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Messiah of Evil

tn_messiahofevilThis weird 1973 creep-out is directed by Willard Huyck, co-written with Gloria Katz. If you don’t recognize those names, they were George Lucas’s (alright, calm down everybody) friends from USC who went on to write TEMPLE OF DOOM and write/direct HOWARD THE DUCK. But back in the early ’70s they helped him write a treatment for AMERICAN GRAFFITI, then turned down the job to write that script when they were given a week to come up with an idea for a horror movie and then write it. They went and made this and got done in time to go back and write AMERICAN GRAFFITI after all.

Arletty (Marianna Hill) is a glamourous young woman who goes to visit her famous-painter father in the beachside artist commune of Point Dune, California. When she arrives her father is nowhere to be found, and his diaries talk about spooky goings on in the town. Looking for him she instead finds Thom (Michael Greer), a guy who looks like Sylvester Stallone but is more suave and eloquent and always wears a hip suit. I thought he was the Messiah of Evil, because he travels with two lusty female companions, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford) who almost seem like Manson girls. But no, he’s just some awesome guy, not a messiah much less one of evil. But they get kicked out of the local hotels because of their alternative lifestyle so Arletty lets them stay at dad’s house with her.

Since dad is/was an artist, the walls of his house all have murals on them, some of them showing spooky men in suits, art that can cause a fright when suddenly seen in the dark. The floor is splashed with paint, including red puddles that can sometimes remind you of blood, in my opinion. It’s a cool place to stay and a nice filming location.

mp_messiahofevilThere’s definitely some bad shit going on in this town, some shit of evil, but it’s hard to say specifically what it is. Somebody got murdered before the credits. There is a weird albino black guy going around creeping people out. There are groups of old townspeople standing around in crowds looking emotionless, who knows what the fuck they’re up to, but whatever it is I bet I disagree with it.

The story lacks momentum, because she has the goal of finding her dad but no real means of achieving it, so it mostly seems like hip ’70s people hanging around in a pop-art house waiting for weirdness to happen. There’s alot of creepy imagery, a dream-like atmosphere and a weird electronical score. The story is very vague and unexplained except when Arletty starts over-explaining in her occasional awkward voiceovers. Sometimes we also hear Thom’s reel-to-reel recordings of a local wino talking about some guy called “the dark stranger” and how he’s coming back.

At one point Arletty opens her mouth and sees what I swore was a really fake looking toy plastic spider on her tongue. But then she pukes up a bunch of live beetles, worms and lizards, so that’s pretty gross. That’s a pretty troubling symptom. I bet if you typed that into Web MD you wouldn’t come up with anything helpful.

There are at least three really great scenes. One involves hitchhiking and getting picked up by the albino, who shows off by eating a mouse’s head while he drives. It’s kind of a reverse of the TEXAS CHAIN SAW hitchhiker. In the back of the truck there’s a bunch of old people standing stiff staring straight up at the moon.

Another one of the great scenes is at a 24 hour Ralph’s, and shows what happens when you discover a bunch of Point Dunians gathered around the meat counter late at night munching on raw cuts. Another great one is when one of the girls goes into a theater playing a movie with the unfortunately prophetic title KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE. (Shoulda gone across town to see SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY maybe.) There’s only a couple people in there but after the trailers start all these late nate Ralph’s shopper types start filing in, the place starts filling up. This would be pretty normal except that we saw the lady in the box office (Gloria Katz) flip the closed sign and turn off all the marquee and lobby lights right after she let Arletty in. Also, she looks around and notices everybody’s bleeding from their eyes, that’s pretty weird. Eventually she tries to make a run for it, the exit door is illegally obstructed, and they close in on her like zombies.

On the positive side, the zombie people didn’t talk, there was no advertising besides the trailers, the popcorn was free and the ticket was only 50 cents. So in some ways her moviegoing experience was better than we’d have now.

When the shit finally goes down at dad’s house there’s some good business including some work provided by Stunts Unlimited. (Seriously.) There’s a zombie-ish attacker who gets covered in blue paint, like an even more comic book version of the blue zombies in DAWN OF THE DEAD. And then there’s a whole mix of paint and blood and, you know, just a big mess. But pretty.

On the DVD Huyck and Katz say because they were just out of film school they were obsessed with Antonioni and Godard, and trying to make an art movie. That explains why it has a really European feel. The look of the people, the bright colors, stylized sets and dreamy, nonsensical events seem way more Italian than American. It also feels a little like CARNIVAL OF SOULS, but of course that was in black and white so the visuals are very different. I don’t think MESSIAH OF EVIL is as good as THE BEYOND or the classic Argento movies, but stylistically it’s somewhat in the same vein, even if by coincidence. Not a must-see but a good one if you’re in the right mood. I prefer this to HOWARD THE DUCK from what I remember although it’s been a while on that one.

