Messiah of Evil

“Messiah Of Evil” is one of those unique and marvelous pieces of 70s obscura that few have even heard of, much less seen. Kinda like the word “obscura,” strangely enough. Messiah is also a surprisingly neglected film, given that its creators went on to all sorts of big stuff including American Graffiti, an Indiana Jones movie and er… Howard The Duck – the movie, not the comics. Maybe that’s what it all comes down to – it’s the universe’s righteous revenge against the perpetrators of Howard The Turkey!

SPOILERS AHEAD

In this case, Shakespeare was wrong – the play isn’t the thing, the atmosphere is the thing and “Messiah” has a lot of the stuff. That in itself makes it worth one’s attention, but in this case there is also the fact that it’s not your usual horror movie atmosphere, it’s something very weird, otherworldly, something you have to feel, something that can’t really be described, except perhaps as a combination of horror movie atmosphere and “Last Year at Marienbad” atmosphere. Yes, folks, it’s an Art Horror Movie, and apparently quite consciously so as the filmmakers have stated that they were rather big on art movies back then. Hell, they even named the film’s heroine after a woman best known for starring in Les Enfants Du Paradis!

All sorts of factors work to create this unusual atmosphere. The narration by the movie’s heroine/victim is a big part of it – not so much what she says but the quietly despairing way in which she says it. The other actors tend to deliver their lines in a similarly lugubrious way, which is not to say that they are crying their eyes out – it’s more subtle than that, as if some miasma seeping from the very walls of the seemingly ordinary little town is giving them all a mild case of melancholia. The music also does a lot to contribute to the atmosphere, though being completely electronic it also gives the film a more low budget feel than one would expect from the deceptively expensive-looking images. One guy and his synthesizer, no matter how talented, are unlikely to sound as high-budget as an entire orchestra. In terms of creating the film’s surreal ambiance, something that can’t be left out is the interior of the movie’s main building. This is the home of the female lead’s dad, an old man with a pretty modern painting style. The entire inside of the house is covered in unsettling murals of exteriors and of human figures just standing around as if waiting for something mysterious to happen – these latter are no doubt modeled on the townsfolk, who seem to spend much of their night on the beach, waiting for something mysterious to happen…

scary blue people messiah evil

You’ve got a very long wharf inside the house…

wharf mural messiah

Escalators inside the house…

escalator mural

Hell, entire streets inside the house!

interior exterior messiah

And yes, even a brief cameo by Rod Serling…

rod serling mural messiah

Then there’s the strange, grey people who perv on you while you’re in the bath…

bathroom pervs messiah

And some times they have company…

messiah mural anitra

These creepy murals are apparently the doing of Joan Mocine, who was also one of the two art directors, the other being Jack Fisk. Fisk later went on to work on Mulholland Drive – in between gigs as a gas station attendant I presume – and on The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, and Carrie. Joan Mocine went on to Terrence Malick’s Badlands but seems to have very quickly faded from the film business, which is a real pity if her work on Messiah is anything to go by.

The story that serves as a skeleton for these wonderful heapings of style and atmosphere is a slightly Lovecraftian one, in the sense that it is one of impending, world-wide doom at the hands of elder gods. Don’t go expecting Cthulhu, though, as the budget would have buckled under his massive heft. The movie begins with a young Walter Hill (who would later become the director of such things as 48 Hours, Last Man Standing – anyone who can make a Bruce Willis movie that doesn’t suck deserves our respect – and Southern Comfort) getting his throat slashed by some stoned-looking teenage girl who had, in all probability, just been subjected to a screening of Streets of Fire. This preamble is of little consequence to the rest of the film and I mention it only because Hill’s presence gives me an opportunity to once again mock Streets of Fire. The story proper starts with an impressive shot of a woman in a madhouse. As she shuffles dazedly down the corridor she tells us her tale of woe…

Apparently after mommy’s death the woman’s dad moved to a small coastal town called Point Dune (nee New Bethlehem, which is a far more evocative name, if you ask me) so he could be alone with his brushes. The artist’s daughter, Arletty, she of the fantastic profile…

arletty profile

…starts getting letters from dear old dad. These are not “How are things at your end? I am fine except for my lumbago,” kind of letters, but weird letters about weird happenings, and eventually dad makes the fatal mistake of telling Arletty to not come and see what’s up with all the weirdness. This being a horror movie, Arletty immediately gets into her car and rushes off to see what’s up with all the weirdness. Either that or she has, after 30 years, realized she has a really stupid name and wants to ask dad what the hell he and mom were thinking!

