In the infinite myriad of geeky pursuits out there, whether it’s games, comic books, music, etc., almost all of it will be disputed by one side or the other as to which is most worthy of your attention and the hype. When it comes to the business of horror, though, the name H.P. Lovecraft stands apart, because the stories he wrote are undoubtedly the root inspiration for the very finest of every medium, and you can’t help but love getting the shit scared out of you. Unfortunately, many have made a wild run at bringing those stories to the big screen, and were met with spectacular, ass-skidding failure.
Messiah of Evil is one such film.
Horror movies are unlike any other genre of film, in that most of them are actually just god-awful trash in the poorest of taste, but often those stinkers are just as much fun to watch as the really good ones. I have spent many decades sitting happily through hundreds of them, and this, dear reader is why you can trust Curt to plow through the thousands of hours of terrible movies to bring your attention to the flicks at the bottom of that barrel that you will delight in sharing (maybe inflicting) upon your friends & family. OR, you can continue reading this article in which I will carve every morsel from this carcass (spoilers ahead!), so you can savor it in print without having to junk up your mind with the actual movie.
Here we go!
The movie kicks off with a tired man collapsing next to a pool, before a young lady cuts his throat, then TITLE
CARD, and a credit sequence coupled with the kind of caterwauling tune that was really popular in early 70’s films. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. They drop a few things like this along the way that it sort of shoe-horns into macabre happenings that don’t really tie into the story, but you get the impression that things in Point Dune have gone tits up when you can’t even catch a breather by a stranger’s pool without being murdered.
A voice-over from the lead character Arletty (worst female character name I’ve ever heard, and I’ve played D&D for thirty odd years or so) warns the viewer of more terrible voice-overs to come. This screechy monologue is followed by ANOTHER credit sequence!
While not actually a true adaptation, it’s pretty clear to fans of Lovecraft that this is a loose interpretation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, with the heroine of this tale reading the journal entries of her missing father, ignoring the warnings of a curious malady that cost him his sanity and threatens her own. These pages of the diary are voiced over the film to also explain the many eerie occurrences along this coastline locale, coupled with more of Arletty’s own rumination that muddied that a bit which I think was meant to drive the viewer a bit insane (extra feature!). But this tale concerns undead, and more than a few other horror film cliches, that they tried to make into a total package but falls way short of delivering it.
Arletty (played by the lovely Marianna Hill) arrives at a Mobil station (I know this because there's a dumb shot where the camera focuses on what looks like a cock-eyed double exposure of the sign for a few agonizing seconds) where my favorite character in this movie appears! Credited only as Gas Attendant, this grease monkey bursts onto the screen firing a pistol into the darkness indiscriminately. The bestial howls issuing from the area grease monkey was shooting at frighten Arletty, but not as much as the albino trucker that arrives with a couple bodies in the bed of his truck. She heeds his terse warning, and skedaddles before shit goes sideways for grease monkey. I was really upset they 86'ed him this early in the film, but he did get a pretty epic death.
Arletty (it makes me mad every time I type her name) makes her way to her father’s vacant house, and he was a painter who adorned his entire fucking house with these pop-art paintings of people that are just plain unsettling. The cinematography in this masterpiece wavers between novice to high art, with such herky jerky editing that it must have been a blast for hippies at the drive-in all frying on LSD, because at times I didn’t know if I was hallucinating and I’d had nothing stronger than black coffee. Maybe I enjoy the slapdash nature of these old grind house movies, because like a person’s actual nightmares; they are usually fractured, and tend not to be all that cohesive when it comes down to it. True to form, the woman in this harrowing story has blown past all the red flags up until this point, so why not stay the night in this fucked up house and continue the search for her missing dad in Point Dune when everything (including the passages from his warped diary) are telling her to scram.
