Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Messiah Of Evil: Holy Shit!

Sometimes you get lucky and a movie completely blindsides you. Sends you sprawling ass over teakettle wondering “What the fuck was that?” This happens less and less often every day, as the studio hype machines seem determined you know every detail of a film before you see it, and our own beloved blogosphere has more or less guaranteed that every film has been extensively catalogued and categorized. The chances these days of walking into a movie knowing something about it are virtually non existent. But that rare treat is just what I got. I saw The Messiah Of Evil as a tag along to a presentation of a new print of Day Of The Triffads at an academy screening that I somehow got invited to (On a sidenote should you ever get a chance to see the Mary Pickford Theater do so. The posters in the lobby are worth more then my car, probably my house as well).

To say my expectations were low would be an understatement. “A horror movie directed by the team responsible for Howard The Duck…? Well it’d be rude of me to leave early.”

Stephen King compared the horror fan who ventures outside the safe waters of canon to a gold miner. Most of the time you get nothing. Sometimes you find Gold Dust, nothing to write home about but enough to keep you going, keep you hopeful. But Every once in awhile, with no warning, you pull a fucking nugget out of the river. Well fellas I found a nugget and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

Messiah Of Evil is like no other horror film I’ve ever seen. It’s got plenty of grindhouse trappings, right down to the oxidized print, libertine characters and later day appearance by Elisha Cooke Jr. And as it the film started, with it’s grisly opening and somewhat over wrought voice over I leaned back and expected a kitschy good time. Then an odd thing happened and the movie started to scare the shit out of me. Make no mistake this isn’t a film to be laughed at. The only thing I’ve ever seen remotely like it is Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, with it’s seventies trappings, whiffs of mental illness, and mysterious zombie like townsfolk. However, unlike that film whose working title I still half expect was, “Let’s bore Bryce To Death.” Messiah Of Evil is kind of amazing.

After a grizzly prologue that I will not spoil The film starts with a young woman, Arletty, driving to a small California Beach town, attempting to find her missing father. Things get off to a suitably freaky start when she stops at a gas station, finds the attendant randomly shooting into the woods. It’s a great opening playing with your expectations, years of Texas Chainsaw rip offs have trained you to know that Gas Station Attendants are bad news and this guy seems to fit the bill.

Then suddenly a Seven foot tall black albino (I'm sure there's a more PC term then that but nothing springs to mind), pulls into the station and demands two dollars worth of gas. The Attendant sneaks a look into the bed of his truck and sees A few dead bodies and does his best to ignore it. It's a great "Wait what the fuck is going on?" moment a bizarre disconcerting opening and it just gets stranger from there.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent so much of my time in little dusty stucco beach towns like one portrayed here. But Messiah Of Evil immediately made me nervous. It’s easy to make the wide open plains of Texas, or the deep south, or some chilly Lovecraftian town creepy. But to do it to sunny, sane old Southern California? That takes some doing. Here is a movie that understands the stark existential terror of an open 24 hours Ralphs.

Arletty arrives in the town, and after some Twin Peaks like touches, particularly an encounter with a blind art gallery attendant, she makes it to her Father’s house. And that’s when the movie really tips it’s hand to being great. The walls of the House are covered with floor to ceiling paints. Filling the frame with orphan vanishing points and shadowy figures which you can never quite be sure are two dimensional. It’s a great trick as disconcerting as anything in a prime piece of Italian Horror.

After awhile she decerns that the citizens of the small beach town are, to borrow a phrase from Stacie Ponder, “Cuckoo Nutsos”. She stumbles across the only people who aren’t crazy and finds them to be merely deeply unpleasant. A millionaire American born Portuguese count (No really) who travels from town to town doing his best impersonation of Christopher Walken as “The Continental” and his two groupies.

The improtu group quickly falls apart, and the town takes advantage of this by taking them down one by one in some ridiculously dread inducing scenes. This movie is simply put really fucking scary, and I’m not someone who really gets scared at horror movies despite my affection for them. There’s one scene at a movie theater that I won’t spoil (though given the films rarity I’ve provided the clip down below), except to say that it literally had me squirming in my seat, and I can only hope that Brian DePalma saw it and turned blue with rage at the fact that he didn’t come up with it first.
Here it is.

The film does lose a bit of it’s magic in the closing ten minutes, where it for some unfathomable reason decides to explain what’s going on (This is one place where the much maligned Let’s Scare Jessica is actually superior). The long winded explanation threatens to rob the movie of it’s eerie power. And a very cheap shot of someone stumbling out of the sea nearly succeeds. Proving that old adage about leaving stuff up to the imagination is occasionally right.

Still despite the bungled ending, The Messiah Of Evil has quickly become one of my personal favorite Horror movies of all time. It’s a truly haunting movie.

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