Messiah of Evil
Terror you won't want to remember - In a film you won't be able to forget.
Year of Release: 1973
Also Known As: Messiah of the Evil Dead, Dead People, Night of the Damned, Return of the Living Dead, Revenge of the Screaming Dead, The Second Coming
Running Time: 90 minutes (1:30)
Director: Willard Huyuck, Gloria Katz
Marianna Hill ... Arletty
Michael Greer ... Thom
Joy Bang ... Toni
Anitra Ford ... Laura
Royal Dano ... Joseph Lang
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Charlie
After receiving a series of chilling letters from her reclusive father, Arletty drives to the remote seaside town of Pointe Dune to discover the reason for her father's developing madness. Upon her arrival, she encounters a mysterious trio of strangers investigating a local legend known as "The Blood Moon"... a curse that has transformed the inhabitants of the town into a terrifying horde of blood-thirsty maniacs!
Messiah of Evil, remindin' us that when the God of Cannibalism picks a white guy to lead his army of zombie beach bums to world domination, a lawsuit from the ACLU can't be far behind.
An speakin' of people who can eat me - I fully expected the City Council to be P.O.'d at us for losin' Deputy Mackle in the Sage Maze on Halloween night, but I don't think anybody expected things to get *this* bad. As you can imagine, when Mackle never came outta the maze that night everybody blamed Skunky Hernandez for the disappearance, an yeah, fair enough; the man did vanish on Skunky's property. But next thing you know we got the reality star in chief on Twitter whippin' up hysteria about ISIS war orphan changeling shogun assassins infiltratin' the Honduran asylum convoy an suddenly everybody in town's gettin' into fist fights over the use of the library's microfiche reader tryin' to prove the family down the block is secretly part of a Nicaraguan Death Squad sent to blow up the Gutter Bowl an discredit the American way of life. I guess that kinda makes sense, cause once the bowling alleys fall civilization ain't far behind, but that's not the point. The problem, as I see it, is that the City Council has taken something pure an unsullied, like a mob's impotent, irrational fear and hatred of its fellow man an used it for personal gain. Those un-American sonsabitches have wanted the Grime Time closed ever since the night Skunky reopened it, an now they're claimin' he's an illegal in a final ditch effort to capitalize on the politics of the day so's they can crate him up like an Ethiopian mail order bride an ship 'im C.O.D. to Guadalajara. I happen to know Skunky's never been further south than the Chuck E Cheese in Reno, an even that was just a one time thing to attend his nephew Diego's wedding; in short, these putas don't care diddly about "border security," they just wanna turn this town into Mayberry an I'll be damned if that's gonna happen on my watch.
I remember it like it was only Wednesday... or possibly Tuesday - Billy Hilliard an me was down by the pond at the Grime Time pitchin' Atta Boy to the catfish, when her car rolled up next to us - Nan "the raging cuss" Barnabus, the only woman in Chickawalka County who hasta chisel 'er underwear outta the icebox every mornin'.
"Alright you two, where's Hernandez?" she squinted out the passenger window of 'er '67 Volvo Amazon.
"I think he's at Carol Maynard's place... oh no wait, that's your husband!" I hollered at 'er before receivin' a high five from Billy that purt'near separated my shoulder.
At that point we hadda retreat to a more defensible position on the deck of the projection booth for Nan's safety, but she just stood at the bottom of the staircase an shrieked: "You tell Hernandez to be at City Hall Friday night and to have his bags packed! The immigration bus'll be there to pick 'im up at 4:30, and if he isn't on it I'll be back with ICE!" she added for dramatic effect.
"You can do whatever you want with them frosty britches lady, but the Hernandi ain't goin' noplace!" I yelled back at 'er, but she was already halfway to the cattle guard by then.
"I told that chunkheaded chupacabroni to lay off the letters to the editor, but nooooooooo - the little gringo was just bein' 'paranoid'," I snitted at nobody in particular.
