“You Don’t Just Unzip A Man And Say Goodnight.”
Released to Blu-ray in October of 2014 by Code Red, Messiah Of Evil is probably not one of the better known horror films of the 1970’s. A film with little budget and even less promotional fanfare, it still deserves to be noticed, if only for the fact that some of the film crew attached to it would later go on to work on some incredibly memorable films. Not all of them memorable for the right reasons.
The film opens on a man running down a street at night. He is clearly being chased, but we are never shown by what. The man in this scene is actually Walter Hill, director of a bunch of films that most everyone knows. His credits include The Warriors, Streets of Fire, Brewster’s Millions & 48 Hrs. .
The man reaches a corner and collapses in the street. A gate opens on the wall of a nearby house and a young girl peers out. She lets him into the yard. It’s actually the pool area of the yard. He splashes his face and plops down on the ground. The girl walks over and kneels by him. He rubs her hand, thanking her for saving him. She, in turn, welcomes him with a razor blade across his throat. As someone who paid to see Another 48 Hrs., I can only thank her.
After another intro set in an asylum, the “true” story begins. We are introduced to Arletty, a young woman on the search for her estranged father, an artist who has recently gone missing. She traces his path to the beach-side town of Point Dune, CA. “Arletty” is played by actress Marianna Hill, co-star of genre films such as Blood Beach, Schizoid, & The Baby, as well as Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter. However, she is probably best recognized for her role as Fredo’s wife in The Godfather: Part 2.
Dad’s place? This is definitely the house of an artist… or the house of a crazy person. Usually, it’s one and the same. You will quickly forget about the stuffed dog when you see the walls in the house. Each room’s walls are painted floor to ceiling with images of people, stores, and other buildings. There is even a painting of an escalator, but I don’t think it leads anywhere. These images are eerie enough to stand out, but the fact that they are actually incredible pieces of art make them characters themselves. I might be too ignit to know whether these were real people or figments of Dad’s delusion, but I do know that the way that it appears that these paintings are looking at the live-actor characters is fairly unsettling. I won’t put the use of set design on the same level as Suspiria, but it’s not far behind.
A couple more bonus points added for the use of a theremin in the score. Love me some theremin.
After speaking with a local art dealer, she is informed of a visiting collector who has also been inquiring into her father. He is, in fact, not an art collector, but a collector of “legends” here to learn the story of this town. She finds that he is staying in a local motel and decides to pay him a visit.
She enters his motel room to find him and his two female “groupies” drinking and smoking while they listen to crazed hobo, Charlie, tell the story of the history of Point Dune. The old man, played by legendary character actor Elisha Cook Jr. (House On Haunted Hill, Rosemary’s Baby, The Maltese Falcon), tells a tale of how 100 years prior evil invaded the town. The moon turned red and the people of the town started changing. Then, someone came out of the hills….
Charlie is dismissed and Arletty soon follows. At the bottom of the stairwell, Charlie stops her. He tells her that her father is still alive, but he has “changed”. He tells her that if she loves him, she will have to kill him and burn his body. She runs off crying, and poor Charlie is then killed off-screen.
In one of the thinnest plot contrivances I’ve ever seen, circumstances force the collector, Thom, and his girls to stay with Arletty at her father’s place. This in turn leads to a romantic involvement between Thom & Arletty, which in turn leads to one of the “groupies” getting jealous and leaving. She hitches a ride with a mouse-eating albino before deciding to walk the remainder of the way through town. She eventually finds her way to a seemingly empty grocery store. It’s here where one of the movie’s more memorable scenes takes place and it’s also where we get our first real glimpse at what is truly going on in this town.
A later scene takes place in a movie theater. The scene starts with the character walking into a mostly empty auditorium, only a few seats filled. As the lights dim and the movie starts, the theater slowly starts to fill up with other people, each one gradually taking seats closer and closer to the character until they have enclosed the person. The scene is exceptionally done and really should be better remembered than it is. Then again, that’s just my opinion.
Sadly, funding for the film ran out right before the crew shot the final scene that would have completely explained everything. What you are left with is fairly unresolved and left to assumption. That is, unless you watch the bonus features. The director and co-writer tells what the ending was supposed to be. While I do feel that the unfilmed ending would have fit, I also believe that it may have raised as many questions as it answered.
Of special interest to this reviewer is the appearance of actor Royal Dano in a small, but crucial role late in the film. Killer Klowns From Outer Space & Ghoulies 2 were cable television favorites of mine as a kid (and today still) and his roles in those films are huge reasons why. So, it’s nice to see him go batshit crazy here too.
The film does a great job of setting it’s mood and is quite visually impressive. It features a few scenes and characters that are just downright creepy. Unfortunately, it occasionally gets a little dull and incoherent. Some performances are quite good, while others are just vanilla. And not even French vanilla. Just shitty ol’ vanilla.
The film was directed by Willard Huyck, who also co-wrote and produced with his wife, Gloria Katz. The two would fare a little better when they were nominated for an Oscar for their next screenplay, American Grafitti. They would also write the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so it looks like it was all just one big hit machine for them after……… What? Really? And we’re sure of this? Well, shit.
I was just informed that Huyck wrote and directed “Howard The Duck”. Poor bastard.
The Code Red blu-ray features a decent picture. It’s never dazzling sharp, but presents a massive upgrade from the public domain SD versions that a lot of people are used to seeing. I never noticed any intrusive issues of any sort. No print damage worth noting.
Also presented as the solo special feature is an interview with the director, editor, and a couple other crew members. This is just a brief look at the creation and production of the film. There is quick mention to when the film was released on VHS, but that’s about it for post production stories.
All in all, Messiah of Evil is worth checking out at least once. It has it’s share of stand out moments, although it’s a slow ride to get there.