Once she gets there Arletty finds the house deserted except for a stuffed dog that briefly growls at her, and some diaries further expanding on dad’s bizarre obsessions. Then she goes looking for dad in town and runs into a rich wanker and his two “traveling companions,” a cutish blonde played by Joy Bang (her real name, believe it or not) and a scrumptious brunette concoction called Anitra Ford. Here they are waiting for room service to arrive…

damn room service messiah

And here’s the blonde doing something or other (sorting match boxes? playing solitaire?) on the bed at Arletty’s dad’s place…

joy banging on a bed

And the brunette being luscious…

anitra ford messiah robe

Here she is wondering if she left the iron on…

anitra ford messiah iron

And here she is realizing that some people have truly disgusting eating habits…

anitra ford being grossed out

Not long after that, she finds out just how disgusting those eating habits can get.

It turns out that the saucy trio are in town because the guy is interested in folklore and has heard that Point Dune has some legend or other about something called The Blood Moon, an ominous name if there ever was one, and after that things get both weirder and grislier. Before you know it, albinos are biting the heads off rats, townspeople are bleeding from the eyes and everyone is being eaten alive by what appear to be fairly well-dressed ghouls. These things look pretty much like normal people, but they apparently don’t feel pain, can’t be killed, and have low body temperatures, which suggests that they are not just cannibals but undead cannibals, just like those in Uncle George’s movies, the first of which had made quite an impact just a couple of years before Messiah came along.

The deaths of two of the girls are quite notable. The brunette gets devoured in a very well staged supermarket sequence that shows you should never interrupt people while they are eating raw meat straight out of the fridge, and the blonde in a sequence that has been highly praised by others but does not work for me – the only letdown in the entire movie, in my view. Poor Toni, for that is her name, goes to the cinema to pass the time but makes the dreadful faux pas of choosing to see a film called “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” As if that were not bad news enough, as soon as she goes inside the theatre the woman who sold her the ticket puts up the “Closed” sign. Soon Toni is sitting there watching the trailer for some Sammy Davis Jr movie while the seats behind her slowly fill up with creepy people who apparently had not seen the “closed” sign. Not long after that, Toni finds herself being scarfed down by the rest of the audience, thereby putting the lie to the idea that all the snacks at the movies are outrageously expensive. This sequence fails for one reason and one reason only – the grotesquely loud and obnoxious trailer being played in the background. Totally ruins it. If the trailer had been for a quiet drama as opposed to a cowboy/action movie, or even if the trailer’s sound had been turned way down, it would have worked – as it is, the only way to enjoy this scene is with the sound down, but even then there are way too many cuts from the audience to the ludicrously lurid trailer. Oh, well, one bad spot in an otherwise very fine movie is nothing to complain about – especially given how many movies are composed almost entirely of bad spots.

As for Thom The Rich Wanker, his fate is somewhat more sedate but still pretty final, he just drowns while trying to escape. Arletty is captured and offered up as a sacrifice to the Messiah of Evil, a.k.a The Dark Stranger, a.k.a The Bloke Who Smells Like Seaweed, who, after 100 years of lurking under the sea, is no doubt feeling rather peckish. Inexplicably, though conveniently, he decides to let Arletty go, figuring that no one will believe her unlikely tale. And sure enough, poor Arletty ends up in the loony bin telling a gaggle of shrinks that the followers of the elder gods are coming for us all, spreading out from Point Dune and across the country, then the world, and that no one will hear us screeeeam! No one believes her, of course, and we can only assume that the apocalypse is imminent and that mankind is doomed to devour itself in some massive, bloody cataclysm that will end with death for most and indigestion for many, but until then we can try to entertain ourselves with repeated viewings of “Messiah of Evil,” possibly the best forgotten horror movie of the last fifty years.

Leave a Reply

What is 10 + 13 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)