Thanks to Andrew Wright for recommending this.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, October 8th, 2011 at 6:28 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

33 Responses to “Messiah of Evil”

  1. This movie is pretty bad but the movie theater scene is so awesome that it almost makes up for it.

  2. I’m reading this on a Blackberry, so when I first saw the screen capture pic, it kind of looked like Fran Drescher from The Nanny. That would be an entirely different movie.

    And one of my all-time favorite movie theater experiences was walking in late to Howard the Duck with my grandparents. They thought it was a kids’ movie because of the title. We lasted five minutes before the duck started cussing up a storm. My grandparents were really uptight people, so even as a kid I enjoyed watching their reactions before we left. I have a softspot for the movie because of that.

  3. Vern! Review “The Sentinel” from 1977 at some point this month! Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Sarandon and Christopher Walken all star in some nice, demonic shit.

  4. oh man, I saw The Sentinel once, pretty scary movie

    and it features the mom from National Lampoon’s Vacation masturbating!

  5. That trailer was awesome and made me want to see this movie. I like movies.

  6. Beverly D’angelo masturbates in THE SENTINEL? That makes me want to see that movie. I like masturbating.

  7. If I’m not mistaken, Walter Hill plays the guy who gets killed at the beginning of this.

    Howard the Duck – I…kind of…like it. I mean, it’s not perfect; the character of Howard sucks; and why are people freaking out when they see him? (Guy on bus: “That’s a duck! That’s a duck, man!”) They should just be like, “Oh, look. A midget in a duck costume.” But, I enjoyed some of its, um, Buckaroo Banzai-esque humor (even if the movie’s fatal mistake, imho, is not going nearly far enough with it; I could have done with more stuff like “Joe Roma’s Cajun Sushi”) but, I didn’t hate it or think it’s the worst movie ever. I’d watch again before I’d rewatch Bridesmaids.

    Favorite movie-theater experience – shitty print of Heavy Metal at midnight in the early 90’s before it came out on VHS in an audience comprised almost entirely of drunk, rowdy frat boys and long-haired hesher types. It’s the way that movie demands to be seen.

  8. HEAVY METAL is the shit. HOWARD THE DUCK is also shit, but in a bad way.

  9. Beverly D’angelo does indeed masturbate but it’s more disturbing than sexy. However she also shows off her awesome rack at one point which is a highlight.

  10. I always thought she was pretty hot in those Vacation movies. I’d like to see her rack which in my opinion means her boobs.

  11. I might be wrong but I remember reading something a long time ago about a remake of The Sentinel. I just think something like that would not work reimagined in today’s horror remake style without coming off as sleazy and trying too hard to be quirky. It seems to me more like the Carnival of Souls remake with Eliza Dukshu.

  12. hey, I like masturbating too! how about that?

    and what the heck does “long-haired hesher types’ mean?

  13. “Hesher”, the Joseph Gordon Levitt movie?

  14. caruso_stalker217

    October 8th, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    We need a HESHER review from Vern. It kind of reminded me of BAD SANTA with less alcoholism and people dressed like Santa.

  15. Ray – I’ll do you one better, I’ll review it last year: http://outlawvern.com/2010/10/20/the-sentinel/

  16. Yes!!!! Now how about “Phantom of the Paradise?”

  17. Be careful Vern. If you keep putting new reviews in the past, Timecop will come looking for you.

  18. Thanks for the review, Vern! This is one of my favorite Z-level horror films to direct people to, because although its mostly kinda inert it has some awesome ideas and a handful of truly great scenes.

    Personally, I love the dreamlike ambiguity to everything, the way the focus kind of wanders between random characters, the odd and mostly unremarked-upon sexual mores. The whole concept of the Messiah of Evil is also very cool, and pretty unique as far as I know. There’s plenty of antichrist movies but this one has a pretty different take on it, and I love the concept of the possessed(? or something) town waiting for this dark figure to return.

  19. I haven’t seen this movie, but the scene descriptions plus it’s trumping of HOWARD THE DUCK have earned it a place in my queue. Also, that it was made by film school compatriots of the gizzarded one gives me the excuse to share a great book that I think everyone here at FUCK YOU JACK will love, Steve Erickson’s ZEROVILLE. It’s a wonderful, trippy story set in Hollywood 1969, and part of the fun of reading it is playing Where’s Waldo with all the nameless screenwriters and directors the protagonist encounters as he becomes the premiere autistic savant editor of the Cannes film festival. I’d especially love to talk to you all about who the Viking Man is supposed to be.

