Messiah of Evil – USA, 1973 – reviews

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Messiah of Evil is a 1972 (released 1973) American horror feature film made by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the husband and wife team behind American Graffiti. It is also known as Dead People, Revenge of the Screaming Dead, Return of the Living Dead and The Second Coming.

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The movie stars Andrew Greer, Marianna Hill (The BabySchizoid, Blood Beach), Joy Bang (Pretty Maids All in a RowNight of the Cobra Woman), Royal Dano (House II: The Second StoryGhoulies IIThe Dark Half), Anitra Ford (Invasion of the Bee Girls), Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby; The Night Stalker; Dead of Night).

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Plot:

A young woman (Hill) goes searching for her missing surrealist artist father. Her journey takes her to a strange Californian seaside town governed by a mysterious undead cult…

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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.

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Reviews:

“Indirect references to the Manson family, the Donner party, and the still-new modern zombie genre also combine to give it a distinct flavor shared only by some of its immediate companion releases … It’s certainly a film you’ll never forget and well worth discovering, preferably late at night…” Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital

“A unique, unpredictable spin on both living dead and possession themes, this is muddled and clumsy at times, but it’s rather fascinating all the same. The material is very stylistically and artistically done … particularly in the blue and red lighting and the interiors of the beach house, which have plants, an escalator and leering people painted directly onto the walls. There are also some very well done (and creepy) set pieces that really deliver.” The Bloody Pit of Horror

“Everything in it is just so damn weird, and the way the characters behave is dreamlike. The visual look of the film is very colorful and unusual, full of odd sets and truly strange moments.” Groovy Doom

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” … executed with a good deal of imaginative stylistic panache and is actually relatively restrained (in comparison to similar zombie films) in terms of bloodletting.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

” … there’s no mistaking the point of the surreal episodes in which the living dead prove that they really are – to borrow Romero’s term – “the neighbours”. The standout scenes are those in which the inhabitants of the deserted town of Point Dune unexpectedly appear in the most banal settings.” Jamie Russell, Book of the Dead: A Complete History of Zombie Cinema (FAB Press)

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“The heavy, lugubrious atmosphere is fraught throughout with disjointed images and an unshakeable sense of the uncanny. There are certain logic and continuity problems, but the movie’s two main protagonists deaths (in a supermarket and a movie theatre) are superbly executed, and the theme song is unusually haunting.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia (McFarland)

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Chicago-based Checker Releasing re-distributed the film to cash-in on the early 1980s horror boom, using the tag line from Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and using Return of the Living Dead as the title. The Laurel Group, founded in 1976 by George A. Romero and Richard P. Rubinstein, took legal action against this use of the title. Eventually the Motion Picture Association of America decided that Romero did not held exclusive rights to the terms Living Dead, but ruled against the use of the misleading title for Messiah.

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“The titular Messiah of Evil isn’t clearly defined, nor is the process by which the townspeople become zombies (their eyes seem to bleed profusely first). There are a few allusions to cults and to Vietnam, and there’s some artistic pretentiousness in the overall presentation.” Glenn Kay, Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide (Chicago Review Press)

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“… the film draws from H.P. Lovecraft as well as from the Living Dead. However, Elish Cook Jr. as a doomed derelict whose warnings are unheeded adds a touch of gothic cliché to the brew and the ‘normal’ characters are so strange as to put the film’s conception of the real world out of joint, as if a crazed projectionist were juxtaposing random reels of The Haunted Palace and Vargtimmen/Hour of the Wolf.” Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies: Horror on the Screen Since the 1960s (Bloomsbury)

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Image credits: Museo do VHS | The Bloody Pit of Horror

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