Friday, January 29, 2010

Messiah of Evil--AKA Dead People (1973)

Fear 2/5
Gore 2/5
Entertainment 5/5
Creepiness 3/5

This is an interesting film that completely took me by surprise. Part artsy grindhouse, part zombie affair, I came across it in a collection of films that I bought on the cheap but have never gotten around to seeing. Silly me. This is truly an underappreciated gem that you should add to your collection, ASAP.

A woman ventures out to a California town in search of her father who's heavily involved in the arts. He's been incommunicado with her and she's worried by claims of the city falling victim to scores of flesh hungry people. Apparently, they come to life under the spell of the moon which turns a shade of red at night. When she arrives, she's met by a cross-eyed albino character that instantly gives her the heebie jeebies.

She proceeds to an art gallery where her father is known to have carried his work and the proprietor mentions that he hasn't seen him for days. However, he sold some of his art to a trio of folks that were fanatical about his work and advises her to drop in on them to see if they may have a clue as to his whereabouts. She leaves the store and finds them--1 guy, 2 beautiful girls, whadda lucky guy!--holed up in a motel. After listening to a drunk that came off the street to warn them about the people who come out at night, she convinces them to go to her father's house as it will serve as a better safe haven.

One of the gals in the group becomes disenchanted when she finds the guy hitting on the artist's daughter. She decides to leave the house and try to make her way to San Francisco where its said to be safer, far away from the madness that occurs every night. At first, she tries to hitch a ride and is picked up by our albino friend. When he starts eating live mice that he's brought like a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, she promptly hops out of the ride. She then decides to stop at the local grocery store when she sees a group of other people piling in. She immediately wishes she hadn't when she sees them huddled around the meat display.

After she becomes their next meal, the film continues as each member of the new household decides to venture out, each falling victim to complete illogic when they do so at night. The 2nd female of the original trio decides to get out for an evening on the town to get away from it all and heads to the local theater. In a brilliantly shot, executed and ultimately creep-a-licious scene, she's oblivious to the scores of flesh eaters taking seats behind her. When she finally realizes whats going on, she tries to make a mad dash to the exit but is met with the group of singularly minded meat munchers.

The end of the film sees the revelation of why this little town has become the way it is. As legend has it, a dark suited man who is the lone survivor of the Donner Party made it out west. Under the cover of night, his spell is cast and the disease which afflicted that group years ago continues. The traveling daughter escapes but is committed to an insane asylum when she comes back home and tries to warn others about the horrors that have manisfested in the town.

This is a brilliant low budget grindhouse affair and from what I've researched, an oft overlooked film at that. The supermarket and movie theater shots alone are worth the price of admission. And the set of films that I got on the cheap can be had for about $10 (see here). How can you go wrong? Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

No trailer for this one. Instead, check out the clip of the aforementioned theater scene below.

Cortez the Killer

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Rev. Phantom said...

One of my favorites. Thanx for bringing it some more attention.

J. Astro said...

Agreed, all-around. It's a charming bit of atmospheric sleaze, and might I add, one can almost certainly never go wrong with Elisha Cook Jr. in a movie.

Cortez The Killer said...

@Rev, definitely took me by surprise. This film needs more love. An instant classic for me.

@J. Astro, agreed. He's got the deranged weirdo schtick down pat. Solid performances all around.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Im also glad to see that this one is finding new life, Ive been meaning to pick up the Code Red release of the film because it is supposed to be remastered, but I am happy enough with the choppy Mills Creek version for now. Great little indie zombie flick!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Thanks for reviewing this one POT! I don't think I would have heard of it had you not reviewed it! Plus, it sounds a lot like a screenplay Im working on, and I love to see films dealing with the same subject matter as the one Im working on! Thanks again!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Holy snap! I just found out this movie is directed by the director of Howard the Duck! I don't see that as a bad thing by the way, I love Howard the Duck with all its cheesiness!

Messiah of Evil has a pretty cool poster!

Cortez The Killer said...
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Cortez The Killer said...

@Carl, I like the choppiness as it carries that grindhouse aesthetic. But if a proper remastered version is released, it may help this film get a little more notoriety which I am definitely all for. Glad you liked it too!

@TFC, your mighty welcome. Definitely do what you can to check it out. And holy hilarious! I haven't see Howard the Duck in years. Might have to revisit that one. Love the poster art too. I think I'll track a copy down for my collection.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Howard the Duck was recently released on DVD (finally) after years and years of not being on DVD. IT was great to finally get to see it again, I love that stop motion animation by Phil Tippet.

The Vicar of VHS said...

This one also surprised me when I found it on the excellent CHILLING CLASSICS set from Mill Creek and reviewed it over at my site--an unknown, underrated creepfest that manages to be literary and scary and exploitative all at once. I need to get off my ass and pick up CODE RED's special edition.

Plus, Elisha Cook Jr., Royal Dano, and JOY BANG, all in the same movie? How can you resist? :D

Planet of Terror said...
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Cortez The Killer said...

@Vicar, totally. It is pretty amazing how well it combines all those elements described. A truly original film.