Sunday, May 24, 2009

Library of Classics: RAIN OF FIRE (Holocaust 2000, 1977)

It didn't take long for me to recognize what Lionsgate was peddling in their recent DVD of a Kirk Douglas film the title of which I had never heard of before. All I had to see was Simon Ward's name and I realized they were repackaging Alberto De Martino's Omen-ripoff Holocaust 2000, perhaps to be rid of the obsolete dating, perhaps also to hide a bad reputation for the movie. I'd never seen the film before, so when the Albany Public Library made it one of their more improbable recent acquisitions, I decided to give it a shot, and I'm glad I did.

Because of his current standing as a living legend of the screen, it may be hard to recognize that Kirk Douglas's career was on the skids in the 1970s. When you compare his output from the great decade with his peers (Lancaster, Mitchum, Holden, Peck) it's not that impressive. Even Peck was skidding a bit, but Kirk had to notice what The Omen did for Greg. But to get similar results, at the time, Douglas had to go to Europe (where he'd done The Master Touch a few years earlier) for this Anglo-Italo production was set up for the director of Blazing Magnum. I've watched that recently without reviewing it here, but its two great highlights -- the stunt-happy car chase scene and Stuart Whitman's bruising brawl with a gang of transvestites -- further encouraged me to try Holo--I mean Rain of Fire.

It's not such an Omen ripoff after all. Look: Douglas's character Robert Caine is a businessman, not a diplomat, and the Antichrist is practically grown up, not a toddler. Oh, all right, people have a funny way of dying when they could mess up the infernal plan, but wouldn't the Devil do that anyway even if there had never been an Omen? Anyway, the plan is different, too, though the makers of Holocaust 2000 didn't know going in what the long range plan was for the Omen franchise -- and they didn't know their film would be renamed Rain of Fire, either. But Omenologists will recall that Damien's plan is to pretty much make everyone miserable so that they'd renounce God, while Angel Caine (Simon Ward) simply wants to kill everyone in a nuclear holo--(sigh) --rain of fire.

I'm an atheist, but I'd still have this guy
pegged as an Antichrist just on appearances. Simon Ward in the film formerly
known as
Holocaust 2000.

How does Robert Caine happen to raise an Antichrist? I cannot tell you, but it seems to have something to do with little Angel strangling a twin to death in Mommy's womb. Also, carrying the genes of an avatar of Kirk will give you a certain degree of cussedness even before other powers intervene. But it all does seem to be part of a plan, as our hero begins to discover strange numerological coincidences linking his big Middle Eastern nuclear power project with some of the symbolism of the Apocalypse. Some people don't like this idea simply because of the pollution it might cause. Protesters dog Caine's every step, chanting: What do our children want to be when they grow up? Alive! Them he won't believe, but all those coincidences get him having very strange dreams.

I don't think Kirk Douglas would know how to merely go slumming in exploitation cinema. He earned stardom in a series of apoplectic performances (Champion, Detective Story, Ace in the Hole) in which his characters drove themselves into early graves by force of pure will, it seemed, and at moments here he taps into that early fury. He throws himself into the show with Bela-like commitment, putting himself through more than Lugosi ever had to endure in a picture. Two scenes stand out: a feverish dream sequence that requires him to run naked through a desert and martyr himself (sort of) in a crowd of demonstrators; and a furious insane asylum visit that comes off less like Douglas's dream project of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and more like Shock Corridor, albeit with more color and violence.

Above, the dream; below, the nightmare.

Since I left out the bit where Douglas smashes an assailant's skull with that plank, I may as well show you the other gore highlight. A change in government in the Middle East has jeopardized Caine's power-plant project, so it's up to Satan to do something about it, helicopter style.

I don't mean to suggest that it was all hard knocks for poor Kirk in Europe. After all, he gets to go shoulders-&-sheets with the charming Agostina Belli, so charming a female that the innocent fawns of the forest are drawn to her.

Everybody loves Agostina Belli in (with apologies to Lionsgate) Holocaust 2000.

She becomes the object of some anxiety when Kirk confuses his prophecies and begins to believe that the child she's carrying by him will be the Antichrist rather than his grown boy. His suspicions are furthered in a manipulative scene in which Belli's character claims she's too tired to visit a church, leading Kirk to think she can't enter such a sanctuary. These suspicions lead our hero to force her into having an abortion -- with the endorsement of a Roman Catholic priest! I'll leave that particular plot point in suspense, as the whole film rather leaves you hanging. As if they, too, were planning a sequel, the filmmakers leave most of the major characters alive, though the balance of power has shifted a bit. What might Holocaust 2001 (or Rain of Fire 2, if you insist) have been like? The world will never know.
Whatever you choose to call the picture (your choices also include The Chosen and Hex Massacre), it wasn't your everyday Italo exploitation project. Getting Douglas and Anthony Quayle, among others, was just part of a budget that included some nice art direction and location work. Morricone did the music, by the way. Especially now on a widescreen DVD, this is a treat to look at, even if the plot doesn't endure much thought. For instance, the devil's style is to kill those who might interfere with his scheme. But at a certain point, the main obstacle becomes Robert Caine, yet at that point the best the evil one can do is to get him very temporarily confined to the nervous hospital. Why aren't buildings falling on him, for Satan's sake? On the other hand, there is no way you want Kirk Douglas taken off the screen prematurely on this occasion. He more than earns respect from genre buffs and exploitation fans with his all-out work here, though he may not necessarily have respected himself for a while afterward. It's his shamelessness on screen that makes the movie worthwhile.
* * *
Now dig this: an alternate ending to the movie that has been copied from a Greek tape and posted to YouTube. I'm guessing this was for countries that wanted a less ambivalent ending or where censorship boards required evil to lose. You can also find the whole film in installments, as well as clips of the helicopter death scene and Kirk's dream, if you look for them.


Unknown said...

Yet again you've dug out a movie that I haven't seen since I was a kid and have long forgot. I'd like to check this one out again.

Samuel Wilson said...

Don't forget to ask for it by name, Rev. Which one is up to you.

venoms5 said...

I've long skipped over this one for years. But judging by the write up and the pics, it looks to be a very interesting movie.

On an unrelated note, but mentioned in the review, BLAZING MAGNUM is truly an ace film and wholeheartedly deserves a legit US DVD release.

Anonymous said...


Samuel Wilson said...

Venom5: I agree that Blazing Magnum deserves better than the Grindhouse Experience. Whitman's battle with the cross-dressers is a great moment in exploitation.

Cheesy: Thanks for posting. The film gets easier to find but I guess there's some variation in what you'll see besides the titles.

Erich Kuersten said...

Saw this last night and loved it. Great summation of the film too.... even got my girl semi-into it, though she hated Angel's weird, alien face.

The whole monsignor facilitating involuntary abortions angle is off the chain!! Some of those Italians were getting some serious Catholic guilt issues worked out, and god bless them for it.