Messiah of Evil
|Messiah of Evil|
Original USA movie poster
|Directed by||Willard Huyck
|Produced by||Willard Huyck
|Written by||Willard Huyck
|Editing by||Scott Conrad|
|Studio||International Cine Film Corp.
|Distributed by||Bedford Entertainment|
|Release dates||2 May 1973|
|Running time||85 minutes|
Messiah of Evil (later also shown under the title Dead People) is a film made in 1973 by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the husband and wife team behind the film version of Howard the Duck as well as the screenplay for American Graffiti.
A young woman named Arletty (Marianna Hill) drives to the beach town of Point Dune, California, to visit her estranged father, an artist. She finds his house, abandoned. He left a diary in which he addresses her specifically. In it he complains about darkness consuming the town, and horrible nightmares he is having, and implores Arletty to never, ever look for him. His letter tells her to talk to the owner of the art gallery, who sells his paintings. The gallery owner says he has none of her father's paintings, does not sell them, no one ever comes in looking to buy his works, and says he doesn't know where he went. He says Point Dune is 'an artist colony', and he only vaguely remembers her father (his paintings are eerie pop art portraits of groups of people in black, white, and gray, standing; the men are always dressed in black suits, white shirts, and black ties, like dead men at a funeral). It is never clear if these are townspeople, or figures from his visions, or both.
By chance, Arletty meets a Portuguese-American aristocrat Thom (Michael Greer) and his two extremely provocative, groupie-like female companions, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford). They are drinking, smoking, and walking around in states of undress, except for the man. He always wears an ivory three piece suit, 24 hours a day. He is fascinated by the town, and the legend that a blood moon rises above it periodically, and darkness then consumes the town. Back at his motel, he is interviewing Charlie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) a village idiot/'wino'-type character. He tape records his bizarre rants. Charlie speaks at length about 'the blood moon' and 'the dark stranger' and how he has lived through both. He says very soon it will be the 100 year anniversary of the first appearance of the 'dark stranger', he will return, the moon will turn red, and the town will be overrun with evil. He says the stranger's followers do not kill him as they think he is a harmless hobo—they let him sleep on the sidewalk undisturbed every night. Charlie warns Arletty about her father, he says he is 'one of them' now, and must be killed, but with fire, as only fire will do the job. Moments later he is murdered off screen. Thom tells Arletty he also went to the gallery, and saw one of her father's paintings in the window.
The man and his women are kicked out of the motel, supposedly because the police questioned them about the wino, and it bothered the management (all the police in town are 'normal' and clueless about the vampires massing at night). They all move in together, at Arletty's father's house. Each night at the house, strange things happen, shadows crawl about on the skylights, and Arletty reads more of the diary. In it, her father reveals his body temperature is 85 degrees. This proves he is dead, but thinking and moving about, and suggests the local vampires are fully sentient and aware of what they do, and only Arletty's father feels remorse and is actively fighting his 'condition'. Meanwhile, each night, creatures gather on the beach in front of bonfires, staring straight up at the moon. The locals call it 'The Waiting'. These 'vampires' will eat anything: dead vampires, dead people, live people, live animals, etc. Each day 'order' returns to Point Dune.
These vampires are especially interested in eating Arletty, Thom, Toni, and Laura. First to die is Laura, devoured inside a Ralphs supermarket, in one of the film's two semi-famous scenes. Next to die is Toni, in the other semi-famous scene, she is literally devoured in a movie theater filled with blood red seats and greenish vampire-like creatures. These 'things' act like vampires, bite their victims' necks, but then eat them like George Romero's zombies. The night Toni is eaten alive, Thom races downtown, realizing she is in danger. But he's too late. Things quickly get completely crazy as the 'blood moon' rises, every resident turns into a monster, and the titular Messiah of Evil - the dark stranger, a former minister, and a Donner Party survivor from the late 19th century turned vampire/cannibal, returns. He says he has come to lead his people up the coast and inland, to spread his 'religion'. Thom gets bitten on the neck, and then suddenly two policemen in riot gear drive up, and fire their guns into a swarm of townspeople/vampire/zombies; however one of them suddenly begins to bleed, causing his now-former partner to shoot him and flee. Undaunted, the undead cop shoots his former ally and he and the other vampire/zombies go to feast on his flesh.
Thom drives to the beach house, but Arletty is half-crazed; she is cold, cannot feel pain, thinks she may be dead or un-dead...she even finds a bug crawling around in her mouth and immediately vomits up various beetles, mealworms and an anole. Startled by Thom, she stabs him with garden shears. Later bandaged up and ready to go, the two of them flee to the beach. It is swarming with the ersatz vampires. They swim out to the breakers. Thom drowns, but Arletty survives. Instead of being eaten, she is tied up, to be 'sacrificed to the Messiah'. Instead of killing her, he turns her loose, and tells her to spread word of his religious movement throughout California and the world. Of course, once she is freed Arletty tries to spread word of the menace and of his cult. This causes her to be locked up in an insane asylum. She is the woman seen dancing in the hallway at the beginning of the film. Each day, all day, she sits in the sun painting. But she says she is really waiting for, and dreading the day the Messiah and his followers come to her asylum, and she is taken away to live forever as his bride.
Almost nothing in the entire plot is ever explained, but rather left to the viewer's interpretation. The movie's dream-like structure leads the viewer to question what is going on, and with each successive scene, the mystery becomes more obscure. For example, the symptoms that Arletty experiences at the end of the movie (the coldness, inability to feel pain, and bug crawling out of her mouth) seem to suggest that she has been dead for some time without being cognizant of it.
An urban legend regarding the film exists that a key subplot regarding the true nature of Michael Greer's character "Thom" and his connection to the "Messiah of Evil", aka the "dark stranger" was cut from the final edit of the film.[unreliable source?] Greer plays the "dark stranger" in the flashback sequence and at the end of the film, Thom tells Arletty of a dream he had, placing him in a situation similar to the "Donner Party", that the "dark stranger" was present at. This leaves the question of whether or not Thom was the reincarnation of the "dark stranger" or the actual "dark stranger". In an interview with Michael Greer to promote the film "The Gay Deceivers", he states that he will be playing "the devil's son" in his upcoming film, Messiah of Evil.[unreliable source?]
- Michael Greer – Thom
- Marianna Hill – Arletty
- Joy Bang – Toni
- Anitra Ford – Laura
- Royal Dano – narrator / Joseph Long
- Elisha Cook Jr. – Charlie
- Dyanne Asimow (as Dyanne Simon)
- Charles Dierkop – Gas Attendant
- Bennie Robinson – Albino trucker
- Morgan Fisher
- Emma Truckman
It is considered by many horror critics to be one of the earliest "Nightmare" films, meaning that it portrays many dream-like, psychedelic scenes in an eerie, unsettling atmosphere. It has often been accused of borrowing liberally from the 1962 horror film Carnival of Souls.
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- "MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973) – Criticonline". Critical Condition. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "Messiah of Evil (aka Dead People, 1973) Movie Review". Beyond Hollywood. 2007-03-25. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "Messiah of Evil (1973) – They Re Coming". They're Coming. 2002-01-04. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "Saturday Nightmares: Messiah of Evil (1971)". Dread Central. 2010-03-20. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "10,000 Bullets » Messiah of Evil (Code Red)". 10k Bullets. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "The Devil's Nightmare / Messiah of Evil: Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- Messiah of Evil at the Internet Movie Database
- Messiah of Evil is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- Messiah of Evil at allmovie
- Messiah of Evil at Rotten Tomatoes