Messiah of Evil
Messiah of Evil
1973. Directed by Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz.
Absolutely insane and tragically forgotten, Messiah of Evil is a surreal, acid horror film that uses shades of Lovecraft and Romero to create at atmosphere of psychedelic unease that subverts the post "free love" era with unshakable visuals and one of the creepiest sequences in film history.
Arletty heads to the strange seaside town of Dune Point in search of her father, a reclusive artist. It becomes quickly apparent that the town is under the control of something malevolent. Her investigation leads her to Thom and his promiscuous partners Laura and Toni,and the trio take up residence in Arletty's father's now abandoned home. As she continues to delve deeper and deeper into the mystery of her father's disappearance, Arletty discovers that the undead roam Dune Point's streets and they spend each night on the beach, waiting for the return of "The Dark Stranger".
To the modern observer, Messiah of Evil is an undisciplined mess. The acting is atrocious, the editing is erratic, and the sound work is jolting to the point of annoyance, but it's these glaring weaknesses that are touchstones of 70's horror. Experimental, incoherent, and always sinister, Messiah of Evil is a mindset more than a structured narrative. Most of the information is disseminated from voice over, told by Arletty's errant father, relaying the questionable past of Dune Point in sparse, enigmatic proverbs. The entire film has a dreamlike quality, with each character floating from one sequence to the next in a purposefully random manner, allowing the horror to seep into viewer's subconscious.
Stephen Katz's camera work captures the action in a pedestrian manner, using a steady approach to offset the manic visuals. Two sequences in particular, one in a grocery market and one in a theater, are the gruesome centerpieces, showing only what is absolutely necessary and leaving the rest for the viewer's mind to conjure. The theater scene in particular is absolutely terrifying. Messiah of Evil is filled with this kind of budgeted deceit. The lack of any real special effects forces all of the violence to remain off screen or barely glimpsed through scotch tape editing tactics, creating a perfect storm of psychological terror.
Husband and wife team Huyck and Katz wrote the script and would go on to write the treatments for Howard the Duck, American Graffiti, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. They manage build a mythology around the cult at the heart of Dune Point via fragmented flashbacks and shoddy detective work, remaining steadfast to the film's literary influences. The film dances around Giallo concepts by presenting Thom and the trio of women as sexually charged, but never crosses the line into full blown intimacy, electing to treat the erotic undertones in a similar manner as the teased violence.
Available now on Amazon Prime, Messiah of Evil is a cult phenomenon experience that is maddeningly evasive in its presentation and perfectly schizophrenic in its resolution. If you're looking for a film that drops a LSD warhead down the rabbit hole and then refuses to explain itself, then this is the film for you. Pure head trip cinema.