Messiah of Evil (1973)

MESSIAH OF EVIL is a real head scratcher of a flick.  It opens with Walter Hill running through town and falling down by a pool after a young girl beckoned him to find refuge.  She kneels down and slits his throat.  Arletty (Marianna Hill) travels to the seaside town of Point Dune in search of her artist father  (Royal Dano) who has stopped writing to her.  While in Point Dune she encounters Thom (Michael Greer) who dresses in ivory three piece suits much like the journalist Tom Wolfe.  Thom is investigating the legend of the “Blood Moon” and the journals of Arletty’s father may hold the clues he needs.  With Thom are his slinky and slender companions Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang).

Since the trio are kicked out of the town’s hotel for being unconventional…they take up with Arletty in her father’s house.  It is covered with much of the man’s work as it adorns the walls of every room.  Rooms devoid of art are instead nightmares of color.  The art is oddly disturbing.  It seems inspired by the work of graffiti artist Blek Le Rat and all of the figures tend to stare at the whoever is viewing them; the images of the subjects greatly resembling the ghoulish residents of Point Dune.  

Laura locked in a supermarket with a bunch of ghoulish denizens that were feasting on raw meat.  When they notice her walking the aisles she finds herself as their next course.  The police seem to be entirely clueless as to what goes on in town after sundown, but then they seem to go to great lengths to deceive Arletty.  Thom and Arletty are called to the ocean front and are shown a corpse said to be Arletty’s father.  The corpse does not have the hands of an artist and as Arletty informs Thom of this he becomes aware that Toni may be in trouble going to the cinema in town.  

Toni watches GONE WITH THE WEST in an eerie and unsettling scene where the town’s ghouls continue to slowly filter into the theater and fill up the seats behind her and eventually around her.  Supremely uncomfortable, she does not begin to panic until she notices some of them are crying tears of blood and then finds she cannot escape.  She is allowed to try until the end of the film when the house lights come up and is eaten before a white screen.

Arletty’s father tells the story of the Dark Stranger who came out of the mountains and instructed a hunter to tell his rescuers his story.  The Stranger then attacks and eats parts of the hunter tearing him apart.  The Stranger was a pastor who had come west with the Donner Party.  While trapped in the pass he tasted human flesh and was shown how to survive by an old god.  The town has waited 100 years for the Blood Moon to herald the return of the Stranger.  Her father succumbs to the infection that attacks all who enter Point Dune and attacks Arletty.  Recalling the wine sot’s words she dispatches him with fire. Arletty attacks Thom and realizes her mistake.  She has progressively been showing odd signs as the the Blood Moon draws near.  She can no longer feel pain and she throws up insects.  She also acts in a consistently less rational fashion.  Thom helps her hold it together and defends her as the ghouls attack the house.

Left with no where to run, Arletty and Thom swim into the bay trying to get to the boats.  Thom drowns too weak to swim himself from an injury he received from Arletty.  She is captured and offered up to the Dark Stranger who frees her to help him spread his dark religion.  The grim ending comes full circle as we learn that Arletty is the woman dancing in the asylum after the opening credits.  MESSIAH OF EVIL is a profoundly dark tale that grabs a hold of the viewer and takes them for a ride that races continuously towards the bottom of an abyss.

There are so many things that make MESSIAH OF EVIL an effective and horrifying film it is hard to list them all.  From the enrapt, ghoulish townsfolk who go to the “waiting” to the Dark Stranger who demands his disciples to spread his religion.  The pre-title sequence is an odd non-sequiter where Walter Hill gets his throat slashed by a seemingly normal young girl with a straight razor when all of the other ghouls definitely prefer to use their teeth.  The odd spell that everyone is under at night while the police officers and “denizens of the day,” as it were, seem to be completely unaware of what happens at night.

The story is led along by dual voiceovers.  One from Arletty and one from her father as he narrates his journal.  The occurrences of the narration are not distracting as could be expected and the exposition is not annoying by any means.  Even as more is revealed the viewer finds there is just as much that is obscured by this almost Lovecraftian story of a flesh eating Dark Stranger, his ghoulish waiters and his new religion of old gods.  That is not the only influence as MESSIAH OF EVIL also channels Herk Harvey’s classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS with the nature of the ghouls and the ever present possibility that Point Dune’s residents are already dead.

Light on gore but big on atmosphere, the picture quality of Code Red’s release is gorgeous.  It is a 2.35:1 transfer mastered in high definition.  The color is crisp and clean and the sound quality is excellent.  The cinematography is exceptional.  Wide shots and amazing night filming add to the eerie and downright creepy atmosphere.  

The 35th Anniversary Special Edition of MESSIAH OF EVIL is loaded with features.  There is an audio commentary with writer/producer Gloria Katz,  and writer/director Willard Huyck.  A featurette “Remembering Messiah of Evil” with Katz, Huyck and a few other involved in the production of MESSIAH, an audio interview with Joy Bang,  and an easter egg of a telephone interview with Joan Mocine.  Also included are the short films: THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE and DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS.  BRIDE is art film with a dual image of men being interviewed in one frame while a bride strips in the other and MEAN STREETS is a 50’s gangster short.  There are also Code Red trailers for THE STATUE, BRUTE CORPS, CHOKE CANYON, NIGHT OF THE DRIBBLER, RITUALS, STUNT ROCK, and FAMILY HONOR.  MESSIAH OF EVIL is available either directly from Code Red at their Big Cartel shop or from DiabolikDVD.

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