Overlooked & Underseen: Messiah of Evil (1973)
You might not know this if you don’t follow me on Twitter but horror is my favorite genre of film, especially those by Italian directors like Argento, Bava, and Fulci. Prior to this entry, I think I’ve only highlighted one horror film, Fade to Black, and that was the first entry in this column. This week, I thought about another horror film that I don’t see people talking about too much, Messiah of Evil.
I first watched Messiah of Evil about a dozen years ago. I had just met my (now) husband and he told me I need to see this film. The copy we watched looked like a 13th generation video tape dub but that didn’t matter, I was in love. Over the years, every once in awhile, we revisit the movie. It’s gone from a totally obscure '70s horror film to one that is now actually available on Blu-ray through CodeRed.
Arletty (Marianna Hill) is worried about her dad (Royal Dano). He’s an artist who lives in a seaside town called Point Dune. She hasn’t heard from him in a while, so she drives down to check on him. She doesn’t find him in his house; the place looks abandoned. She makes the decision to stay there and check around the town to find out what’s up.
From the minute she gets into Point Dune, some weird shit goes down. The streets are empty. At one encounter at a gas station, Arletty witnesses the attendant shooting his rifle into the darkness. She asks what is happening and he tells her that it’s only coyotes. She shrugs it off, as you do in a horror film, and continues on her way.
Arletty begins to ask around town if anyone knows her father or if any has seen him. She’s sent to this seedy motel to meet someone who might know him. There she meets the strangest foursome that feels straight out of a Lynch film. Among the group are Charlie (Elisha Cook, Jr.), Thom (Michael Greer), Laura (Anitra Ford), and Toni (Joy Bang). Thom will eventually try to help Arletty find her father, as well as try to get in her pants. Charlie starts telling the group about all sorts of nutty things, like "there is a blood moon a’ comin’" and to "beware the dark stranger." Yeah, yeah, yeah, old man, keep spouting your mumbo jumbo, we aren’t listening to your warnings. Anyway, at some point the group are thrown out of the trashy place and Arletty invites them to stay with her at her dad’s joint.
Speaking of her dad’s joint, his place is interior design heaven as far as I’m concerned. Murals all over the walls, strange furniture, etc. One of the oddest things, and most impractical, is the bed. It’s hung in the middle of this giant room from chains on each corner of the bed. The platform itself is about the same size as a king mattress but it’s only about three inches thick. The platform has books and plants as well as some sort of padding as the mattress. What looks cool at first seems like a logistical nightmare. I mean, imagine trying to have sex on that thing! You’ll know what I mean when you watch the movie.
Things start going awry for Arletty and the gang. What the hell is going on here? Why is there is a group of people meeting on the beach staring out into the sea. What or who are they waiting for? Why are the streets empty at night? What is killing the people in Point Dune? This movie will make you think twice about going into a Ralph’s grocery store, that’s for sure.
Without going into too much detail, Messiah of Evil seems to be one of those films ahead of its time. There are elements in this film that some modern directors are credited for “innovating”. There are creatures here that don’t behave like one would expect them to behave. I’m not suggesting that directors like Zack Snyder or Danny Boyle copied this movie, I’m merely stating that after watching this movie, it is clear they weren’t the first to switch-up the way the “infected” behave.
Messiah of Evil is straight-up weird. There are parts of the story that don’t make sense or aren’t explained completely but that doesn’t matter. Push beyond that and enjoy this hidden gem from the '70s. If the names of the two directors sound familiar, that’s because they are the husband and wife team behind Howard the Duck as well as the screenplays of both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom AND American Graffiti.
We watched Messiah of Evil via Amazon Prime streaming. Be warned though, this copy is not remastered in any way. It almost looks like the print we originally watched back in 2004. It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray as previously mentioned.