Messiah of Evil

Year 1973

Michael Greer as Thom
Mariana Hill as  Arletty Long
Joy Bang as Toni
Anitra Ford   as Laura
Royal Dano as Joseph Long
Elisha Cook, Jr.   as Charlie  
Directors - Willard Huyck  
  - Gloria Katz
Screenwriters - Willard Huyck
  - Gloria Katz

Messiah of Evil is a wonderfully stylish 70s movie about a woman in a strange town. The movie begins with Arletty Long (Mariana Hill) retelling the story of how she ended up in an insane asylum. At that point you already know that the ending is going to be downbeat.

Arletty's story is that letters from her father became more foreboding and arrived less frequently until they stopped arriving altogher. So, she's off to find out what happened to him. Her father, Joseph Long (Dano), is an artist of some reknown. He moved to a small town and it's here that Arletty must solve the mystery of his going incommunicado.

At Joseph's house she finds his diary and it's filled with dire observations. In the town, she meets a trio of other explorers and they band together. One by one, the quartet is whittled down. The final revelation puts all the pieces together. And don't make the mistake of thinking that you've got this one figured out after the first half-hour.

For a little more detail, WITH SPOILERS, go here.

What's good about this movie is a lot. With the exception of Anitra Ford as Laura, the acting is quite good. (Sure, Anitra Ford was pretty but she just didn't cut it as an actress. Don't believe me? Check out Invasion of the Bee Girls.) Even the little roles are performed well. And any movie that includes Elisha Cook, Jr. is better than it should be.

Messiah of Evil knocks one out of the park for style points. The walls in Joseph Long's house by the beach is covered with his art. His paintings are of life-sized nearly three dimensional people and things. You'll play a game of, "Is that real or just a painting?" over and over again. The whole house is like a castle complete with a rook.

There are some creepy scenes to keep the mood going. There's a death at a grocery store and at a movie theater that will stick you for a while. There're people eating rodents and vomiting beetles and worms. There are beach bonfires attended by some unsettling figures.

There's also, and this is a biggie, the actual evil. Those "possessed" are not brain dead automatons. They still function, but they've got a view towards existence that is not normal.

The mood carries through and it is unsettling.

So why is it Torn and Frayed? Well, I'll tell you. There are little things like an isolated beach house that's sometimes in the middle of a housing development. There's the grocery store that is also isolated, but who ever heard of a grocery store in the middle of nowhere?

There's the bad writing for the character of Toni. Joy Bang used to be a reasonably good actress. For example, she was memorable in Play It Again, Sam. But her lines in this movie are just basically vacuous. What a waste of talent.

The score is another issue. When it's a score, it works. When it becomes a series of noises produced by a theramin, it fails.

Then there's the sense of events unfolding just to have events unfold. When you find yourself asking, "Why did that happen?" over and over there's an issue.

At one point Arletty loses tactile sensation. Yet she still manages to walk, talk, dress herself, and hold items. If you can't feel your feet, tongue, or fingers you can do none of the above. Losing feeling? Interesting. Implementation of interesting item? Failure.

My biggest problem with the movie was the desolation of the town. Sometimes there are people and sometimes it's a ghost town. Sometimes people care and sometimes there's rampant apathy. Sometimes there are police but mostly they're absent. This lack of a concrete, credible environment in which the story takes place is what made up my mind about why the movie is ultimately flawed.

But the pacing is very good, if a little contrived and slow, with one secret after another being revealed and just enough gore to make this gruesome.

What was done with Mariana Hill is an attention to detail that needs to be praised. At the beginning of the movie she's a stunner, a truly beautiful woman. Oh, and she does a good job with her role, too. As the movie progresses and events take their toll, she shows the effects in the way she looks, moves, and acts. In the end I wouldn't call her a hag, but I would say that her experiences have visibly changed her appearance. You can't speak highly enough about such attention to detail because THAT'S the kind of thing that immerses you in a movie.

This is a wonderful, albeit dated, take on evil in the suburbs. I'd recommend it with the earlier reservations.

Blasphemy, profanity, and nudity. Chick flick potential is a little below average. Better than most of the B-movies made around the middle 70s and worth checking out.

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