Messiah of Evil (also released under various other titles including Dead People) is a movie about flesh-eating zombies, but despite superficial similarities it’s really very very different from the George Romero style of zombie movie. Very different, and a whole lot better. It’s actually a remarkably interesting little film, and it’s difficult to see why it’s been so neglected compared to Romero’s overrated zombie epics.
The movie opens with a voiceover narration by Arletty, a young woman in a mental hospital, telling us of her journey travels to the sleepy seaside town of Point Dune in search of her artist father. His letters had become increasingly disturbing and incoherent. Arriving in Point Dune she encounters some odd locals, and hears terrible noises which she is assured are just dogs. Through a local gallery she meets a strange young man. He is traveling with a couple of young women, both of whom apparently share his bed, while he researches local history and folklore. She finds her father’s house deserted, and full of enigmatic and unsettling pictures of blank-eyed townspeople.
The main plot idea is fairly basic and not very original, but the movie does have several features that make it much more interesting than a bare plot outline would suggest. Firstly there’s the fact that the narrator is an inmate in an insane asylum, so you have to consider the possibility that you may be dealing with an unreliable narrator here. And secondly, this movie has such a wonderful atmosphere of dream-like weirdness. The use of the father’s paintings is especially effective, particularly in a early scene where Arletty enters her father’s house and it appears she’s in a strange nightmare landscape. The movie definitely has some artistic pretensions, and it carries them off successfully without ever losing sight of the fact that it’s also a fun horror B-movie.
There’s some gore, but the gore is used to real effect rather than simply to disguise the lack of skill of the film-maker, and the most terrifying scenes are totally lacking in gore. They rely instead on atmosphere - remember when horror movies used to employ atmosphere rathe than buckets of fake blood? There’s some nifty camerawork, and again the camerawork is integral to the movie rather than being merely added-on gimmickry.
The acting is adequate and appropriate to the overall mood, the highlight being a cameo by Elisha Cook jnr as a mad old drunk who really does know what’s going on.
If you’re looking for a horror flick that combines zombies and a certain degree of gore with old-fashioned atmospheric horror and some artiness and some interesting ambiguity, this is the movie. An underrated gem. It appears to be in the public domain and downloadable copies are easy to find, and they’re quite acceptable in terms of image and sound quality.