Quote of Note:
In 1962, maybe four, even five people saw Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls; the story of a young girl who mysteriously survives what should’ve been a fatal car accident only to be haunted by a creepy apparition when she becomes the organist for a small town church. The film was black and white, low-budget, and very surreal. Eventually, it would grow to cult status among the horror-loving community.
In 1968, a young Pittsburgh filmmaker named George Romero directs Night of the Living Dead; the father of all zombie movies to come. Night of the Living Dead focuses on a small group of folks who hold up in a farmhouse after the dead inexplicably come back to life. The film was black and white, low-budget, and rather graphic for its time. Eventually, it would grow to cult status among the horror-loving community.
In 1974, after writing American Graffiti for George Lucas and before they worked on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Howard the Duck, writers/directors Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz moved onto their newest project, a small budget horror flick titled Messiah of Evil.
Messiah of Evil (aka Dead People, Revenge of the Screaming Dead, The Second Coming) centers on a young woman (Marianna Hill in the role of Arietty) who has arrived at the coastal town of Point Dune in search of her missing father. In his recent letters, Arietty’s father believes he is being enveloped by evil and losing his mind. Being a dutiful and concerned daughter, Arietty does some searching and stumbles onto the strange townspeople of Point Dune, a rich playboy (Michael Greer) and his two female companions who are investigating the town’s supernatural history, and eventually the real reason behind her father’s disappearance.
Like Carnival of Souls, Messiah has an abstract, somnambulant feel that makes the viewer feel like they are watching an extended dream sequence. Everything is a bit hazy and you’re not quite sure if what you’re experiencing is real or a product of Areitty’s overly distressed imagination. Even when they introduce a few outside characters to clue you in on the reality of the situation, you get the sense that the plot is playing out like a study in mass hysteria, especially when the supernatural elements kick into high gear. Beach fires and arcane rituals. Rat eating albino locals. Talk of a rising Blood Moon. Ramblings of the second coming of a Dark Stranger. It all adds up to a muddled, ambiguous narrative that owes its tone to the macabre Italian horror genre made famous by Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Dario Argento. But to balance those elements, Messiah of Evil looked to Night of the Living Dead and imported ferocious, visceral, cannibalistic zombies. See for yourself in this creepy 6-minute theater scene from the movie…
Supernatural aficionado/Bored playboy/Thom: Would you mind unzipping…my vest.
Arietty unzips his vest and walks away slowly, half looking back in his direction. Thom leaps at Arietty, grabs her in his arms, and pulls the woman tightly towards his chest.
Thom: You can’t unzip a man and walk away.
It’s not going to make many top-ten cult classics lists and, understandably, most horror lovers would rather spend their time with Suspiria, The Beyond, and Vampyr. But before you dismiss Messiah of Evil as derivative-70’s-wannabe-Italian-horror-zombie fare, hunt down a copy on DVD, and watch it for yourself. Fortunately, the film has fallen into pubic domain and is readily available in cheap two packs, horror movie collections, or just download it right here. Unfortunately, until someone like Anchor Bay gets their hands on Messiah of Evil and produces a remastered version of the film, you’ll have to settle for a sub par transfer.