Now here's something you don't see everyday - a film that opens with director Walter Hill having his throat slashed by a dreamy looking teenage girl ! Messiah of Evil is one of the great secret masterpieces of 70's American Horror. In the film, a woman is drawn to the sleepy coastal town of Point Dune in search of her artist father, whose letters have become increasingly bizarre and worrisome. Arriving at her father's deserted home, the woman gets involved with a strange bohemian aristocrat and his two groupie girlfriends. Stranger still are the townsfolk of Point Dune, who seem to be in a zombie-like trance and keep a vigil of beach fires awaiting the arrival of a mysterious "dark stranger"...
Directed in 1973 by husband and wife team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, during a hiatus from writing American Graffiti for George Lucas, Messiah of Evil is one of the most unusual zombie films to emerge in the wake of Night of the Living Dead. The film's scope and ambition are only fully revealed in the final act, and for once you wish there was a second installment to continue the story. The film recalls the moodiness of Carnival of Souls, and you'll find shades of Messiah in films like The Fog and Dead And Buried. John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon may have seen the film at some point in the 70's, but it seems unlikely Lucio Fulci would have caught it, yet seasoned fans of Italian Horror might recognize elements of the film in Fulci's City of the Living Dead, both films tapping a rich vein of weird Lovecraftian horror.
Visually, Messiah of Evil looks hugely impressive - shot in Cinemascope (unusual for an independent horror film of this era) with striking Bava-esque lighting, and some quite amazing art direction - the film is full of surreal perspective artworks which dazzle and disorientate the eye. There are excellent set pieces too - a cinema which slowly fills up with sinister patrons, and an eerie sequence where a girl wanders into to a supermarket to find the living dead chewing down on raw meat. Special mention too for Phillan Bishop's wonderfully evocative electronic score.
Code Red's DVD of Messiah of Evil is excellent. The print used for the film exhibits quite a fair degree of dirt and debris but its a minor complaint considering the film can now be seen the correctly framed in all its 2.35 glory. Surprisingly Code Red have managed to dig up some very worthwhile extras - a very enjoyable, engaging commentary track by the film makers, a comprehensive featurette, Remembering Messiah of Evil, and two b/w short films. Messiah of Evil is a film you will want to see again and again so be sure to pick this masterwork up as soon as possible.