Have you ever sat through a movie, paying close attention to the events at hand, only to find yourself without a clue as to what's going on? Whether it's a needlessly complicated plot, vague dialogue, or just plain ol' shoddy sound or picture quality that renders the goings-on incomprehensible, there are certain movies that reward your investment of time and money with a resounding "WTF?" I have a certain contempt for movies like this--usually it's a vain attempt to mask the fact that the film itself is an utter turd--and although I didn't out-and-out hate 1973's MESSIAH OF EVIL, I sure as hell didn't enjoy my time spent watching it, either.
Before penning big-budget studio fare like INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and the true horror that is HOWARD THE DUCK, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz collaborated on this muddled thriller, also known as DEAD PEOPLE (she produced, he directed). The film is the kind of scuzzy obscurity that proliferated in drive-ins during the '70s, and its low-rent veneer actually holds the film together despite its fractured storyline.
Waxen-faced Mariana Hill visits the sleepy coastal town of Point Dune, searching for information about her absentee artist father (Royal Dano, who pops up near the end in one of the movie's many eyebrow-crinkling moments). As the story unfolds in fragmented, unfocused segments it soon becomes extremely unclear as to what's going on and why, but it has to do with something that happened a hundred years ago and the moon turning red. Why this causes people to become bloody-eyed zombies, or what purpose it serves, is beyond me; there's an awful lot of exposition delivered in hollow, booming voice-overs, but it didn't help much.
Although they don't make much sense, there are quite a few eerily effective scenes to be found, especially a late-night trip to a deserted supermarket where one of the supporting characters makes a grisly discovery. This sequence, complimented by the film's stark, no-frills style, is unnerving in a manner similar to CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Moments like this help sustain interest, but they'd be better served by a more coherent plot.
Ultimately, MESSIAH OF EVIL reeks of wasted opportunity, which is a shame because it shows hints of a being a hidden jewel. In addition to its SOULS-like atmosphere many of its elements predate other films like Carpenter's THE FOG and DEAD AND BURIED, but aren't allowed to bloom into anything special. I don't know if Huyck and Katz were trying to be artistic, or were simply churning out a movie to make a buck in the horror market, but they let some really interesting concepts wither on the vine.
(Here's a brief clip including the supermarket scene. It might not be as creepy out of context, but watch this and you'll save yourself the trouble of seeing the entire film.)