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30 for 31: “MESSIAH OF EVIL”

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A lot of strange films came out of those old hippie days. Though film was once considered the medium of old white dudes, the 1960s opening of countless film schools made it accessible to the younger generation. Young filmmakers of the late ’60s and early ’70s were treading into a new field, and ss an artistic expression this new generation created films based on experimentation, surrealism, and sometimes hippie-cult panic. These sentiments were echoed in the horror realm in flicks like LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, and, my favorite of the lot, MESSIAH OF EVIL.

Arletty is a young woman in search of her reclusive father, arriving in the town of Point Dune, California, at his last known address. Once there, she stays at her father’s artist studio where she finds his diary. The diary is written to Arletty, describing his nightmares and the town’s descent into evil. It also warns her to not come looking for him, which would have been more useful in a letter rather than a diary. 

Arletty then has a random encounter with Thom, a bohemian in a swinging tan suit, and his two female companions. That’s right Thom; it’s a real name and not just something some guy in Radiohead made up. Then shit gets really weird. Although it sounds succinct, the story is surrealistic, making it extremely difficult to distinguish between reality and dream-state.  The story does borrow a great deal from Lovecraft, which further blurs the already established thin line between sane and insane. 

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MESSIAH OF EVIL was the brainchild of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who went on to write many great films including AMERICAN GRAFFITI and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. But MESSIAH OF EVIL never gained much acclaim; sadly it received a limited release and is still considered to be one of the tragically unknown horror gems.

Yet, the same reason this film may have been overlooked by the general populace is the same reason why I consider it a great example of Halloween: the unexplained and unexpected! As an experiment in young filmmaking, MESSIAH is a surreal journey with several plots that never reach any type of conclusion.  Huge portions of the film are left up to interpretation as if the entire movie could have existed in a dream. The film is wrought with creepy moments presented just beyond the boundaries of reality.  

Perhaps the best-known scene takes place in a Ralph’s grocery store, as seemingly standard shoppers began swarming the meat section and eventually our main character. It is unforeseen and terrifying. This scene and the larger film signify that feeling I get every Halloween, an atmosphere in which anything can happen. Most nights I would never expect for anything supernatural or surrealistic to happen, but on Halloween night, my psyche is a bit more open to the possibility.

MESSIAH OF EVIL is currently available on Amazon Prime Instant Video! Don’t miss this perfect representation of astonishing fear!

ED: For more on MESSIAH OF EVIL, check out FANGORIA #338, on sale next month, for the first part of a major two-part retrospective on the film!

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About the author
Rebekah McKendry
Rebekah McKendry is the Director of Marketing for Fangoria Entertainment, and additionally she is a college professor teaching classes focused on film history and horror films. She is also an award-winning filmmaker. She has Bachelor's Degrees in Film and English, a MA in Media Education, a MFA in Film, and she is currently completing her PhD in Media Theory focused on horror and exploitation cinema. She is especially passionate about grindhouse films, video nasties, and rare or lost titles.
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