Retro Review: ‘Messiah of Evil’

One of my favorite things is following movie recommendations from other people. Not only does it give a cool perspective into what they like but it also helps me to discover new movies, and for a cinephile like myself that is always a good thing. As such when someone on Twitter hyped up the 1973 horror flick Messiah of Evil on Shudder I was more than happy to check it out. I am certainly glad I did because this underrated gem absolutely blew me away.

Hoping to reunite with her artist father, Arletti travels to the small coastal town he called home. She discovers that the home is empty, but that he has kept disturbing and enigmatic recordings that may contain the answer as to what happened to him. She is led to the enigmatic Thom and his groupies who seem to know more than they are letting on. Without truly understanding why, Arletti allows him and his crew to move in with her while she unravels the mystery. This town it seems, holds a dark secret tied to the consumption of flesh as dictated by “the Messiah”. To whoever it was who recommended this movie to me in the first place, my hat (should I be wearing one) goes off to you. Messiah of Evil is an incredibly creepy and atmospheric supernatural thriller that will suck you in with ease. The entire movie plays out like a surreal nightmare, filled with beautiful imagery. Husband-wife directors/writers/producers Gloria Katz and William Huyck seemingly took their influence from the horror masterpiece Carnival of Souls and ran with it. Throughout the movie you get the feeling that something is not right and you start to question what is really happening, or if any of this is really happening. On her quest, Arletti meets strange people like Elisha Cook Jr.’s homeless drunk telling her that her father must be destroyed by fire and a rat-eater to picks up hitchikers, all of whom each add to the eerie nature of the town she is in. At times one gets the feeling that the young woman may indeed be losing her mind. But then we see the deadly effects of the supernatural horrors she is dealing with. Slowly as time passes the paranoia grows as the evil in this town makes its presence increasingly known. This slow-burn style leads to some truly horrific moments like when on of the women who cling to Thom is slowly put into a trap at a theater before being slaughtered. Contrasting with the strange and at times visceral horrors is the stunning visual language of the film. Katz and Huyck truly allow the color to set the mood in each scene. The fact that the majority of the film takes place in the home of a surrealist painter only adds to striking look of the picture.

The fact that Messiah of Evil has flown under the radar for so long is a crime. This is a surreal nightmare of a horror film that puts the audience on a slow-burning ride that never lets them off. This is a striking and terrifying film deserving of way more notoriety than it has thus far received.