Messiah of Evil (1973)

Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford,
A young woman goes searching for her missing artist father. Her journey takes her to a strange Californian seaside town governed by a mysterious undead cult.
  • 6.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Director:
  • Producer:

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10/10 / 10

DEAD PEOPLE (or MESSIAH OF EVIL) is one of those rare horror films thatcomes along only a few instances in one's lifetime. I had heard aboutit years ago but never sought it, mostly because of the really badreviews it got (Michael Weldon says it's crap in his Psychotronic book)but after deciding to check it out and paying only 4 bucks for the DVD,I have to say that all those naysayers were wrong. Really wrong.

I was totally knocked-out by this forgotten film. Everything about itis mesmerizing. The thing I was impressed the most about DEAD PEOPLE isthe mood. I've rarely seen a horror this darkly moody, not sinceSUSPIRIA. Horror fans looking for gore or fast paced action or even thestandard way horror films are usually made (high body count, anunstoppable killer, etc) will be disappointed by DEAD PEOPLE. It's noneof those things.

DEAD PEOPLE is directed like a nightmare and everything about it isdisorienting. There's almost no familiar point of reference in themovie. Everything about it is deliberately done as to make the viewersfeel like they cannot relate to what's going on, which is probably whythis film looks like a failure to many. But for me, the effect isfantastic. This "disorientating" technique is very common now, withcelebrated filmmakers, such as David Lynch, who have made entirecareers utilizing this style of film-making.

Take the threesome for instance, played by Michael Greer, Joy Bang andthe luscious Anitra Ford. When was the last time you saw a threesome ina horror film? This threesome could have easily been used to titillatefans of horror or exploitation films but it is shown matter-of-factlyand yet, to most people, a threesome is still not something they'recomfortable with. The "matter-of-fact" way the threesome is portrayedmight indicate to many that their characters are poorly written whenit's the opposite. The fact that the movie never delves into the mostsalacious aspects of a threesome tells me more about what thefilmmakers believed was important to the story than anything else.

But these incidental, disorienting aspects of the story do not evenbegin to explain the non-clichéd horror aspects of DEAD PEOPLE, whichcan only be described as beautiful. Something horrific is going on intown. People are turning into "dead people", not because they werebitten by a vampire or a zombie, but because of some unseen force. Thecreeping terror that occurs in DP is not that different than whathappens in something like THE BIRDS or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS,sans cold war paranoia. Thanks to the spooky voice overs, one from thedaughter and one from the father, we learn that the unseen force affectpeople through the mind or soul (the father, who's an artist, is awareof this unseen force and it affects his art. Brilliant!) Comparing DEADPEOPLE to other films is sorta a disservice because this is a totallyoriginal film. Unlike so many horror movies, the horror elements inDEAD PEOPLE are not used by the filmmakers to "punish" the charactersbut to create a nightmarish world, which oddly enough, because of thesubtle way the creeping terror unfolds, makes the movie look more realthan real.

The acting from everyone rangs from OK to pretty good, with MichaelGreer being a revelation. He has a very commanding presence. It's ashame his film career never amounted to much. And Anitra Ford isridiculously hot. I've rarely seen such a sensuous woman in movies.Again, it's a shame her career went nowhere. The music is low key buteffective. The cinematography is excellent. The amazing use of depth offield enhances the nightmarish goings on. The only thing that's bad isthe song at the end. It just doesn't fit the rest of the movie.

For a film that's supposed to be bad, there are several stand-outscenes in it. About 6 or 7. That's a lot! Most have already mentionedthose stand-out scenes here (at the supermarket and cinema) but thereare others: at the beginning, at the gas station. When the daughterfinds her father's notes. Joy Bang looking at the paintings whengetting ready to sleep. The scene when the cops start shooting atpeople. And the dead people crashing though skylight. The sound effectsare a little weak during that scene but the whole moment is stillpowerful.

I hope one day this film will be completely restored and maybe bere-released on the big screen, which would rock. If your a fan ofhorror and love atmospheric, moody, nightmarish horror films make sureto check out DEAD PEOPLE. It's simply mesmerizing!

10/10 / 10

Virtually all of the praise I've ever seen for this film comes with theword "but", followed by a list of flaws. This is undeserved. True, thefilm (in its DVD double-bill with The Devil's Nightmare form) has someminor editing issues; true, it has cheesy pop music you'd never find ifyou search for years (I personally consider this a GOOD thing); true,the film is not a fast paced zombie-action flick with grue and butchery(in fact, it's more cult than zombie film). BUT, what the movie doeshave going for it is an original edge and some sharp, moody scenes thatare rare for the era. Some comments say it is slow ...my view is thatthe authors of such comments are simply more used to modern,faster-paced cinema. The scenes are aesthetically delightful butcertainly not as artsy (negatively so) as some commentors claim (theartsy-ness doesn't really go beyond the story itself: DO NOT fear thisis comparable to the so-called artsy-ness of, say, a Jess Franco film...it is not). The actors have been attacked by other commentors, butthis is one of the things I was more impressed with considering theseemingly meager budget. I thought the male lead did a much better jobthan, say, the female lead. The two girls who are traveling with themale lead are also surprisingly human and real for a film like this,and there is obviously some chemistry in the cast (but for the femalelead: she's a bit too dreamy). The albino and the Richard Wagnermusic-scene felt out of place but perhaps worked with thedisorientation of the film as a whole. In all, comparing this film toits genre and period, it really can't be dismissed. A littleindecisive, but not nearly enough to detract from the bounty of greatscenes and sensations.

