Monday, October 17, 2011

HALLOWEENAGE #9: MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)

aka DEAD PEOPLE, this has been acquiring a reputation as a cult classic/lost gem after years of being a dismissed and derided obscurity ("the surprising thing is that this abortion was from the same producers as 'American Graffiti'" -- thanks again, Google News Archive).  It's easy to see why it riled some people, given that it's obstinately obscure and baffling and includes some pretty jarring-for-the-time transgressions ("a not-too-sexy go of it vomiting up spiders, cockroaches, lizards and maggots"). 
But here's the thing about corrections.  Once the pendulum has swung so far one way, the natural reaction is equal and opposite, so some would have you believe that MESSIAH OF EVIL is one of horror's most sadly-neglected gems.  I think it's more accurate to say that this is a good movie, but...
...it's excruciatingly slow in that 70s way at times.  If you squirmed during LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH or LEMORA, you will quake at the long stretches of MESSIAH in which nothing happens.  Pacing is a serious issue here and MESSIAH is just way too bloated.  But...
...visually, this is probably one of the standouts of the genre.  Arletty (Marianna Hill) journeys to Point Dune, a town in which her artist father has disappeared.  So the surreal set design is actually tied to the plot, not just to artistic pretensions.  Dad's house is full of weird paintings and cutouts and MESSIAH also features a ton of bizarre hypercolorful lighting.  In a lot of ways, this anticipates Argento's SUSPIRIA in its usage of high-contrast reds and blues.  The linkage of art and death & use of water as a symbol for menace also would play out in Argento's work.  But most of Argento's stuff is a little more coherent than this.  Really.
Arletty soon discovers that Point Dune harbors terrible secrets and the centennial of the blood moon portends all kinds of madness.   The scenes here are the best, with gangs of creepy people in suits stalking victims, a very CARNIVAL OF SOULS-esque blood moon season.  There's also a whole Lovecraftian development that emerges late and rocks hard.  Equally triumphant and bewildering, some paces behind stuff like HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN and BLIND BEAST, but still worth a watch for sure.  Let's let the writers/directors have the last word...
"But the movie that haunts them is their 1973 horror film, Messiah of Evil. 'It was a real bowwow,' Gloria admits, though Willard adds proudly that 'it appeared on a marquee in a Woody Allen film, and Film Comment called it "one of the top 10 classic, overlooked horror films of all time."'"(cite)

1 comment:

KINGRPG said...

This film is very interesting.