Sunday, January 1, 2012

Messiah of Evil (1973)

MESSIAH OF EVIL is an unusual and artistic low-budget American horror film with a fanciful script that results in a surreal and nightmarish sensibility that feels more like ‘70s Euro-horror, causing it to be either fondly remembered or easily forgotten, depending on the viewer’s taste. Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s (the couple that brought us HOWARD THE DUCK and scripted AMERICAN GRAFFITI) ode to madness is probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but with its odd nature and unique horror sequences, the easy to find, but still relatively unknown or unloved, MESSIAH OF EVIL just begs to be blogged about. 

The start almost feels like some sort of one minute film project tacked on at the beginning. The scene of a man running from something unexplained and into a homicidal little girl with a razor blade seemed misleading and unnecessary and ends up being completely forgotten later on since it really has no connection to anything. Things get more interesting quickly, after a short sub-credit sequence, with a shot of a blurry asylum hallway and a woman’s obscure figure walking towards us, slowly, as if she is sleep walking. A woman’s unstable voice, no-doubt crazy from what we are in for, openly narrates a coming threat, calmly at first and slowly builds up to a maddening crescendo. Whether she is talking to herself or narrating to the viewers is unclear, but much like the film, this part is open to interpretation and starts things off beautifully, unlike the tacky throat slashing that occurred before. 

After that terrific intro, we move to Arletty, played by Marianna Hill, driving to the seaside town of Pointe Dune where her father resides. She is concerned about his recent silence and increasingly drastic letters. When she arrives, her father is missing and she is left to ponder the strange situation with journal entries and letters left behind by her father in his bizarre and necrotic house by the sea. 




When Arletty first enters her father’s beach mansion, minds accustomed to more typical horror mansion clichés might expect spiders, dark corridors, dusty furniture, and cobwebs, but the look of the house on the inside is unlike anything one might’ve expected, especially given the fairly plain looking exterior and really is indicative of the artistic and inventive nature of the film.  The eerie figures painted on the walls that seem to be gazing at you in an unsettling and foreboding way and, not to mention, a swinging bed hung to the ceiling by chains, seems very appropriate for the residence of a modern and mad artist. The voiceover narrating the writing of Arletty’s missing father as she reads his nightmarish journal entries is a nice touch at first, like surreal poetry, but ends up feeling a little overplayed as it continues throughout the movie, eventually losing its effect.


  

Just when the film feels like it might be lacking in sleaze and sex, Arletty meets up with three other colorful characters at a hotel who bring a sexual nature to the film that seems out of place in something as dark and gloomy as MESSIAH OF EVIL, these being the mysteriously inquisitive aristocrat Thom, played by Michael Greer, and his attractive “travelling companions” (lovers), Toni and Laura, played by Joy Bang and Anitra Ford. Out of place is never seen as a bad thing by me as long as it doesn’t hinder the enjoyment, and these three characters definitely enhance the film, with Toni and Laura adding a sexy side to the movie. However, it is not only the eye-candy that the two runaway bombshells provide that makes them an enhancing feature, but it is also their strange and unclear reasons for being here. Why are they following Thom like they’re his personal groupies into a place as dreadful and dull as the sleepy Pointe Dune? Is he that smooth, or is there something else going on? In fact, why is a lady-killer like Thom so interested in Pointe Dune? These questions are never addressed which I honestly felt was a good thing. Thom’s interest in the “Blood Moon” seems unnatural and unlikely. Perhaps he shares the same obsession with the moon and the ocean that the residents in Pointe Dune exhibit. 

Arletty is not able to get useful information about her missing father from Thom and is basically shunned away by the three strangers who later show up in her father’s house the following night to her surprise. Nonetheless, she lets them stay and things get very interesting.


 

There is a fairly good on-screen chemistry between Arletty and Thom. Thom seems to lose interest in his attractive “travelling companions” and pursues Arletty, who is also attractive but classier, less playfully sexy, and not openly promiscuous, which is probably something he’s not used to. Thom’s advances on Arletty are amusing and sort of smooth at the same time, in a James Bond sort of way, and if not for the impending doom probably would’ve worked (“you don’t just unzip a man and say goodnight”). 

The monsters in the film are commonly referred to as zombies by fans and critics, which makes sense being that they have an overwhelming fixation with consuming meat, but I like to think of them as victims of a contagious madness that is not driven by an augmented primitive instinct to feed but more by an obsession brought on by a spell or a curse. 