"Weow, wha we go'n voo 'ow?" Billy asked, an I gotta admit - I had exactly squat in the way of counter-measures for a situation like this, but I wasn't about to let that prevent me from stickin' it to the old battle axe, so I looked Billy right square in the belt buckle an I says: "we're gonna sway public opinion."
Course I hadda warn Skunky about the scornado warning in effect an he was pretty freaked out about the thought of havin' to sell authentic Mexican cacti to drunk tourists in Tijuana to survive, but I just told 'im to just lay low an that I'd think of somethin'. After that I drove over to the library to hit the books an I did that for about 20 minutes until the librarian got P.O.'d an told me to knock it off, so after that I decided to just read 'em instead; immigration law, the Reagan Amnesty, the big book of anchor baby bullstuff, I skimmed 'em all until about six hours'd passed an I was pretty confident that I could take on the world - or at least one cranky old bitch anyway.
Finally the big day came - Friday, an we opened up the Grime Time just like any other night; Nan was gonna hafta pry the drive-in from our scalded, greasy hands, an she pulled in around 5:30 with the whole golldanged Council in tow, walked right up to Juanita at the concession stand, an demanded to know where the "illegal" was.
"Only thing illegal 'round here is the weapons grade HAG you're carryin' around without a permit, Nan," I told 'er as I came around the corner.
She made it to within about 10 feet of shuttin' my trap for me, but I'd wisely retained the protective services of Tetnis in preparation for any old lady fu that might crop up, an the sight of a barbarian in a leather jacket either scared 'er or turned 'er on or somethin' cause she backed it on up once he'd stepped between us.
Now, as you can imagine, word'd gotten around town pretty quick about the showdown between the Council an Skunky, so it wasn't more'n about a minute before we were surrounded by several dozen spectators when Nan snarls: "you get Hernandez out here this instant and we'll be on our way," she glared.
"What's in it for us? We lose our jobs an hafta live with the knowledge that when 'they' came for Skunky Hernandez we said nothing because we observe personal hygiene practices," I said.
"Pretty raw deal," Tetnis agreed as he slipped his knuckle buckles on in preparation for any bigot bludgeoning that might hafta be dished out.
"He's a national security risk!" Nan shouted to the approval of the surrounding mouth-breathers.
"Not once he's bathed, an I'll tell ya somethin' else Nan - there ain't a damn thing more un-American than tryin' to close a drive-in, so let me ask YOU - just where'd *your* family come from? May I suggest Vladivostok?!" I growled with an accusing finger pointed as close to 'er as I dared get. By that point I'd picked up support from about half the crowd, but that wasn't gonna put the crapola to rest so I pressed the attack.
"Tell us, Nan - why do you wanna take these fine people's freedom to watch movies the way God intended - under the stars, in the comfort of their own automobiles, away from them?" I challenged, an based upon the chin scratchin' an the direction the Copenhagen spit was flyin' I could tell I was up to an 80% approval ratin' since the majority of the heads in the crowd'd turned toward Nan an away from Tetnis an me.
"I don't care who runs this place! I just want him back where he came from!" she retorted.
"You want him to move back to Snoochflunk, Idaho? What'll that accomplish?" I prodded.
"He ain't from Idaho and you know it!" she persisted.
"Look Nan, I've been doin' a little research myself on the subject of heritage, an since we're bumpin' up against show time I'm gonna be one HECK of a swell guy an give you a chance to drop this bullstuff an drive outta here right now so us drive-in mutants can enjoy our double feature," I offered, but she wasn't havin' none of it.
"Ees okay greengo, I go," came Skunky's voice from the concession storage pantry he'd been hidin' in. "Thanks eenywa--"
"Nan Barnabus is the third cousin twice removed of Jack Valenti! President of the MPAA from 1966 - 2004, and the man whose censorship board mutilated the greatest films of our generation! And I can prove it!" I howled as I slammed the stack of Ancestry.com genealogy reports I'd printed at the library down next to the hot dog carousel. The stack was gone in an instant, and within 30 seconds the mob erupted in fury.
