‘Terror you won’t want to remember – in a film you won’t be able to forget.’
Messiah of Evil is a 1973 American horror 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.
The movie stars Andrew Greer, Marianna Hill (The Baby, Schizoid, Blood Beach), Joy Bang (Pretty Maids All in a Row; Night of the Cobra Woman), Royal Dano (House II: The Second Story; Ghoulies II; The Dark Half), Anitra Ford (Invasion of the Bee Girls) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Rosemary’s Baby; The Night Stalker; Dead of Night).
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…
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.
” …the most distinctive aspect of Messiah of Evil is its striking visual design: Jack Fisk’s production design is dazzling, with the nightmarish pop-art look of the artist’s home being the highlight of his work here, and Stephen Katz’s crisp widescreen lensing effectively deploys the kind of eerie, primary-colored lighting that genre fans usually associate with Italian horror films.” AllMovie
” …the protagonists are etched as sensitive, sophisticated, worldly and artistic but neurotic, damaged, searching; the dark, moldy past that threatens them is represented by four-square American Gothic Mom and Pops in their Sunday-go-to-meeting best. Although the Lovecraftian conceit of a national depression turning Americans to “the old gods” is a strong one, Messiah of Evil fails to make its young characters as interesting as its cannibalistic oldsters.” Arbogast on Film
” … 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
“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
“The filmmakers go to great lengths to hover an aura of dread that looms from the opening of the movie and maintains its sinister air straight to the bizarre conclusion. That’s one of the films greatest strengths. A strong sense of uneasiness permeates the picture and never quite lets go.” Cool Ass Cinema
“Some will say that it’s hampered by jumbled editing and an unusual sense of pacing, but this only establishes the film’s unconventionality, and along with its ambiguous explanations of the supernatural occurrences within, it leaves a lot up to viewer interpretation […] Several sequences really stand out and are yet to be equaled in modern horror movies. DVD Drive-In
“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
” …this is an effective little horror movie despite those problems, with three memorable and well-staged attack sequences (in a filling station, a grocery store and a movie theater) and the occasional display of a wicked sense of humor…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“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…” Mondo Digital
“Messiah of Evil’s reputation may have been overrated but it is certainly effective, undeniably the best directorial effort that Huyck and Katz have put out. There is an intense strangeness to the atmosphere […] Messiah of Evil has very much the feel of an H.P. Lovecraft film.” Moria
” … 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)
“a brilliant movie which exceeds virtually every other Gothic horror film since the war in terms of narrative ingenuity.” David Pirie, The Vampire Cinema, 1977
“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)
“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)
“… 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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