Messiah Of Evil

Discussion in 'High Def' started by rkellner, Oct 6, 2016.

  1. rkellner

    rkellner Active Member

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    [​IMG] Reviewer: rkellner
    Review Date: October 6, 2016

    Released by: Code Red
    Release date: 10/27/2014
    MSRP: $26.99
    Region A
    Progressive Scan
    Codec: AVC, 1080p
    Widescreen 2.39:1
    1973

    I have an interesting relationship with this movie. For starters, it has always been one of those films that I have had to track down in every incarnation. From my first VHS viewing, I knew that there was something interesting and unique here, but the presentation was so lacking, that it was hard to tell if I was projecting some cinematic gloss upon a piss poor presentation. After that, I found a copy on public domain dvd. A minor step up in video quality which led to a minor step up in my appreciation. Then, Code Red unleashed the first watchable remastered version of this on DVD back in 2009. Now for their 2014 release, Code Red has returned to the well for a limited edition Blu Ray struck from a new HD master with exceptional color correction to give the film its best presentation to date, and probably ever. Listen, say what you will about the ringleader of Code Red Bill…yeah, his shipping policies are silly, he seemingly likes to make incoherent tirades online, he puts personal jabs on the back covers of movies like this, and his store is open less than the rundown antique store in the bad part of your neighborhood. But at the end of the day, the dude gets rare films in your hands in far better quality than most any other studio would, and often with really nice extras. That said, let’s delve into this new BluRay of Messiah of Evil and see if the truest presentation of the film holds some new unforeseen power.

    The Story

    inline Image The small California coastal town of Point Dune has a dark history. What may seem like a sleepy hippy town is turning sinister once the sun goes down. Following a set up akin to an HP Lovecraft short tale, an attractive woman played by Marianna Hill (Godfather Part II, High Plains Drifter, Blood Beach) seeks out the town of Point Dune where her artist father lives. His normal series of letters to her have grown exceedingly erratic and now have stopped completely. Upon finding his amazingly designed and surreally painted home, she finds no trace of him save for his personal journal which speaks of odd happenings in town, unexplained fires on the beach, the presence of a dark stranger from the sea that may have arrived before a century ago, and the townsfolk’s transformation into something dark and unworldly. As the film progresses, she and some other companions that have wandered into the town start feeling the effects of the pull of this unknown power. The least of which is the increasing transformation of the citizens which have started to turn into packs of bloodthirsty cannibalistic ghouls. The dread only increases as they come closer to the arrival of the blood moon and the prophesized arrival of the dark stranger.

    inline Image Shot in 1971 over the span of two months but not released until 1973, this film is largely filled with unknowns, save for the great character actor Elisha Cook Jr. who cameos as the town drunk. However, there seems to be some decent talent here on the technical side. A scroll through imdb confirms that many of the people behind the camera and on the editing side went on to have great careers in Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar winning cinema. The movie was written and directed by William Huyck, who along with his wife Gloria Katz, would later become Oscar nominated writers for their work on George Lucas classics like American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Radioland Murders, and ummm Howard the Duck which would end his career as a director.

    inline Image The film does a good job of capturing the haunting flavor of this small town, especially when the sun goes down and it is seemingly devoid of people. The shots in the abandoned theater, the seemingly vacant grocery store, and the tracking shots on empty streets are great examples of this. The lighting and set design on this one really pop on this new remaster as the intense, surreal color schemes and the detailed background paintings in the father’s house are used to great effect for the mood building of the film. The artist house that her father lives in is an amazing set piece filled with colors and optical illusions that play well with the composition of shots. Combining that with a minimal “Goblin-lite” synth score one would almost be left with an impression that Messiah of Evil had a strong Italian giallo influence, except for the fact that this was filmed in 1971 which comes at the very beginning of Argento and the giallo cycle. So who knows, maybe they were onto something ahead of their time here…

    inline Image In addition to visual and sonic elements that would become commonplace in the 70’s Italian horror scene, I get a strong “Lovecraftian” vibe from this film too. [Note: in the extra’s the director confirms this] The set up seems inspired by the great works like A Shadow Over Innsmouth in which a unexpected visitor is drawn to a mysterious coastal town where the population has gone weird as a result of them worshiping some ancient supernatural evil from the sea and the arrival of some form of an “old god”. To reinforce this impression, the framing of the story with the large amount of voice over narration, the discovery of her fathers lost journal with his chronological written confessions of hideous alien images, ancient visitors, and the transformation of the population seem ripped from the pages of classic vintage pulp horror. I mean that in the best possible way.

