Saturday, April 21, 2012

Messiah of Evil: The Second Coming (1973, DVD Review)

aka Revenge of the Screaming Dead
aka Dead People
Directed by William Huyck
Cast: Mariana Hill, Michael Greer, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford, Royal Dano, Elisha Cook, Jr. Bennie Robinson
Code Red / Region 0 / Rated R / 2:35:1 Widescreen / Dolby Digital Mono English / 90 minutes / PURCHASE
Disc Extras: Audio Commentary with Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, moderated by Lee Christian/Featurette: “Remembering Messiah of Evil” directed by Lee Christian/Audio interview with Joy Bang/Short films by Huyck and Katz: “The Bride Stripped Bare” “Down Those Mean Streets”/Code Red Trailers
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Having seen Messiah of Evil years ago on a crappy ten film set featuring the worst print ever, I was absolutely stoked to watch this forgotten and rarely seen movie on a juiced up DVD release. Is it a zombie film? Is it a creepy drama? Just what the hell is this movie about? It’s hard to tell from the title and cover alone. I’m going to warn everybody and say this movie isn’t for everybody. The word “gem” is thrown around a little too easily these days in regards to resurrected titles that aren’t so deserving, but in this case, I don’t think it’s so inappropriate, though the movie will divide audiences based on their individual expectations. You’ve been warned.
Zombie fans should probably walk away right now. You don’t get gut munching, head shots, or gore galore. This is not that kind of movie. The “zombies” in this movie are more of a psychological kind. Humans losing their sense of self as their bodies stop functioning, that kind of zombie. Sure, these people crave animal and human flesh, but the movie doesn’t present the zombies in a way gore fiends want. You don’t get Lucio Fulci grue or George Romero action. So why the fuck bother? Because Messiah of Evil is the kind of strange movie I haven’t seen before.
The meat of the story involves a woman named “Arletty” who visits her father only to discover he’s missing. Not only that, he’s left a creepy diary of how the people of “Pointe Dune” are turning into savages, and how he too, is slowly turning into one of them. Arletty is met by a trio of drifters who are also trying to put the situation together. Working in tandem, they run into odd locals who tell them about the legend of “The Blood-Red Moon” and how a new religion is spreading and turning people into mindless “zombie-like” savages. The talk of the blood-red moon is a bunch of nonsense, but for this film, it works, because the viewer’s not meant to understand what’s really happening. The mystery of Arletty’s father and the looming threat of the dangerous pale-faced people slowly leads up to a conclusion that’s creepy as hell, though ultimately an exercise in quiet horror. This film’s a dreamy slow burn more concerned with visuals and mood, rather than gore and action. It’s old school horror with a pre-1970s feel.
So why’s this movie so unknown? Probably because Messiah of Evil tries to be a zombie/religious/psychological movie without fully committing to the norms of each sub-genre of horror, almost making it a bastard child that no one’s sure how to handle. Even the filmmakers admit the ending couldn’t be shot because of budgetary restrictions, and those never filmed shots were supposed to further expound on just what the hell is going on. It’s one of those situations where nonsense works to make a movie better. This really gives you insight about the kind of film this really is.
Code Red’s 35th Anniversary Edition of Messiah of Evil is something to celebrate. The print from the negative is high quality, the colors are vibrant, and best of all, it’s widescreen. This is how the film was meant to be seen! We’re treated to a bevy of extras, including ample commentary from directors and producers and actors who explain why the movie wasn’t so successful and why audiences cast this film to the wayside. I’m very impressed with the whole package, so if you’re a collector who previously enjoyed this movie, it’s a must buy, but for the Messiah of Evil virgins out there, I’d suggest renting it first, because in all honesty, it’s acquired taste.

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