Saturday, May 31, 2014

Messiah of Evil (1973)

Note:  This review is reposted from my Epinions account.

WARNING:  In this review, I’m going to give away lots of details.  If you’re not into that sort of stuff, now’s a good time to stop reading.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Low-budget movies aren’t always that bad.  Some turn out to be marginally good.  A few even go on to become cult classics.  I don’t think Messiah of Evil will live in infamy, but it is at least marginally good.

The plot is very simple.  A woman named Arletty comes to Point Dune, California, to find her long-lost father.  He’s not at his place.  At least this gives her a place to stay while she looks for him..  She doesn’t know exactly where he is and no one in town can offer much help.  She goes into a store that’s displaying some of his artwork, but the people there haven’t seen him in a while and none of his stuff has sold.

They direct Arletty to a man operating out of a hotel room.  His name is Thom and he’s documenting local folklore.  Arletty arrives while he’s recording Charlie, the local drunk, tell the story of The Dark Stranger and the blood moon.  Also in the room are Thom’s two ‘traveling companions’, Laura and Toni.  Arletty waits for the town drunk to finish before asking about her father to no avail.  No one has anything to offer.

After she leaves, Charlie approaches her and tells her that should she find her father, she should kill him and burn the body.  (Simply burying the body won’t work.)  There’s this legend of a Dark Stranger that was in the area 100 years ago.  He promised to return when the time was right.  One sign of his return was the blood moon, which would cause people to go crazy.

Shortly thereafter, Thom and party arrive at Arletty’s place to ask if they can crash.  The hotel kicked them out and they have nowhere else to go.  Arletty apparently doesn’t have a problem with this.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that there’s very little to do in Dune Point.  It’s so boring that Laura decides to leave.

Since Laura doesn’t have the keys to the car, she decides to walk.  Halfway into town, she gets a ride from a strange man.  He’s so disturbing that it’s not long before she’s walking again.  She eventually reaches town only to find it deserted.  It’s late, but places do seem to be open.  Laura wanders into the supermarket, which appears at first to be as empty as the rest of the town.  That is, until she discovers some of the locals eating raw meat.  This is the last we see of Laura.

Toni is the next to fall victim to boredom.  Thom tells her to go see a movie.  Sensing that Thom wants to be alone with Arletty, she decides that a movie wouldn’t be a bad idea.  So, she goes to see Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.  It turns out to be a prophetic title as she doesn’t get to see tomorrow.

This leaves Thom and Arletty, who eventually come to realize that the best course of action is for them to get lost -- quickly.  Only two things hinder their escape.  One, Thom has been shot in the arm.  Two, most of the town’s people are now flesh-eating zombies.  All land escape routes are blocked, leaving Thom and Arletty to swim to a nearby boat offshore.  Thom apparently drowns due to his injury.  Arletty tries as best she can to make it to a boat, but passes out.  She awakens elsewhere and is presumed to be crazy.

I think this would have been a totally different movie had it been made today.  First, we’d see a lot more blood and gore.  When Laura and Toni get killed, we see the zombies gather around them, but we don’t actually see the act of killing them.  The most we get to see is a bloody hand or something.  I think there probably also would have been some more on-screen killings.  The movie ran for only 90 minutes, which leaves some room to add in a few more bodies.

This isn’t to say that it’s a movie for children.  Both women are trapped and scared out of their respective minds.  There are also a lot of dead bodies and a lot of zombies to chase after the living.  The emptiness of the town really adds to the creepiness of it all.  I really think that the story of The Dark Stranger would be enough to give any five-year-old nightmares.

The film quality left something to be desired.  I think this is in part due to the fact that it was filmed in 1971, but not released until 1973.  I got the movie as part of a nine-movie set and I don’t think the people that released it wanted to spend too much money restoring the film.  It is fairly obvious at times, but not too distracting.

What was distracting was the constant narration.  When Arletty reads her father’s journal, we get to hear his voice speaking.  It’s not so much that the narration itself was bad so much as there was a lot of it.  It almost seemed like filler.  It would have been just as easy to have Arletty tell Thom about what he wrote instead.

Another thing I didn’t like was that the father’s house had many of the walls painted.  When I first saw the interior of the house, an entire wall was painted with a scene of a boardwalk.  At first, I thought it was the worst case of forced perspective I had ever seen.  It took me a moment to realize that it was supposed to be a wall.  There are also life-sized paintings of people, which tends to be a little freaky.  (I think this may have been the point.)

I also found it odd that Laura was attractive while Toni wasn’t so attractive.  Toni looked a little more girlish than Laura.  It seemed like Laura was Thom’s girlfriend/love interest.  I’m not even sure what Toni was supposed to be to either one of them.  It’s like the writers decided that they needed another main character to kill off, so they came up with Toni.  She was a little too giggly at times for me.

The movie does have a very low-budget feel to it.  Most of the movie is of one or two people.  When we see zombies, we do see a lot of them, but we just don‘t see zombies a lot.  (I think this was done to save money on extras.)  In Laura’s final scene, Laura is walking around a fully lit supermarket that has no people in it.  When Arletty is walking around town, she’s outside, but there are no other pedestrians.  Yes, it adds to the creepiness, but it is a bit odd.

The oddest thing is that Thom is almost always shown wearing the same suit.  According to IMDb, the suit was the most expensive thing purchased for the movie, so I could see the producers wanting to get their money’s worth.  The trouble is that it’s such a nice suit that it only makes it obvious how much he wears it.

I wouldn’t buy it unless you’re getting it as part of a set.  Of the nine movies in the set that I got as part of The Living Dead collection, this was one of three I’ve seen so far that was at least somewhat decent.  This one at least had a passable storyline and decent acting.

If you’re looking for it, you may find it under Dead People.  It’s not five-star quality, but I can think of worse ways to spend 90 minutes.  The only down side was the ending, which seemed a little forced.  (It’s like the writers didn’t know exactly how to end it.)  I’d give it three stars. 

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