From ’70s stud to a fall from grace in the ’80s to a ’90s resurgence to a post-2000s run littered with direct-to-video efforts with the occasional gem tossed in, few actors have a resume quite like that of John Travolta. Tuesdays with Travolta takes TNC readers on a fabulous plane ride through the career of the interesting actor/singer/dancer/pilot.
If you’re writing a column that focuses on a specific actor, does it make a lot of sense to start with a film in which that actor has a very minimal role and merely one line of dialogue? Common sense would say, “Of course not. That’s stupid, why would you do that?” But in this universe, common sense went out the window a long time ago!
Welcome to Tuesdays with Travolta where we’re going to kick things off with The Devil’s Rain!
Directed by the abominable Robert Fuest and released in 1975, The Devil’s Rain is maybe the cultiest of all cult movies. The story revolves around the Preston family and their struggles dealing with a curse placed upon the family by Satanic priest, Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine). The curse was placed because the Preston family is in possession of powerful Satanic book and Corbis really wants that book. Instead of giving the book, the Preston family holds onto it and it leads to great chaos.
The most important thing to know about the Preston family is that mom is Ida Lupino and her sons are William Shatner and Tom Skerritt. And Eddie Albert plays a doctor that works with Skerritt. So basically, it rules
This is a film about faith, with Corbis willing to put his love of Satan up against whatever the Prestons believe in, which I guess is Christianity? If the Prestons win they get to keep their souls, but if they lose they have to pledge their allegiance to Satan and their souls are transported to a glass container known as “The Devil’s Rain”. Corbis seems to be pretty good at getting souls, so it’s not quite clear why he wants to book so bad. I guess it’ll make his soul collecting job easier? Whatever, that’s not really important because this is a movie that ends with a million melting faces.
Did I mention that the Satanists don’t have eyes and Ernest Borgnine turns into a goat man? Because those are things that definitely happen in this movie.
In an effort to make sure the Satanists were portrayed accurately, Anton LaVey, the High Priest and founder of the Church of Satan, served as a technical advisor. So you know this film is legit.
So where does Travolta fit into all of this? Well, it was his first movie, making it important, and he plays a minor Satanists trying to score some major brownie points with Corbis. His intro comes when he wildly drives a car in an attempt to run over Tom Skerritt. When that fails he runs into an abandoned building where he and Skerritt have a fight down a flight of stairs. He later screams out, “Blasphemer, blasphemer!,” when he sees Skerritt trying to sneak in on a Satanic ritual. And then finally he finds the big, powerful Satan book. Good job, John!
As far as acting, there isn’t a lot to see here from Travolta. I mean he has no eyes, which is a shame because the man has beautiful eyes. His great hair is on display, though. His shining moment in this film comes late in the film when he’s trying to hide from the rain in an effort to prevent from melting. He desperately grasps onto a wooden post and despite his lack of eyes, you can see the fear on his face. It’s a fear that says, “Oh powerful and mighty Satan, please do not allow my face to melt in this rain!”
His fears come true. His face melts in the rain.
What makes Travolta’s role in this film so interesting is that he would eventually go on to be the face of Scientology. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of Scientology, but most people generally consider it to be a cult. Is it any more of a cult than any other religion? I don’t think so, but it’s newer so that makes it worse.
The point is that Travolta eventually became the Scientologist. He became the church’s mascot, used as an advertising tool to attract new followers. Given Travolta’s role within Scientology, it can sort of be viewed as a weird, real-life sequel to The Devil’s Rain. At one point in the film, Corbis looks at Travolta and says, “You, my brethren, found the book. You may now bring down the vessel so we may restore it to its holy place.”
Using that moment in the film, it’s kind of fun to think it’s referring to Travolta restoring Scientology to its holy place by making it more popular. Granted, the Church of Satan would hate that I’m drawing this line, but I’ll make it up to them later by playing Chicago backward.
That pretty sums up John Travolta’s feature film debut in The Devil’s Rain. And that my friends, is how you kick off a column about a specific actor by starting with a film in which he has a minimal role. Wasn’t that hard, was it?
For those looking to enjoy The Devil’s Rain in all its glory, I recommend picking up the Severin Films Blu-ray.