    inline Image The film has some pacing issues in the middle act after a strong opening premise which largely involves members of the core group getting separated and wandering around isolated town to their doom. In the end, however my criticism of the film is unchanged. This movie needs to lose about 20 minutes from its midsection (don’t we all) and gain another 20 minutes at the end. After a middling second act, the action and the plot kick back in with about 300 seconds before the credits roll, right when things were starting to get interesting again. As much as I like everything that comes before it, the finale of this film plays out as if the last series of scenes were on fast forward and merely hits the bulletpoints of payoff without ever indulging in a cinematic moment that was 90 minutes in the making. Umm, did the moon turn blood red, did the stranger from the sea show up? Ummm, something kind of happens on the beach. Random shot, random shot… and then we magically end up back to our bookending story in the asylum! WTF. After the investment of time here, should the filmmakers and editors have used full scenes that were obviously filmed instead of a 30 second montage of what the heck the film was actually about???? Most definitely.

    Image Quality

    inline Image Anyone who has seen this before will immediately notice the strong uptic in picture quality with this new 1080p HD master. It was supervised by the director and editor and went through some extensive color correction. It preserves the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ration with an image that is largely spotless with excellent blacks, Mario Bava-esque levels of color saturation, and a nice level of film grain. The blue tones at night really stand out and give this an eerie feeling. All told, given the limited resources and spotty history of this title, it looks really excellent.

    Sound

    The mono DTS-HD Master sounds pretty nice. It has some hiss and pops here and there, but forgiving that, the eerie proto-synth score by Phillan Bishop has a great resonance and three dimensionality.

    Supplemental Material

    The audio commentary is moderated by Lee Christian along with Director and Screenwriter Willard Huyck and Producer Gloria Katz. The commentary is invaluable and is kept at a brisk pace by Lee as it talks about the issues with investors, editors, story elements, film influences, obscure references, budget issues, bouncing checks on an indie movie production, the original investors trying to take the elements back when the finances went south, the LA art scene at the time, the issues with unpaid police, etc. Lee seems super knowledgeable on all aspects of the film. To me the most interesting part of the commentary is last chapter of this which goes into the ending that they filmed and which doesn’t seem to be in the film at all. In fact the creators of the film seem perplexed that the things that they filmed to conclude the movie don’t seem to have made the cut at all (and honestly would have helped make this film make far more sense).

    Remembering Messiah of Evil is a great 22 minute piece where husband/wife team of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck who wrote/directed/produced the film sit down and talk about the change in Hollywood at the time of making this, their relationship with George Lucas, doing the early treatment of the film while working on script of American Graffiti, their influences for the film which span the Universal Monster cycle and HP Lovecraft (ha, called it!) as well as Italian art films of the time by Goddard and Margheriti, finding many of the actors and extras in the film in the unemployment line (many of them aerospace scientists!), and showing the film to Roger Corman and others to try and raise the money to finish it. The DP and Editors also go into topics of the paintings and the set design and point out some cameos in the film such as Walter Hill (director of The Warriors, and other great genre flicks).

    Short films of Gloria Katz and Willard Huych. This is 20 minutes of what I am guessing are student films of theirs from film school. This includes the 8 minute long “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Suitors – Even” which is a split screen exploitation/art film of a nudie strip show (read: “performance art”) and the crowd reaction to it on what looks like 16mm. Well, this is an odd viewing experience to say the least and you are left with the feeling that there were a large amount of drugs taken by the audience by in those days. The second short is “Down These Mean Streets” in which a brother and sister are riding in a car with their father who then passes away. It’s not much of an interesting watch.

    Final Thoughts

    Messiah of Evil has always been one of those films that I watch ever five or so years and there is enough to it that it has always held my interest through every incarnation of increasing A/V quality. This new BluRay from Code Red likely represents the ultimate presentation of this low budget, high ambition curio. The enhanced video elements really bring out the surreal qualities of lighting and artistic set design which are some of its strongest facets. However, the lack of a reasonable payoff will perpetually leave a bad taste in my mouth. In spending some time with the extras on this disk, it seems that the creators of it share my sentiment. Definitely worth checking out for fans of interesting and surreal 70’s independent horror cinema like Lemora, Blue Sunshine, or Valerie’s Weekend of Wonders.

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie - B

    Image Quality - A-

    Sound - B+

    Supplements - A-


    Technical Info.
    • Color
    • Rated R
    • 1 Disc
    • DTS-HD Master 2.0
    Supplements
    • Audio commentary
    • Remembering Messiah of Evil featurette
    • Short films of Gloria Katz and Willard Huych
     
    Mok, Kim Bruun, rxfiend and 3 others like this.

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