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Messiah of Evil: The Second Coming

Code Red // R // October 27, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted November 21, 2009 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Long a staple of lame public domain/unlicensed releases and a film that appeared in more low budget horror movie collections than you can shake a stick at, Messiah Of Evil was always the victim of poor presentations and bad video quality. Thankfully Code Red has rectified that with their new DVD release which presents the film in its original widescreen aspect ratio on DVD for the first time ever.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of checking out this low budget wonder, the film takes place in a strange small town called Point Dune, and when it begins a (played by Walter Hill) gets his throat cut open letting us know in no uncertain terms that is very definitely amiss. Enter a pretty young brunette named Artleey (Marianna Hill) who has come to the town to find out what has happened to her father after receiving a strange collection of letters he had written her. She stops for gas along the way where she has a run in with a strange albino man and his almost zombie-like companions, but leaves before the attendant is killed.

Unaware that murder is afoot in Point Dune, Artleey eventually hooks up with a promiscuous artsy type named Thom (Michael Greer) and his two young female friends, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford). Despite some tension between the ladies, the group eventually lets Artleey know what's happening in the town by explaining some of the local legends about the area and telling her about some of the strange behavior in town and how it all relates to a man from the town's past. Meanwhile, the townsfolk's behavior is becoming increasingly more unusual as they wander about the streets weeping blood and eventually make their way to the beach to gaze in almost stoned wonder at the red moon that rises over the waves...

Messiah Of Evil doesn't always get the credit it deserves for being the well made picture that it is. Sure there are times where the acting is maybe just a bit awkward and the picture was obviously made with a low budget, this does come through at times, but rarely is a film as ripe with atmosphere and impending dread than this one. Shooting the film in weird small town locations certainly helps in this department, as does placing much of the action in a strange house covered in bizarre and sometimes life-sized paintings of strange looking people. The film makes use of a pretty colorful lighting scheme as well, making you wonder if maybe director Willard Hyuck (who would go on to write American Graffiti and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and direct Howard The Duck!) wasn't influenced by the Italian horror films being churned out before and around the same time as his own picture.

A few bizarre and macabre set pieces stand out in the picture, highlights being those scenes where the townspeople encroach on their unsuspecting victims. Be it at a supermarket or an initially empty movie theater which soon fills up, these scenes are shot with an eye for detail and succeed in cementing the picture's succinct eeriness. Subtle touches, such as when certain characters start bleeding from the eye, act as both foreshadowing and symbolism (as the essence of life literally drains from their bodies) but on top of that, and maybe most importantly, it looks really freaky.

Also known under the alternate title of Dead People, the picture remains a high point in creativity for the independent American horror film movement of the 1970s. it's not a perfect picture and at times it might seem like style over substance but it's a remarkably unsettling little film that features some strong performances from its central cast members and some unsettlingly memorable set pieces.


NOTE: This review is based on a test disc. I'm going under the assumption that it represents final, finished, retail product.


Code Red presents Messiah Of Evil in a strong 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, presenting the film in widescreen on home video for the first time ever and man, what a difference it makes seeing this film in its OAR. There are a few scenes where some mild print damage is evident and there's a mild coat of natural looking grain present throughout, but aside from that the color reproduction looks pretty accurate and black levels are pretty decent. Detail is fine for an older low and all in all, Code Red has done a pretty rock solid job here - this release blows away all of the crappy low budget supposed public domain versions of the film that have been making the rounds over the years, and it really is like seeing this film for the first time all over again.

The Audio:

The audio chores are handled by a fine English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. There's the odd pop in the mix but if you're not listening for them you're probably not going to notice them. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and the score and sound effects are all well balanced. The film shows its age in that it has got a fairly limited range but you can't fault it for that.

The Extras:

Gloria Katz and Willard Hyuck provide a pretty interesting commentary track for this release. Moderated by Lee Christian this track talks about the specific influences that worked their way into the film, casting the picture, where it was shot and various techniques that were employed while making the movie. They also talk about some of the ideas that didn't make it into the film and how they could have changed the picture in addition to distributor induced changes that were forced onto the film when it was originally released. It's a good track that relays a lot of interesting information about this picture and the people who made it.

Complimenting the commentary quite nicely is a featurette entitledRemembering Messiah Of Evil. This twenty-two minute segment puts Katz and Hyuck in front of the camera along with cinematographer Stephen Katz, art director Joan Mocine, and the film's two editors, Morgan Fisher and Billy Weber. There's a lot emphasis here on the locations used but they also talk about how and why specific performers were chosen for the parts they wound up playing in the film. It's good discussion that covers some ground not covered in the commentary track. Joy Bang doesn't appear in the featurette but she does get her own interview here, an eight minute one that was conducted over the phone, which is never ideal. Regardless, it's cool that Code Red managed to get her onboard for this release as it at least covers the film's history from an actresses perspective (everyone else involved in the release worked primarily behind the camera rather than in front of it).

Rounding out the extras are two early short film made by Hyuck and Katz (The Bride Stripped Bare and Down These Mean Streets - not necessarily essential but interesting to see as a precursor to what the pair would later do in film), trailers for a few other Code Red DVD releases, animated menus and chapter selection.


Fans have waited a long, long time for this release but thankfully it's been worth the wait and Code Red has delivered a very strong package. The transfer offers up what can only be the best looking version of the film on home video in the title's history and the extras are interesting and comprehensive and the film has finally received the respect it deserves on DVD. Messiah Of Evil comes highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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Highly Recommended

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