    Here’s the official description from Amazon: “A film-obsessed ex-seminarian with images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his head arrives on Hollywood Boulevard in 1969. Vikar Jerome enters the vortex of a cultural transformation: rock and roll, sex, drugs, and–most important to him–the decline of the movie studios and the rise of independent directors. Jerome becomes a film editor of astonishing vision. Through encounters with former starlets, burglars, political guerillas, punk musicians, and veteran filmmakers, he discovers the secret that lies in every movie ever made.”

    Like I said, good stuff!

  20. Haven’t read the book but my guess is Viking Man = John Milius.

  21. over the line! mark it zero!

  22. Say what you will about Howard the Duck, but it’s still the only movie that dared to show us duck nipples.

  23. I saw parts of Howard the Duck on the tv once and well….it didn’t seem like THAT bad of a movie

    it’s not a good movie by any means, but it seemed more mediocre than anything else to me, I think the only reason it has such a reputation as being one of the worst movies ever is because of the George Lucas connection, if it wasn’t for that it’d probably be totally forgotten

    believe me, I’ve seen waaaaaaay worse

  24. W.S.

    Bingo, got it in one. Imagine your average once you read the book! Not that it’s sole charm is spotting future filmmakers, far from it. The way he treats the characters feels real and true to life–not to mention funny as all hell. Just one example: Viking Man’s advice to Ali MacGraw on the set of LOVE STORY is one for the ages. I was in tears by the end of it.

  25. Vern, you mentioned THE BEYOND (which is beyond awesome) but it looks like the only Fulci joint you’ve covered is THE PSYCHIC/SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK. This dire situation must be rectified immediately!

  26. I’m lonely and filled with self-loathing. Movies like this make me happy.

    On another note, I have an ‘Argento Classics’ set that I haven’t watched yet! I’ve been saving it for a rainy night. It contains ‘Deep Red’, ‘Tenebrae’ , and ‘Phenomena’ … which should I watch first? E.g. which one is as awesome as ‘Suspiria’ which blew my mind the other night.

  27. Deep Red has always been my favorite Argento movie. A slightly perverted hommage to Hitchcock and a must-see. In my opinion it’s better than the other two, so maybe you should save it for last.

  28. ANoniMouse: Fran Drescher is near the top of my list of actors who will eventually show up in a Tarantino movie. Bill from BILL & TED is on the list too. And Hootie from the Blowfish. And Betty Boop.

    Griff: I’m old enough to remember when HOWARD THE DUCK was in theaters. The critics were pretty focussed on Lucas, many of them holding the film to a higher standard than they would have otherwise. But there were a lot of critics who didn’t like STAR WARS when it came out and wrote negative reviews of it, something the critics themselves received a degree of ridicule over, given how massively popular the film was. So HOWARD THE DUCK justified their initial distain for Lucas, and they went after the film pretty hard, if only to rehabilitate their reputations.

    Reviews for RADIOLAND MURDERS, from what I remember, generally only mentioned Lucas in passing.

  29. @Henry Swanson

    I agree with pegsman.

    1. Deep Red is a different kind of film, a really brutal gallo, but just as good as Susperia in its way.

    2. Phenomena has that supernatural feel and I like it a lot, but it isn’t as balls-out crazy as Susperia.

    3. Tenebre is a good gallo, but is a little lower than the other films mentioned. There just isn’t enough in it that is new.

  30. Thanks Scott and Pegsman. I will probably only watch one of these for now so I’m going for Deep Red.

    Susperia totally blew my mind when I first saw it (having not been exposed to these ‘gallo’ films before). His photography, editing, colour, music, and so on are all used in such a unique manner that it creates an overwhelmingly strong atmosphere.

    These reviews of slasher films are great. I still need to check out that Michael Ironside stalker film.

  31. Sorry, not just ‘slasher’ but also ‘psychedelic weird 70s vibes’ combo. Is that what this column is about? I dunno, but it’s good stuff. Thanks Vern and Vern community, I like it here.

  32. This movie is awesome.

  33. I discovered this movie yesterday, saw it for the first time, and it’s great. It deserves to be so much better know then it is, and i hope this movie gets rediscovered soon and take it’s place in the hall of classics like other 70s horror classics like LET’S SCARE JESSICA DO DEATH.

    It’s movies like this why i love 70s cinema as much as i do.

    I can’t believe that this movie was made by Katz and Huyck, the filmmakers of HOWARD THE DUCK. But i very easily believe this is from the same people who wrote TEMPLE OF DOOM. Katz and Huyck have a lot of talent to come up with effective weird scary horror stuff. Or used to, since i haven’t heard of anything they have made since the late 80s that has their name on it.

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