The next day she explores the town a bit, and the audience is treated to a terrifically entertaining scene that had me giggling. Arletty happens upon a Portuguese-American Lord of some sort (who claims he owns a castle) and his two sex kittens, listening intently to the ramblings of the town drunkard. Key plot points are given away here as Charlie the booze bag jabbers about The Dark Stranger, and the hundredth anniversary of his first appearance during a blood moon. He tells Arletty that her dad has become “one of them,” and that she must kill him and burn the body. I really enjoyed Charlie, so of course he’s quickly killed off camera, and we’re left with a swinging stud named Thom, and his groupies.
Thom is played by Michael Greer, who is credited with being Hollywood’s first openly gay actor, so it’s hard to discern whether it was that or starring in this that sunk his film career (small note here that he would go on to voice the character of Mayor Oscar Bulloney on the cartoon The C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa, whose creator hails from my hometown of Wooster, Ohio). Now modern mores have taught us to be wary of these types, but back then there was no such thing as toxic masculinity, only men and sissies, so when Thom follows Arletty back to her house with his bimbos it’s assumed that he’s just a player. What follows is both bimbos bristling at an awkward dinner sequence because they don’t want a third bimbo, but Thom barrels forward with an awkward request for Arletty to unzip his vest.
Now this took me out of the film for a minute, because I’d never seen a fucking vest that had a zipper on THE SIDE of it! Yes, buttons down the front, but ALSO a zipper along the side. Wait, what?
Anyway, because she unzipped it Thom insists that she’s initiated sex (as was the custom at the time), but he could see that she was tired and so was he, so he slinked off to his regular hookups. The only thing jarring about this scene is that he didn’t just continue forcing himself upon her, because that’s what I’ve come to expect from these old movies, but maybe they wrote Thom as the emerging modern man. It’s a crazy, lurid scene that doesn’t so much titillate as leave you feeling a little disappointed in yourself for hoping that something else would take place.
Bimbo #1 played by the beautiful Anitra Ford (she played Burt Reynold’s shitty girlfriend in The Longest Yard) decides she’s had enough, and takes off to hitch hike north, and is picked up by the freaky albino trucker from earlier. He’s got the bed filled with weirdos staring up at the moon with their mouths all agape, and by the time he’s gobbling rats and blaring Wagner (no telling whether this was played for laughs or shock), she bails and wanders through Point Dune, which seems abandoned. Things are looking pretty bleak for Bimbo #1.
Suddenly, there before her is the warm glow of the Ralph’s supermarket chain! I’m kind of reminded of how Romero was trying to make a statement about consumerism in Dawn of The Dead, and that may be high minded for this movie, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have taken a swat at that as it seems they’re swinging at every pitch from scene to scene. She wanders into the empty grocery store that seems abandoned at first, but then she stumbles over to the meat department to find some ghouls going to work on all the neatly packaged raw beef!
Technically this is the most kickass scene in the movie, and actually frightening as she’s chased through the store by these undead townies until they corner her in another frenetic scene of implied violence. Why they pulled their punches I’ll never know, because there’s a great deal of totally somewhat realistic violence in this film complete with 1970’s fake blood (it looked different than other era’s fake blood, I don’t know why). So they almost pulled it off, but at the last second for whatever reason, a saxophone starts bleating out a tune. If this movie were set in any other time it just wouldn’t work, but in the druggy haze of the Nixon administration this sort of thing works really well, and serves to make it more disturbing. I love this stuff SO MUCH!
It is then then that Arletty’s dad’s body is discovered underneath a “sculpture” on the beach. Look at that art! It’s just incredible. Well, she wasn’t convinced that it was actually her dad, and Thom’s concern for her leaves little affection for poor Bimbo #2 which is a damn shame because she’s played by Joy Bang (god-damn I love the 1970’s) and livens the screen up every time she appears. Thom loans Bimbo #2 his car so she can go see a movie. Yeah, “Scram kid, so I can be alone with Arletty!”, then off goes Bimbo #2 to her doom!
