FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Aug 20, 2010

"No one will hear you scream!"

Y'all. Y'ALL. I have a new mission in life, and that is to get the whole entire world (which includes YOU) to acknowledge Messiah of Evil (1973) as the GD horror classic that it is. When someone out there declares it "list-making time" and everyone is all, "Oooh, I love this movie and that one and THIS movie totally gives me the creeps!", Messiah of Evil sits home alone, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting to be put on a list or two or all. The lists come and go, but Messiah's phone never rings. It softly cries itself to sleep, wondering what it has to do to get some attention from horror fans. Does it have to put out? Oh baby, it puts out like you would not believe, from the tagline ("Terror you won't want to remember- in a film you won't be able to forget!") on down, and I will ignore it no longer! People who like great horror movies UNITE!


Arletty (Marianna Hill) heads to the sleepy seaside town of Point Dune to search for her missing father, an artist from whom she'd been estranged for some time. When she arrives, she quickly realizes that something's just not right in Point Dune. The locals are either incoherent, frighteningly odd, or simply not at all helpful.

As she hangs out at her father's studio, she finds diaries and papers documenting what could only be described as his descent into madness. She meets Thom (Michael Greer) and his traveling companions Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford) when they arrive unannounced at the studio. Thom and Arletty dig deeper into the mystery and learn of the legend of the Blood Moon that appears over Point Dune, while Laura and Toni grow irritated that they no longer have a hold over Thom's affections.

Oh yeah, and something has caused the residents of Point Dune to turn into bloodthirsty zombie-ghoul things.

Sorry if that's all a little vague, but then Messiah of Evil is a little vague. There's a plot there to figure out, sure, but Messiah is one of those films that comes together slowly. It's more about atmosphere and feeling than it is about explaining everything away or giving concrete answers. It's got the same sort of hazy, dream-like quality that Let's Scare Jessica to Death has, and though it's ostensibly a zombie film, Messiah is definitely much closer kin to Jessica than it is to anything in Romero's oeuvre. The bookend voiceover narration in particular will likely thrill Jessica-heads.

The big star of Messiah of Evil, however, is undoubtedly the cinematography of Stephen M. Katz. Sub-par copies of the film have been floating around forever, the picture cropped into the wrong aspect ratio, the colors muddied to the point of darkness. Code Red released a special 35th Anniversary Edition DVD, restoring the picture to all its technicolor, 2.35:1 glory. It is fucking LUSCIOUS, a feast for the eyes and the pants. Messiah of Evil bears a style that, in my opinion, puts it in the same family as Argento's Suspiria- it's truly a lick-the-screen-worthy film.



While I'm all about a visceral slasher flick or any manner of outrageous animals running amok, evocative horror movies tend to dig the deepest into my psyche. They're not so much an assault on the senses as they are quiet burrowers, working their way under my skin, rendering me tense before I even realize it. Messiah of Evil is absolutely one of those films: it perfectly captures the feeling of the uncanny as we're introduced to some of the residents of Point Dune- they're off. They're stilted and not-quite-right, much like the town itself. It's too quiet, particularly at night when the streets are empty and the only sound is the buzzing of a neon sign. Both Toni and Laura walk around town, only to quickly discover that they're not alone and that they're very much in danger. These two sequences are incredibly shudder-inducing: Laura wanders into an empty grocery store only to discover some townfolk huddled over a freezer, dining on raw meat. After a moment, they notice her...



Toni, meanwhile, sits alone in a movie theater. The seats behind her slowly fill up with townspeople in a set piece reminiscent of the famous playground scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. It is pure bone-chilling awesome.

What a gem. I loved this movie, plain and simple. If you love gorgeous, creepy mood pieces, you're in for a treat. Check it out and spread the word- just be sure to pick up Code Red's superior 35th Anniversary Edition if you do. The next time you make a list of amazing horror flicks, don't forget Messiah of Evil. You don't want it to cry, do you?

14 comments:

Planet of Terror said...

Hot damn! I saw this for the first time evas a few months back. It is truly a gem. That theater scene gave me the willies. And so wonderfully shot.

Thomas Duke said...

I have loved this movie for many years, even in the pan and scan days, so the Code Red DVD is a revelation. I described this movie as "if Bernardo Bertolucci directed an apocalyptic zombie movie."

A bit of trivia: If you watch Annie Hall closely, you'll them drive by a theater playing Messiah of Evil (and House of Exorcism as the 2nd feature). If it's good enough for the Woodman, I say, it's good enough for me.

Robert H. said...

Code Red's release is definitely the way to go - it thankfully ditches that annoying song that's heard in the PD versions...

I'm convinced that if the filmmakers were European instead of USC film students, this would be hailed as genius. It's got atmosphere -- but its surrealism doesn't seem so much intentional as a product of 'running out of money', which the filmmakers completely cop to the true ending and other major story points not being shot because of that. A European director could've convinced everyone that the story holes was part of the director's 'vision'.

Ben said...

Y'know, funnily enough, I scribbled down a quick "my top 13 favourite horror movies ever" type list just last week, and I think 'Messiah of Evil' came in at about #7 or something.

So, er, yeah - job done in this tiny corner of the list-making universe. It's a pretty incredible movie.

Stacie Ponder said...

I've got to check out the commentary for sure. Robert, I agree- this movie has a definite European feel. I don't know if Suspiria was actually influenced by it at all, but Messiah is a spiritual predecessor at the least. Unfortunately, I think it gets lumped in with drive-in fare. I love drive-in flicks, but that's not really where it belongs.

Don't know if they delve into it on the commentary or not, but it's been long-rumored that Gloria Katz actually co-directed this.

CashBailey said...

Great movie. It's hard to believe it was only made for something like eighty grand.

And the fella that dies at the beginning of the film is actually a very young Walter Hill!

Bryce Wilson said...

YAAAAAAYYY

Was lucky enough to see this on the big screen, last Halloween when they were testing the new print of Day Of The Triffads. And it became an instant favorite.

It was pretty awesome.

Still I can't help but think that if it wasn't for that very silly shot of that hippie dressed in black walking out of the waves it'd be perfect. But how can you not love a movie featuring a blind gallery owner?


Glad to see it getting some love.

CashBailey said...

Someone above said that it was like Bertolucci directing a zombie film.

When I'm talking it up to people I find myself describing it as if Mario Bava directed Lovecraft's SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH.

ongoingly said...

oh and BY THE WAY..I am watching it NOW here...

http://www.archive.org/details/Dead_People_movie

yee haw!

Nick Mullins said...

Messiah of Evil! I'm so glad you're burning a torch for this flick.

I love how every character in this movie is a character. I don't mean that they're complex, but that they aren't stock types. Present day horror directors could learn something here. I also love everyone's face in this film, either beautiful or grotesque.

I didn't know there was a new DVD, so thanks.

Less Lee Moore said...

Damn, this looks good. It's not on Zip.ca, but I might look for a copy at the upcoming Toronto Fan Expo. Thanks for the tip!!

Arbogast said...

The Woody Allen connection to Messiah of Evil goes deeper: Joy Bang had a bit in Play It Again, Sam.

Joenan the Barbarian said...

wow.... I've never even heard of this before. Looks like a pretty good find!

Steven said...

Great call on this one, and a delightful array of screenshots. Shot #2 looks like Robert Shaw on a bender, which would've made for a terrifying film in its own right.