Messiah of Evil

April 30, 2012 at 2:07 am (10 Heads, Messiah of Evil) (, , , , , )

Messiah of Evil – 1973 – United States

Messiah of Evil was written/directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the husband and wife writers of American Graffiti (1973), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Howard the Duck (1986). Their mainstream credits are surprising considering how confusingly bizarre Messiah of Evil is. Its nightmarish universe exists midway between life and death, probably borrowing from Carnival of Souls (1962). However, its blending of horror, absurdity, and ambiguity is entirely original.

Following a catchy yet mournful theme song, the narrator is in an asylum. As a flashback begins, she utters in a monotone voice “They say that nightmares are dreams perverted.” The narrator’s father lives in the “neon and stucco” seaside town of Point Dune, California. As her father’s letters grow weirder and more erratic, the narrator visits Point Dune to investigate. Her father has disappeared and the townies are hostilely secretive. By circumstance, the narrator stays with a playboy drifter and his two listless girlfriends. The drifter reveals Point Dune’s legend of the Dark Stranger who raises the dead during the Blood Moon, which contains a possible reference to the Donner Party. Soon, the narrator begins transforming into the living dead. She stabs herself with needles and feels no pain and awakens with a bug crawling in her mouth. Gangs of zombies start roaming the streets. In the hopeless finale, nearly everyone dies and the Dark Stranger’s undead army readies to march on the world.

Most engrossing is Messiah of Evil’s eerily surreal atmosphere. Point Dune’s fluorescently lit desolation evokes the paintings of Edward Hopper. The locations and characters glow with quirky and sinister personality. The narrator’s father’s beach house is filled with taxidermies and haunting murals. There’s a blind and mute art dealer, a crazy-like-a-fox drunken bum, and a mouthy hard-drinking teenage girl. Accenting the strangeness is wailing electronic music that’s so tense it’s aggravating.

Complimenting and deepening its horror, Messiah of Evil is often comically absurd. Yet even at its silliest, it’s consistently unnerving in a way that adds rewarding complexity. In an early scene, the narrator makes a nighttime stop for gas. The station attendant is blasting a pistol wildly into the darkness. When he notices her, he pockets it and calmly gasses her up. Minutes later, a cross-eyed giant rolls up in a truck full of corpses and murders the attendant. In another scene, the same giant picks up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker assumes the bodies in the truck bed are napping. As the radio blares a Wagner opera, the giant bellows, “Do you like Wagner?” and eats a live rat. In yet another scene, zombies devour a girl in a movie theater as ridiculous clips from Gone with the West (1975) show on screen. Messiah of Evil isn’t short on plain old horrific violence either. The living dead cry gross bloody tears and chomp flesh in ways reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Internet rumors suggest an important scene was left on the cutting room floor that would clarify Messiah of Evil’s hazy plot. Good riddance. Messiah of Evil’s intentional lack of logic makes it both nightmarish and believable as its shocking happenings defy storytelling conventions. It’s an unpredictable experience that is chilling, occasionally thought provoking, and distinctively stylish.

Rating: 10/10 Shrunken Heads. Messiah of Evil is dually notable as my 100th review and first ever rating of 10.


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