The kill scenes in the movie do not score any points for being overtly gory, but two standout in particular and are remarkable, not for the kills themselves but on the creative buildup to the kills. These are the semi-memorable death scenes in the grocery store and the movie theatre. The grocery store scene where one of the characters is locked in, pursued, and eaten by the locals, reminded me a lot of DAWN OF THE DEAD in that I sensed the walking dead consumerism satire from Romero’s film, even though this wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers being that it predates DAWN. Also, the movie theatre kill is my favorite. I won’t retell it to you, but like I said before, it is not the kill itself that stands out, but it is the creative and doomy situation the character is in that gets major “I’ve never seen that before” points. 




MESSIAH OF EVIL does suffer from a common issue that most nightmare horror suffers from and that is the question: ‘why didn’t they just get in the car and leave’?  Like in SUSPIRIA or HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, we forgive this lack of logic and accept that if they did drive away we wouldn’t have a show where the scriptwriter, playing God, gets to decide the fates and dooms of his or her characters for our amusement. Or one could also rationalize by accepting that, maybe, without knowing it; the characters were drawn further into their deadly situation subconsciously as if being controlled by the impending madness. Consider this: when Thom and Arletty decide to finally get the Hell out of there at the end of the movie, they attempt to escape by running to the beach and swimming out into the sea and into the heart of the evil rather than get in a car (there were two available) and drive out of there. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t let it hinder the enjoyment MESSIAH OF EVIL has to offer. The movie is open to interpretation, so if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t fully explained, either let it go, or try to come up with a rational explanation, get deep with it, and write a blog about it ;).


 

Director and co-scriptwriter Willard Huyck believed that his childhood love for H.P. Lovecraft comes through in the script, which is something that can be sensed from the prominent emphasis on madness, the ocean, and backwater town degenerates. The movie cuts to shots of the ocean frequently, which is sort of like the movie's way of hinting at the source of the evil, which, like Cthulhu, lies sleeping at the bottom of the sea awaiting the right time for the moon to turn red and awaken to reclaim the Earth. The nocturnal ceremonies and cannibalistic behavior of the townspeople could also be seen as the result of dreams/nightmares sent from the “dark stranger” to prepare and herald his return.  

When remembering this movie, most usually recall the supremely creepy albino trucker, played by Bennie Robinson, who despite little acting and no role in the story is a very important addition and if given the opportunity could’ve stolen more scenes based solely on the creep factor. This truck driver is in this film to please horror fans by eating beach rats and by riding around with murdered bodies in the back of his truck, making one thankful that such a place like Pointe Dune doesn’t exist.


"They're coming here.  They're waiting at the edge of the city.  They're peering around buildings at night, and they're waiting.  they're waiting for you!  And they'll take you one by one and no one will hear you scream.  No one will hear you SCREAM!--Arletty/Marianna Hill

7 comments:

  1. I love this movie so much! Visually it is one of the most interesting films I've ever seen, and I want a swinging bed.

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  2. I haven't seen or heard of this movie before. Try everything once is my motto. :) Thanks for the review!

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  3. @initforthekills: I love this movie too. Just enjoyed reading your write up for this terrific movie: http://initforthekills.com/2009/04/09/messiah-of-evil/

    @Jenny Krueger: Your welcome and thank you for the comment. Once is not enough though so be sure to watch it at least twice (not in a row) because it gets better every time.

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  4. This is definitely one of my favorites, thanks for the great review!

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  5. Such an odd film. It really does get reward repeat viewings... I might watch it again this week.

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  6. @Jonny Dead: Glad to hear that you’re fond of this film. Thanks for the compliment; I hope it was an enjoyable read.

    @Kev. D: Agreed. Not sure why that is though. Perhaps it’s the otherworldly plane the film transports the viewer to that is like a pleasurable escape from reality, like an enjoyable place for the viewer to spend time in.

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  7. This film has developed a 'cult' following over the years,but was considered a 'flop' when released because there were so many other horror/zombie films out at the same time,I have not seen this new restored dvd,it's hard to get hold of. Michael Greer was known mostly as a comedian during most of his career,I met him in a club around 1981 where he was performing in Las Vegas..sadly he past away many years ago,he was a great actor also.This was also released in theaters as 'Return Of The Living Dead'and George Romero had to take legal action since it had nothing to do with his 1968 film.

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