Monday, December 17, 2012

Messiah of Evil (1973)

... aka: Dead People
... aka: Messiah of Evil: The Second Coming
... aka: Return of the Living Dead
... aka: Revenge of the Screaming Dead, The
... aka: Second Coming, The

Directed by:
Willard Huyck
Gloria Katz (uncredited)

After the death of her mother, Arletty (gorgeous Marianna Hill) and her reclusive painter father Joseph (Royal Dano) have become estranged, keeping in contact only via letter. The letters have become increasingly more bizarre as time has gone by, so Arletty travels to the small coastal town of Point Dune to check in on him. At a gas station right outside of town, she bumps into a frantic attendant (Charles Dierkop) shooting at strange noises coming from the darkness and a tall, creepy albino (Bennie Robinson) with corpses hidden under a tarp on his truck bed. Immediately after she leave, the attendant is murdered. Her father isn't home when she arrives, so the next day she heads into town to track him down. No one is very cooperative and the townsfolk just stare and back away when asked questions. The local art gallery owner is a little more helpful and points her in the direction of a hotel where some other people who are also looking for her father are staying. She arrives there right as Thom (Michael Greer), a "collector of old legends," is recording an interview with town drunk Charlie (Elisha Cook Jr.), who babbles incoherently about the "Blood Moon" and children eating raw meat. Outside, Charlie tells Arletty she must kill her father and burn his body. She just figures he's crazy.

Soon after relaying the information, the drunk is murdered (and partially eaten), so Thom and his two female traveling companions; exotic model Laura (Anitra Ford) and "half-wit" blonde Toni (Joy Bang), are kicked out of the hotel and come to stay with Arletty. Thom doesn't hide his attraction for his hostess and, jealous, Laura takes off and decides to hitchhike her way to San Francisco. She doesn't make it very far. After an encounter with the albino (who eats a live sea rat right in front of her), she follows a man into a grocery store and runs into a rabid group of townsfolk feasting on raw meat. She becomes the next item on their menu. Lots of other downright bizarre things happen. Someone keeps sneaking into the beach house late at night, Thom sees people gathering on the beach by a bonfire, people's eyes bleed, they stop feeling pain and puke up beetles, maggots and lizards and cops try to pass off the corpse of some other man for Arletty's father to get her to leave. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Arletty finds her father's journal, which sheds light on his deteriorating mental state, as well as the history of the town and how the "Dark Stranger" arrived there a century earlier, leading to all kinds of monstrous acts in Point Dune back when it was called New Bethlehem. Apparently The Stranger, possibly the son of Satan himself, was a survivor of the Donner Party and had his first taste of human flesh there. After the denizens of the area became infected with the desire to cannibalize and kill, The Stranger disappeared into the sea, promising to return 100 years later to a world tired and disillusioned. And then he'd oversea the destruction and death of the entire town once again. The story is told from our heroine's point-of-view, as she recounts her tale from a nuthouse ("They're waiting for you and they'll take you one by one and no one will hear you scream!"), and utilizes narration from multiple characters (Hill and Dano's).

A unique, unpredictable spin on both living dead and possession themes, this is muddled and clumsy at times, but it's rather fascinating all the same. The material is very stylistically and artistically done; almost recalling Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977) at times; particularly in the blue and red lighting and the interiors of the beach house, which have plants, an escalator and leering people painted directly onto the walls. There are also some very well done (and creepy) set pieces that really deliver. The gas station scene, the supermarket scene, a scene with 'dead people' peering in through a skylight and one where Arletty is finally reunited with her father being just a few. The real stand out sequence - obviously inspired by the jungle gym scene in THE BIRDS (1963) - has Bang's character going to a showing of "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" and having the theater slowly start to fill up with flesh-hungry townspeople, who file into the theater one by one and start sitting right behind her.

Filmed in 1971 as The Second Coming, this was taken from the directors for one reason or another before completion and was re-edited. Because of that, it's saddled with a rather poor cop out of an ending. A new theme song as well as clips from the failed Sammy Davis Jr. western-comedy GONE WITH THE WEST - also rumored to have been unfinished - were added somewhere along the line and the resulting film was finally released to theaters in 1975 under the title Messiah of Evil. In 1978, it was very briefly reissued as Return of the Living Dead, but because of a potential lawsuit both the title and tagline (which ripped off DAWN OF THE DEAD) had to be changed. It then became Revenge of the Screaming Dead. In 1982, the film was reissued theatrically a third and final time under the title Dead People, which prominently used the creepy albino character in the ad art.

Husband / wife writer team Huyck and Katz went on to write hits for George Lucas (AMERICAN GRAFFITI) and Steven Spielberg (INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM). They also made HOWARD THE DUCK (1986), but this one's good enough to help us forgive 'em for that. A young Walter Hill (now a big name Hollywood writer / director / producer) is in the opening sequence getting his throat cut by a little girl and director B.W.L. Norton (who went on to make the popular TV movie GARGOYLES) also has a small role.