"He's right!" screamed Buzz McCullogh.
"Burn the heretic!" shrieked Astrid Skinner, an next thing you know the councilmen'd locked themselves in their rigs an torn off down the road, tryin' like hell to shake the P.O.'d moviegoers off their hoods.
"I not mean to be ungrateful greengo, but thees people ees royal teeked... if they get hold of them..."
"We might have a functioning local government?" I suggested.
"Ees she really Valenti's cozin?" he squinted.
"There are many Jack Valentis in the world Skunky, let's not go tuggin' at that thread, okay?" I mumbled. "An you owe me $7 for the copyin' fees - goddamned stingy library charges a dime a copy, you believe that?"
Eventually the mob made its way back to the lot an carried Skunky around on its shoulders chantin' "Viva drive-in! Viva!" whatever that means - but I gotta say, I haven't been more proud of our little burg since the Fujiyama brothers qualified for the finals of the Atari Swordquest championships back in 1983.
Anyway, once everybody got tired of luggin' around a 240lb Mexican an went home to get a change of clothes, I stuck Messiah of Evil up on the screen an we celebrated our drive-in victory in style, an I'm happy to say that at least three people threw up during the screening of this movie. Course they were all 8 years old an it mighta had somethin' to do with the fact that I was supposed to be puttin' Toby McTeague on to play as the first feature, but considerin' the kinda stuff kids see on the internet these days it still oughta count. I don't wanna go spoilin' the plot just yet, but I will say it was directed by the same guy who made Howard the Duck, so you pretty much know right away that you're in the hands of a maniac. In any event, just gimmie about 15 seconds to rattle off a few of the things you're gonna learn watchin' this flick an we'll get to it. First, when your corn's refusin' to grow right, sometimes you've gotta march right up to your crop, pull out your Colt .45, an make an example outta the troublemakers. Second, when your love triangle becomes a square somebody's bound to start feelin' cheap. An third, be sure to chew your geckos thoroughly, lest they come back up on ya later an offer to save you 15% on your psychiatrist's fees.
The movie begins with this guy runnin' down the sidewalk from some unseen menace that's prolly tryin' to sell 'im an Amway membership judgin' by the way he's hoofin' it, at which point he's waved into the backyard of some chick with Ruth Buzzi's jawline who promises asylum but instead delivers an all expenses paid tracheotomy. Next thing we're in the goof coop where another gal (Arletty) tells us about how the doctors won't take 'er seriously just cause she once ate all the bolts off 'er hospital bed an warns us about the perils of the town next door whose evil'll be comin' for us all once it can secure adequate transportation. Seems 'er dad lived in this town, an that before the incident that relegated 'er to the institute of higher gurgling, his letters to 'er were startin' to drift into presidential Twitter feed territory as time went on an so she decided she'd better go check on 'im before he dug a bunker in the yard an bought a truckload of Jim Bakker's prepper chow. Then we flash back to the night she headed home where she's gettin' gas from this guy who's firin' his revolver into a nearby field to keep the Children of the Corn from knockin' over his Coke machine, til this dude who looks like the result of Michael Berryman sexin' a Chia Pet shows up with a truck fulla corpses an asks the attendant to put $2 worth in. Apparently the attendant stuck $2.08 in there an refused to eat the eight cents or somethin', cause later that night he's changin' the oil on a truck an gets crushed beneath his hydraulic lift by an evil leprechaun who'd been hidin' in the floorboards. Or maybe it was just a P.O.'d ginger, I dunno, either way the man's gapped his last spark plug. Arletty meanwhile drives on to 'er dad's beach house, only he ain't home an we realize right away that the guy's prolly not 'er real father since the house is decorated with murals an potted plants like Andy Warhol lives there, but she does locate his journal an discovers he's been out walkin' after midnight out in the moonlight seein' nightmare critters an weirdos who look like they just left a Misfits concert camped out on the beach engaged in bizarre rituals intended to bring about the return of the Frankie Avalon film. Arletty dunno what to make of all this, so she goes lookin' for clues an ends up at a Motel 5 where some yuppy who looks like Paul McCartney (Thom) an his free-love hippy bimbos (Laura an Toni) are interrogatin' a wino (Charlie) about the local legend of the Blood Moon that reportedly comes only once a century an causes everyone to go ga-ga in addition to allowing the resurrection of one Count Duckula.
