Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Messiah of Evil (1973) review


Mariana Hill (Arletty), Michael Greer (Thom), Joy Bang (Toni), Anitra Ford (Laura), Royal Dano (Joseph Long), Elisha Cook Jr. (Charlie), Bennie Robinson (Albino)

Directed by Willard Hyuck

The Short Version: Ultra eerie and obscure shocker that delivers dollops of dread and picturesque imagery of the ghoulish kind. An unsung classic of 70's horror, this unsettling little cinematic nightmare is for lovers of Lovecraft and a guaranteed goosebumper for those with an appreciation for atmospheric terror tales.

A young woman named Arletty enters Point Dune, a foreboding seaside hamlet with the intent of finding her father, an artist named Joseph. Once there, she finds the townsfolk to be acting in a strange and peculiar manner. Upon meeting three other individuals, one of them also looking for her father, they make a horrifying discovery involving dead people, cannibalism and a terrible tale of the "Blood Moon" and the return of a mysterious stranger from the sea.

This supremely creepy and obscure terror tale is one of the most surprising discoveries to see the light of DVD in a long time. While it's not for everybody, if you enjoy a surreal horror experience with a slow, but suspenseful build, this is a great film to add to your collection. For a film with cannibalism as one of its subjects there's relatively little gore, so those hoping for some bloody delights may want to look elsewhere.

The filmmakers go to great lengths to hover an aura of dread that looms from the opening of the movie and maintains its sinister air straight to the bizarre conclusion. That's one of the films greatest strengths. A strong sense of uneasiness permeates the picture and never quite lets go. Some see the ending as the only weakness of the movie as the filmmakers state that they ran out of money and had to make do with what they had. And they brilliantly weave all the elements of this quirky and squirm inducing script to create a frightening sense of isolation and ghoulish decadence.

Described as an art film, that sums it up perfectly. Art is one of the main plot devices seen in the movie and also takes the form of some of the most unsettling imagery the picture has to offer. The ominous house of Arletty's father's is filled with an oppressive collage of life like personages of individuals with empty features. At numerous points in the film, these painted backdrops appear to take on an evil life of their own and possess a hauntingly beautiful quality in their design.

Literally everyone in the town of Point Dune are abnormal in some way. Whether they are surrounding a bonfire near the ocean cloaked in black robes, looking up at the moon at night in a zombie like daze, or stalking and killing the last remnants of normal folk who have stumbled into this creepy community. One of the main overseers of the "Blood Moon" is this bizarre albino character who pops up sporadically throughout the movie bringing death with him.

There are so many moments of memorability it's difficult to mention them all without giving something away. Revealing certain details would do this production no justice. It's simply a movie that needs to be seen to fully appreciate the grim canvas the filmmakers have painted. The opening sequence, the grocery store scene, the scene in the movie theater, so many sequences that play out like mini short films within the framework of Hyuck and Gloria Katz's directorial effort.

I'm curious if Fulci had seen this movie at some point prior to shooting CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980). In that film, those who become victims of the dead first bleed from the eyes. In MESSIAH OF EVIL, those who are turned into cannibalistic followers of The Dark Stranger and the Blood Moon ritual also bleed from the eyes. Another connection between this little seen 70's horror and Fulci's maggot gorged gore opus is an air of Lovecraftian proportions.

Fans of former 'Price Is Right' model, Anitra Ford will rejoice in her presence here as one of Thom's companions who quickly becomes discomforted at the thought of staying too long in Point Dune. She had a brief, but glorious exploitation tenure starring in such genre classics as THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973).

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973) is quite simply one of the most offbeat and mesmerizingly atmospheric horror movies ever. It's a one of a kind experience that fans of the 'slow burn' will likely appreciate. The closest approximation would be LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971), another oppressively eerie little horror movie that still manages to slip below the surface far too often. MESSIAH wholeheartedly delivers on the EVIL of its title far more than other movies involving demonic themes and comes highly recommended.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

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