its wake:



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