After the interview concludes the wino takes his bottle of Ripple an warns Arletty that when she does finally find 'er dad she's gonna hafta roast 'im like a stray cat on a hobo fire because buryin' 'im "won't work," but fails to elaborate on a piece of advice that really, really warrants some clarification. So Arletty goes back to the ole man's diary an can't help but notice how the thing keeps gettin' more'n more emo an death obsessed with each entry until she begins to worry he may've moved to Salem, Massachusetts to join a Goth band. As if that aint' bad enough, pretty quick the yuppy occult investigators from the roach motel show up an tell Arletty that Charlie turned up half eaten an that they're appalled considerin' how many starving derelicts are currently roamin' the streets of North Korea with no one to eat. Arletty lets 'em move in with 'er so Thom can prattle on about aristocratic crapola an his interest in all that weird phenomena on In Search Of when he's not apologizin' for the behavior of his unsophisticated jailbait girlfriends, but pretty quick Thom starts unzippin' clothing items on Arletty until Laura gets P.O.'d an decides Three's Company but four's disgustin'. Then Laura hitches a ride with the creepy albino dude from the gas station who's truckin' around with a half dozen zombies in the bed of his ride listenin' to Wagner compositions on 8-track an eatin' lab mice until she remembers how much she enjoys walking on dirt roads in high heels an decides to bail out. Typical ungrateful woman; guy picks up the damsel in distress, offers 'er an evening of dinner an classical music, an what's she do? She's gotta wash 'er hair tonight, of course. Anyway, Laura thinks it's a little weird how the town seems to have a curfew of about 7:30 an heads into the Winco to look for a bag boy who'll take 'er home for the night, cept the only people in the store're all dressed up like they're at one of those "save the rainforest" fundraisers an're bent over the meat display gnawin' on raw pork chops like raccoons that broke into an ice chest at elk camp, an when they catch her judgin' their table manners like the house mother in a finishing school they get torqued off an chew 'er to pieces. The next mornin' the cops find Arletty's dad crushed to death beneath some kinda abstract metal sculpture like the one Fred Sanford made in his junkyard an she ends up goin' comatose an bleedin' from various orifi you wouldn't normally wanna bleed from until things get so bad that she loses all sensation in 'er hands an goes into York peppermint patty withdrawal before tellin' Thom she's sure the body didn't belong to 'er dad cause he used Oil of Olay skin moisturizer religiously an the hands she touched felt like they belonged to a 75 year old landscaper.