8/10 / 10

A girl arrives in a strange town on the California coast to see herfather and learns that he's vanished. When she meets up with a swingingdrifter the two soon discover that the weird locals are hiding ahorrific secret, they're also quite hungry...

Dead People (also known by the title Messiah of Evil) is an obscure gemamong the numerous low-budget drive-in horror flicks of the 70's. It'sa gritty film that brims with creative energy and remains intriguinglyoff-beat throughout. This isn't your standard horror tale at all.There's a great atmospheric dread that runs through the film, alongwith an amazingly nightmarish moodiness. The compelling plot sports anumber of truly chilling scenes and escalates to an intense, ifsomewhat surreal, finale that's perfectly haunting. It also uses verylittle violence or gore to reach its effective creepiness.

Director Willard Huyck does a splendid job creating a dream-like vibefor this film and does well with crafting some suspenseful scenes. Thecast is good as well. Star Marianna Hill is confident in her portrayalof mystified Arletty and Michael Greer brings something genuine to thecharacter of wondering Thom. Veteran actors Elisha Cook Jr. and RoyalDano are both excellent and truly spooky in their brief but memorableroles in the film.

Is it a perfect film? Not quite, there's some rough editing and awistful love song theme that seems out of place here, but these issuesare dwarfed by the strong points. There's plenty to admire about thischilling, unique horror film. It's definitely worth tracking down forhorror fans that enjoy their films a bit on the existential side.

*** 1/2 out of ****

7/10 / 10

DEAD PEOPLE (also known as MESSIAH OF EVIL, the version I saw) is arather artistic and unusual little horror movie. The zombies in thiscase are flesh eaters, but the exact cause of zombification is acentury-old curse upon the coastal town of Point Dune. Unlike Romero'sundead, these creatures are almost fully functional, capable ofspeaking, running, firing a gun, and driving. They also show almost nosigns of decay, save for the pale skin and zoned-out expression.

The movie begins with Arletty (Marianna Hill) on her way toward thetown of Point Dune to check up on her father after receiving somestrange correspondence from him. Her first encounter is at a gasstation near the town, where a nervous attendant assists her before alarge albino man drives up in a pickup truck loaded with corpses.Arletty makes her way into town, encountering Thom (Michael Greer), ayoung wealthy swinger living with two women, Laura (Anitra Ford) andToni (Joy Bang), who lets her stay with them. As time goes on, we learnabout the curse upon Point Dune, all revolving around a strangereligion started a century ago by a mysterious man in dark. Evidentlyit is this curse that causes people to slowly die, turning into zombiesand bleeding from the eyes.

In spite of the campy 70's music and somewhat mediocre editing, this isa genuinely creepy movie done very effectively on an obviously lowbudget. Unfortunately, finding a relatively clean copy of this movie onDVD might be difficult. It is a public domain film, meaning that it canprobably be found online for free, and it is included with a number ofmulti-movie boxed sets (notably the "Chilling Classics" Mill Creek set,with forty-nine other movies).

5/10 / 10

Virtually unknown horror pic from the 70s about a woman looking for hermissing artist father and finding some kind of zombie cult wiping out aCalifornian seaside town. The story's flaws are legion as huge holesfill much of it, yet the story about a man coming from/to the canyon a100 years ago that had been a member of that infamous party forced toconsume...well, it was interesting in nothing else. In the beginning ofthe film some care and effort had been given to help distinguish whowas a member of this flesh-eating cult that work together, playtogether, and rip flesh together. You won't see any gore at allgore-hounds - so this one may not be for you. In point of fact, thereis little actually seen in the film other than people at a tablegnawing meat(from what looks like it came right out of asupermarket)and like scenes. What this film DOES have going for it aresome very clever scenes amidst an obviously constrained budget. Thereare no names here except Elisha Cook Jr. in a pretty good cameo as acrazed drunk and Royal Dano as the film's narrator and a centralcharacter. Other than that we have the daughter played by beautifulMarianna Hill and a man with two girls as his companions holing up inHill's house when asked to leave town. The man likes mysteries and thegirls want to leave. Both are pretty; Anitra Ford, star of such filmslike Invasion of the Bee Girls, is sultry and decent and her leggy,young co-star is, well let's say its one of the more interesting stagenames, Joy Bang. In fact Joy is in the best scene in the film thattakes place in a movie theater. The theater is empty at first and eachsuccessive scene has more and more of these "beings" moving into thebackground of the theater and then on all sides of her while a Godawful scene from a trailer for a western starring Sammy Davis Jr. playson the big screen. This scene was darkly humorous and chilling. Therewere other scenes too, but before I get too carried away with what Idid like - this film has some flaws. The aforementioned script has lotsof unexplained or poorly explained things throughout: how does the mancome from the sea? what is the significance of the guy that eats rats?why was the art dealer blind?(an unusual touch) Where had...? OK, Ihave lots more but the point has been made. The film's budget is verylow. Nothing is shown on screen that might have exhausted the smallestof budgets except for a lot of paint being thrown around a room and onestunt man wearing an outfit that was set to flames. The town used forlocation shots suits the creepiness of the plot and adds to the film'satmosphere. The acting is not real bad nor is it real good. The fourcentral characters were all chosen not for their abilities but ratherfor their physical features. They could have been a lot worse in frontof the camera in their defense. The ending is way over-blown too. Flawsnotwithstanding, I liked this film overall and was impressed with muchin it(just loved that movie theater scene) and heartily recommend it tothe viewer of low-budget quality horror films.