It’s worth pointing out here that what these old movies show us about the past is that interior decorators knew fuck all about complimentary colors. For Christ’s sake the inside of that theater is red and pink, which is PERFECT for setting a scene where you don’t want anything to happen to this groovy hippy chick, but you KNOW the shit is about to go down. It’s nails being drug down a chalkboard, but for the eyes. There’s something to be said for the classic noirish look of black & white films, but when you get a peek at the same scene in color it’s gross the way they tossed all these gaudy palettes at you. Figure in that obviously the only copy they could find for the transfer had been whored out in thousands of drive-in showings that left it perfectly pitted, scratched, and beautifully damaged.
The movie within the movie is “Gone With The West” starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a god-damn cowboy! We’re treated to shots of Bimbo #2 happily munching popcorn interspersed with that film (hats off to the sound editor that threw in the sound of a fucking slide whistle during a cowboy shootout!) as the theater seats begin to fill up with ghoulish townies before she realizes it. The electronic score hums out her death song as her attempt to escape their clutches finds only barred exits, and a bloody end. RIP Bimbo #2!
Thom is newly single and ready to mingle, but this film has kicked it into high gear, and Thom has hordes of undead to do battle with! He comes away from one violent clash with a slight abrasion on his neck (despite his impressive size, I don’t think this Portuguese-American aristocrat is much of a scrapper). Lucky for Thom, the cops show up! Squad cars fly up into a controlled skid, and they jump out firing their pistols like they do this shit all the time. It looks impressive, but the pigs get swarmed and go down quickly so all they really accomplished was to supply just the distraction Thom needed to get the hell out of there, which he did. Off he goes with thoughts of Arletty, and whatever lewd things he’s planned for her.
Little does Thom know, at the moment Arletty is succumbing to the pervasive evil, and torturing herself with a huge hat pin before vomiting bugs, worms, and a fucking lizard into a sink. Since the wheels have flown off this sucker, it’s a perfect time for her dad to make an appearance! He’s played by an actor named Royal Dano (it’s like they all had a contest to see who could dream up the stupidest name, and I think he won), and he’s just as disappointed as we are that nobody in this fucking movie listened to the carefully worded advice he left them. To punish everyone (viewer included), we have to endure a flashback sequence that takes us to 100 years ago when The Dark Stranger first appeared. This is to set your expectations good & low for the subsequent scene where dad goes bananas. He slings paint all over in a wild tantrum that turns him a vibrant shade of blue, before Arletty stabs him with a giant pair of scissors. Even though her sanity’s a bit fractured, she remembers what old booze-bag Charlie told her, and douses her father with paint thinner before she burns him to death. Nowadays, this is where everyone in the theater would clap, but back then I’d imagine nobody’s watching because they’re too busy making love on the shag carpet in the back of every van parked at the drive-in.
Thom storms into the house, assaults a potted plant for no good reason at all, and gets stabbed by Arletty with her chosen weapon (fuck yeah scissors!). Maybe she’s all psycho, but part of me wants to believe she was retaliating because the potted plant couldn’t fight back. A bunch of ghouls burst through the skylight, and it’s literally raining undead! Thom heroically grabs a fireplace poker, and they manage to escape to the beach where scores of undead pursue them out into the water. The hope was that they’d make it to a boat, but Thom’s a lightweight and just fucking drowns like a dumb bitch.
The whole mess finally comes to an end with Arletty in a posh nut-house making paintings, and rambling about the inevitable return of The Dark Stranger. All these years later and nobody’s managed to make a sequel to this movie, and I’m mystified as to why. I mean, god-damn people! They left it wide the fuck open for a thrilling next chapter, so what happened?!? I truly enjoyed this warped nightmare, and I know that it’s imperfect, but that’s part of the charm of these turkeys.
If you dug this, say so in the comments below, and keep checking back in as I’ve got a ton of these movies to recommend to you dear reader!