Meanwhile, Toni's gone out to the flicks where the theater slowly fills up around 'er an causes 'er to get real nervous cause the movie's an unwatchable Western starrin' Sammy Davis Jr., an when she tries gettin' outta there she discovers the doors're locked an all the patrons're zombie cinephiles with the munchies. Whole damn thing coulda been prevented if the ticket-taker hadn't confiscated their snacks at the door. Course with Arletty's eyes gushin' blood like she's moderatin' the 2016 presidential debates, Thom starts worryin' about Toni an goes out lookin' for 'er but instead finds a mob of Black Friday bargain seekers who refuse to disperse when the cops show up, an next thing you know one of the cops goes zombie an shoots his partner an pretty quick we got an undead dog pile on the squad car. While that's goin' on, Arletty's at home hurtin' 'erself to see if she still feels like Trent Reznor, cept after awhile she gets sick an pukes up so many reptiles that the bathroom starts lookin' like an Australian parking lot. Then Royal Dano walks in (he's 'er dad) an tells 'er she's gotta get word to Walter Cronkite before the city turns into a necrophiliac tourist destination an explains that 100 years ago some preacher that hung with the Donner Party met up with a hunter in the woods an told 'im he'd managed survived by the grace of God an the right arm of a guy named Jim an that he was spreadin' the gospel of cannibalism - that is, until the hunter fired on 'im an he hadda subdue the trigger happy rube an eat 'im. After that the preacherman walked into the sea like Aquaman an said he'd be back to lead the dead when society became cynical, disillusioned, an royally hacked off about the waitin' lines for gasoline. Cthulhian prophet or no, Arletty still won't leave Royal to be processed into ghoul poo, an that makes Royal so mad that he hasta grab a coupla handfuls of paint an smear it all over his face til he looks like an undead Papa Smurf an start bearin' his dentures til Arletty reluctantly fries 'im like a bag of hash browns when a can of paint thinner falls over on 'im. Movie starts gettin' a little strange after this, so I think I'll shut up an avoid spoilin' anything else for ya, but here's a link in case you're a human bein' of taste.
Is this a bizarre movie or what? It's like Dagon meets The Crazies meets How to Stuff a Wild Bikini - you're just sure that any minute Annette Funicello's gonna show up and start singin' Don't Fear the Reaper or somethin'. I wanna know who the turkey is that let this flick drop into the public domain though, cause usually that only happens when you take a look at your film and realize that sinkin' $15 into the licensing renewal fee would be a bad investment when you could be down at the Piggly Wiggly grabbin' a DiGiorno and a six pack. I guess it's not really that big a mystery as to why that happened, cause in those days people expected a movie to make sense and when it didn't *poof*, the only place you were ever gonna see it after it closed at the drive-in was at 3am on Insomniac Theater; same thing happened to Carnival of Souls. Both flicks were ahead of their time, mostly cause you don't know what the heck's goin' on half the time, and you don't really care because the tone is like nothin' you've ever seen before. The disjointed structure is likely the result of the film's investors backing out near the end of the shoot, which effectively ended any hope of completing the movie. Fortunately, another investor took a look at what the filmmakers *had* completed, bought the footage, reedited it into its current form, and released it into theaters without filming any additional material. It's just as well, because the atmosphere, surrealism, and downright befuddlement is what makes the movie work, and although a couple days of pick up shots would likely have made the movie more coherent, it would also have sucked the uniqueness out of it. It's that uniqueness that prevents you from shoehorning it in with movies like Night of the Living Dead, because the afflicted people in the movie may well not even be dead, and if they are they're like no zombies you'd ever seen in a movie up to that point in history because some of them can still reason, speak, and perform minimum wage jobs. The closest comparison, monster-wise, would probably be the mutants from flicks like The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man, but I'm not gonna bother trying to lump this one into a subgenre because, despite meager production values in certain areas, it's a one-of-a-kind movie, and one of the very best to drop into the public domain.
Of course, that's kinda like bein' the soberest guy at last call, but I still say there's something here, so let's all pull our telescopes outta the closet and see if there's anything to this blood moon business. Despite all the bizarre situations that crop up, the plot is pretty linear and easy to follow. Whether it makes any sense is another matter, after all, you've got characters like the gas station attendant who seem to know what's goin' on but don't see fit to leave, the bizarre albino who's drivin' around collecting corpses in his truck but who lets Laura go after freakin' her out, and of course Royal Dano's character who wants his daughter to get out and warn the public despite not being so far gone that he couldn't do it himself. This is to say nothing of the fact that Arletty's eyes bleed, she loses sensation in her body, ralphs up bugs and lizards, but is evidently not actually infected by whatever the rest of the town is, otherwise the weirdos wouldn't be tryin' to chase her down for lunch. And of course, once Royal Dano starts tellin' the story of the old preacher who traveled with the Donner Party, turned to cannibalism, and retreated to the sea intent on returning 100 years later to lead a zombie army, well, that's kinda out there too... yet, none of these issues seem to matter much because everything about the flick is so strange that it sucks you in and makes you forget how absurd it all is. The acting is pretty decent for the film's budget, and doesn't feature bad performances from any member of the cast with more than one speaking line. Marianna Hill carries the film with her slow descent into hysteria until Royal Dano finally shows up near the climax to help shoulder some of the load, but the supporting cast is adequate and surprisingly likeable for a low budget B-movie. Even the outright mistakes like Bennie Robinson's questioning of Anitra Ford's liking of Wagner, in which he pronounces the composer's name with a "w" instead of a "v" comes off as simply odd rather than stupid. Robinson's character really should have gotten more screen time too, as it is easily the most distinct and interesting of all the zombie creatures, but unfortunately it was not to be.
