Sunday, November 27, 2005

MESSIAH OF EVIL (Willard Huyck 1973)

Very artsy fartsy horror flick from 1973. Sometimes called DEAD PEOPLE. Starts with a prologue featuring two characters you never see again (that I could determine). Then we get three different voiceovers from three different time periods. A woman drives to visit her artist father whose increasingly bizarre letters have recently stopped. She pulls into a gas station where she finds the attendant firing off a gun into the adjacent forest/darkness. This latter action doesn't seem to phase the heroine that much. And thus, for a looong time, the shots tend to collapse in on themselves. Images fire off in a dream-like irreducibility, e.g. a wacky, unmotivated shot of two Mobil signs in an arty, zig-zag composition. Character motivation is shady. A creepy albino (are there any other kind in cinema?) rolls up in a pickup truck. The attendant sees dead bodies in the back but proceeds to ask if the albino wants stamps.

The heroine makes it to her father's pad. Turns out dad is a Robert Longo-ish artist who has populated the walls with all sorts of trompe l'oeil imagery. These will repeatedly figure in more arty compositions with the "real" actors: characters look as if they're part of a jury or just stepping off an escalator.

She hooks up with a swingin trio (one guy, two gals). The guy's looking for dad too. He shares with the heroine a sort of upper class somnambulism - stilted, overly careful speech and movement a la MARIENBAD. The two swinger chicks are more crass - they burp and laugh at dad's art. One splits and runs into the truck driving albino. He gives her a lift (dead bodies now propped up in the back), plays Wagner (which he pronounces like Mr. Natalie Wood's last name), and eats a rat (avec crunching sounds too). She wisely walks the rest of the way only to meet her end in a deserted supermarket...deserted save for raw meat eating townsfolk.

Eventually we learn that the entire town has become zombies. They get swinger chick #2 too in a very creepy scene at a movie theatre. KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE is on the marquee. But the real Sammy Davis Jr. Western GONE WITH THE WEST is playing (which is odd because IMDb lists it at 1975 whereas MESSIAH is 1973).

Dad shows up too. Immediately after triggering a flashback (from 100 years ago!), he flays red paint onto the walls and douses his face in blue making for ever more arty (Antonioni-esque?) compositions. Soon it looks like he's staging an Otto Muehl happening.

A masterpiece? No. But winningly godforsaken. And made by the folks who brought us AMERICAN GRAFFITI and, um, HOWARD THE DUCK (which I should probably take in now).

And the cast! Joy Bang (swinger chick #2) brings sssssssteam heat as does the stunning Anitra Ford. Royal Dano (!) is dad. Elisha Cook Jr. (!!) as a wino is first scary then lovable. And best of all is the great Michael Greer in a rare heterosexual role (well, nominally het).

How the hell do movies like this get made?

Incidentally, I saw this on a 50-movie DVD box set called CHILLING CLASSICS. Mostly public domain flix (I assume) from the 1970s and 1980s. I have three other similar box sets - MUSICALS, CLASSIC HORROR, and CLASSIC SCI-Fi. I highly recommend them. They're cheap and loadsa fun. I'm hooked.

Godforsaken. That's the best word I can come up with for most of these flicks. Godforsaken.