Sunday, March 7

Some quick thoughts on Messiah of Evil (1973)

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A young woman, Arletty (Marianna Hill), travels to the coastal town of Point Dune to see her father whom she has lost contact with in recent weeks. Upon arrival, she finds his shoreline penthouse abandoned, with the only trace of her father being dated journal entries and pervasive paintings. The writing describes the madness of dead-eyed townsfolk setting bonfires on the shore staring out over the night water, people transforming into horrid creatures inhabiting empty streets, and his own illness of an unknown force taking over his body.

Soon Arletty accepts in a suave "collector of myths", Thom (Michael Greer), and his two girlfriends. The mysterious Thom has a preoccupation with a local myth that tells of a blood red moon heralding the arrival of a dark stranger to Point Dune one hundred years ago. The longer the group resides in the town; the more they realize the myth appears to be true and coming back around into their reality...

Before I hear it, yes, I'm aware Code Red recently released a well-deserved definitive DVD, but while cleaning today I found Diamond's cheapie double feature and figured what the hell. Finally seeing Messiah of Evil, William Huyck and Gloria Katz's unconventional creeper feels like a long unrecognized keystone of '70s horror. Shot in 1971, it's amazing how quick it was realized how frightening the pairing of flesh-eating undead and a supernatural apocalyptic force is as a horror cinema concoction. Of course, this is rooted in the concept of Resurrection across various religions, but it's just impressive how quickly the football was moved after Romero's pass with '68's Night of the Living Dead. In fact, Messiah... feels like a project George Romero would have pursued, feeling in step with Season of the Witch and The Crazies, if the destiny of Dawn of the Dead hadn't been realized.

Also impressive is how measured Messiah of Evil reels out the mystery of Point Dune's ethereal doom. There's a certain poetry to the tidbits of ghoulish interest that arrive in Marianna Hill's narration and our first encounter with the myth delivered by the hopefully instantly recognizable Elisha Cook Jr. The direction also carries a lyrical European quality, at times feeling like a giallo without the traditional black-gloved murderer. You could say Dario Argento was an influence, but that's probably not the case, as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released a very short time before. Obviously, the legally married team of Huyck and Katz were utilizing what they learned in class from the likes of arthouse auteurs like Godard while in UCLA.

The rat eating albino trucker that seems to be orchestrating the Earth-bound works of the decayed citizenry while also joining in on the fun is creepy as all hell. The animalistic predator/prey aspect of the few tension-filled killings is undoubtedly frightening. Messiah of Evil is definitely worthy of not just seeing but owning. Though Diamond's DVD above sucks ass, featuring a badly beat up, terribly pan-and-scan full screen presentation. This is a film that's framed with such preciseness that it's easily seen how cropped the framing actually is. Code Red's proper 2.35:1 widescreen DVD transfer is certainly preferable and was just ordered by yours truly. This was one that deserved to be rescued from its prior hazy VHS malaise.
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3 comments:

Planet of Terror said...

Great write-up Jayson. I bought this in a collection of films (like 8 or so for $10) at Best Buy and it long sat on my shelf until I saw it about two months ago. Silly me. Its now among one of my all time favorites. And the albino dude IS creepy as hell.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Ive been waiting to grab the Code Red disc too, still have my good ol Mills Creek copy but I would love to see the film in the original aspect with a cleaned print

Bryce Wilson said...

Great write up.

Saw this movie at an Academy screening last year. No prep no nothing. Blew my Goddamn mind.

Quickly become one of my favorite horror films.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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