Here's who matters and why: Marianna Hill (Blood Beach, Schizoid, The Astral Factor, The Baby), Joy Bang (Night of the Cobra Woman), Anitra Ford (Invasion of the Bee Girls), Royal Dano (The Dark Half, Ghoulies II, House II, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Moon of the Wolf), Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary's Baby, Salem's Lot, Dead of Night 1977, Blacula, The Night Stalker, Night Slaves, The Haunted Palace, Black Zoo, House on Haunted Hill 1959, Voodoo Island), Charles Dierkop (Grotesque 1988, Silent Night Deadly Night, Night of the Cobra Woman, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea). Pretty short list, but the cast does have a few acting credits they could screen for their parents' friends at Christmas, so if you wanna know what the old lady down the street might know these folks from, those credits are as follows: Marianna Hill (Collie Travers in High Plains Drifter), Joy Bang (Julie in Play it Again Sam), Charles Dierkop (Det. Pete Royster on Police Woman).
The special effects, while fairly gruesome, aren't especially effective. The blood for instance is very much a product of its time, and primarily consists of that really thick, vibrant red formula that was a staple of '70s Horror flicks. That said, much of the gore (at least the more explicit stuff) is left to the imagination in the same way that a lot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's is, and like Chainsaw, the viewer is likely to believe that the movie was a lot more graphic than it actually was just by virtue of the subject matter and the raw, gritty cinematography. In other words, they got a pretty big bang for their buck here despite not having any elaborate, disgusting gore - although I should compliment the chunks of flesh flappin' loose on the sides of Royal Dano's face, and the decent fire suit scene. The shooting locations are generally pretty mundane if you don't enjoy looking at store fronts, gas stations, grocery stores, and theaters from the 1970s, but then that perspective kinda misses the point, as we're supposed to be in Anytown, USA. The aforementioned locations are all enjoyable to look at from a historical perspective, but it's also worth mentioning that the filmmakers were able not only to secure the use of all these locations on a small budget (the grocery store in particular seems like the kinda place people wouldn't care to have a Horror film crew screwin' around in), but also that they were able to get some great shots of deserted city streets. Even in a small town in the early morning hours that's tough to achieve without the cooperation of local authorities, but they did a really nice job of depicting the town's demise with minimal resources. There are also some decent shots of the beach both during the daytime and nighttime hours, although it's a section of sand you've probably seen before. The soundtrack is a time capsule of '70s synth scoring akin to the music from In Search Of, though less cheesy and well suited to the tone and imagery depicted in the movie. Admittedly it's dated and kinda silly by the standards of 2018, but it's creepy and catchy enough that you can see how it would have been effective at the time of the film's original release. The one downside is the goofy melodic ballad that plays over the opening and closing credits that sounds like it was ripped from a James Bond knock off, as it doesn't fit the tone of the movie and isn't an great song besides. Overall, Messiah of Evil is an overlooked gem of the 1970s drive-in circuit, which, with the exception of a dated soundtrack, holds up pretty well 47 years after its theatrical release and is probably among the top five best Horror flicks in the public domain. Definitely check this one out, it's one-of-a-kind.