Nice try.

Messiah hasn't had the same fate as most other readily-available public domain titles out there. It was actually remastered and restored by Code Red, who issued a DVD a few years back with lots of extras. As you can probably tell from my screen shots, I didn't watch their release., but I'm definitely interested in picking it up now. You hear me Santa?


Giant Gila Monster, The (1959)

Directed by:
Ray Kellogg

A young couple is "out spookin' around somewhere" in the woods when a giant lizard knocks their car down a hill and then gobbles them up. The male victim, Pat (Grady Vaughn), is the son of a wealthy oil rig owner Mr. Wheeler (Bob Thompson), who is apt to blame Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan), the oldest member of his son's mild-mannered hot-rodding "gang." Well, Mr. Wheeler's wrong about him. Chase is a actually a good guy; an inhumanly good guy. He works his ass off as a mechanic and tow truck driver, is taking courses to become an engineer, has a talent for music and, through it all, has had to support both his mother and his crippled kid sister Missy (who's in dire need of leg braces) since his father passed away. Chase is dating Lisa (Lisa Simone), an orphan from France who also happens to be an exchange student living with the Wheeler family. Mr. Wheeler tells her he'll have her sent back to Europe if she continues to see Chase, but she does anyway. Many seem to believe the two missing teens have probably eloped, anyway. And with an old man like Mr. Wheeler, who can blame them?

Needless to say, the nice guy town Sheriff (Fred Graham) has his hands full. He's not sure he believes the eloping theory because there have also been many recent reports of livestock missing in the area. Other people soon disappear as well, including a hitchhiker who leaves his suitcase behind after the lizard decides to give him a ride in his belly. Wherever this is, it's one dangerous place to live. Not only do you have to worry about giant Gilas, but you also have to worry about getting splattered on the road by one of the many drunks who seem to live there. When he isn't at the local soda parlor getting a "snort o' sody," Old Man Harris (Shug Fisher) coincidentally happens to be at nearly place the rampaging lizard is. But who's gonna believe him? And a Mr. Smith (Ken Knox) nearly runs poor, put-upon Chase off the road in a drunken stupor. It will later be revealed that Mr. Smith is actually famous KILT Platter Show rock DJ Steamroller Smith.

After sleeping off his bender in the shop, Steamroller is awoken to the sounds of Chase singing some song about his baby swinging "whenever I ring her ding." Mr. Smith is so impressed with chase's eloquent songwriting that he gives him his card and tells him they'll make sweet music together. The DJ couldn't have better timing, especially after the Gila runs Chase's boss Mr. Compton (Cecil Hunt) off the road while he's hauling fuel; making his truck blow up. The lizard also manages to derail a train and feasts on some of the passengers. After cutting the record, Steamroller rolls back into town to debut Chase's new record at a dance party. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, the Gila shows up long enough to stick his head through the wall and leave. The Sheriff comes up with a foolproof plan ("If we pump enough lead into that thing we may hit a vulnerable spot!"), but Chase has a better idea. He happens to have four quarts of nitroglycerine on hand just in case such an emergency like this would arise.

This is a bad movie favorite for some viewers and was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I actually think it's more corny than all-out bad, though. Not that this doesn't have its moments of unintended hilarity. My favorite bit in how the Sheriff (who's just spoken to a scientist on the phone) tries to explain the Gila's large size. Usually it has something to do with toxic waste or an alien gamma ray, but this over-sized lizard simply has a thyroid problem because of a sudden change in diet! The Sheriff then goes into a story about how a Ukranian woman gave birth to a baby that weighed 130 pounds and was larger than she was (!?) The special effects are decidedly not special. A real Gila is used and put on a few model sets moving about and that's it. It's never once seen in the same shot as the actors. It hisses and sticks out its tongue, is incredibly slow-moving and about as intimidating as a basket full of kittens.

And, of course, one of the true charms of this movie is the music. Our hero (who also starred in THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS and TEENAGE ZOMBIES) gets to sing several songs, including the memorably hokey "Laugh Children Laugh" which is so good it is performed twice. Sullivan is likable enough and there's also an amiable performance Graham as the Sheriff. The rest of the cast is, um, sufficient. Well, aside from the leading lady, who doesn't appear to know English very well.

The names may change, but the moral remains the same...
Be nice to giant lizards or else they'll stomp on you!

The same people behind this also made the much-better THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), which is also considered a "bad movie" to some, but in reality is not. The two films played on a double-bill.

Jim Wynorski has just completed a remake / spin-off movie called GILA! (2012), which features a cameo by Sullivan and a CGI creature. SyFy Channel fodder, no doubt.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...