Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vamp or Not? Messiah of Evil


This 1973 movie by Willard Huyck, the man who brought us Howard the Duck, is generally classed as a zombie flick. However, when I read the premise and the similes with other films that people drew, I knew I had to see it. There was talk of Lovecraftian overtones, plus a likening to both ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. Given what a good film ‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death’ is made sure that I had to see it. I have to say that, aside from being narrated by the female survivor and the dream like quality of the film, this isn’t too much like ‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death’, however it is even less like ‘Night of the Living Dead’.

This is not your atypical zombie flick and, whilst it isn’t quite vampire, it straddles so many concepts that it was worth looking at here.

The film begins with a man running down a road and falling. A gate opens and a girl looks at him. He goes into her garden and washes his face in a fountain before falling. The girl goes up to him, there is almost a tender moment and then she slashes his throat with a razor. All the time there is an almost easy listening torch song over the top, adding to the bizarre atmosphere. We then get a voice over from heroine Arletty (Marianna Hill) She is obviously in a mental hospital but tells us of a town once called New Bethlehem and now called Point Dune, and the danger of the blood moon. She tells us that “They're coming here. They're waiting at the edge of the city. They're peering around buildings at night, and they're waiting. They’re waiting for you! And they'll take you one by one and no one will hear you scream.”

bodies in truckIt all began when her artist father, who lived in Point Dune, stopped writing (after his letters became more and more bizarre), so she went looking for him. On her way to the town she stops off at a nearby gas station. The dreamlike quality really kicks in here, with a gas station attendant shooting into the dark as howls ring through the night and then wandering over as though nothing had happened. He tells her that he is shooting at wild dogs. A truck comes along and the driver, obviously from Point Doom, is strange, detached. The attendant looks into the truck’s back and, below a tarp, are bodies with their throats slit. He gets rid of Arletty and then, later, is nearly crushed by a car and then leaped on by a Point Dune resident and killed.

Michael Greer as ThomArletty gets to her father’s house, a strangely painted place and much too eerie to stay in, if you ask me. She has no luck finding him but does find his deeply disturbing journal. She then finds a stranger, Thom (Michael Greer), and his companions, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford). Thom was looking for her father, as an art fan, but has become fascinated with the local legend of the blood moon. He has local wino Charlie (Elisha Cook Jr) tell him of the legend. The full legend comes out during the course of the film but I intend to tell it here.

the Blood MoonOne hundred years before the blood moon shone down and people began to change. It was all tied to a stranger who had been a preacher and now, having been in a place where the moon effected the locals and having tasted of human flesh, worshipped a new God. He had walked into the waters off Point Dune having vowed to return after one hundred years so that he could lead the world into this new religion. Of course, after one hundred years the moon has started turning red and it has an effect on the locals again.

bleeding from earThey are obsessed with looking out to the water, awaiting their Messiah’s return. Ahh, but if that was all. There seems, through the moon’s influence, to be some sort of infection. They start bleeding from the ear and the eye (and passing blood, we are told) as though they no longer need human blood and are expelling it from their system. They cease to feel pain. In a bizarre moment we see an infected person vomit bugs and lizards – why I couldn’t say.

infected at meat counterThey also develop a need for red meat, be it at the meat counter of a supermarket, raw, or by eating the none-infected. In this way they are quite zombie like but they are sentient, intelligent, they can speak and they run. This all takes it from the zombie realm and into new territory. The fact that they are obsessed with raw meat could be vampiric, given that some vampire legends have flesh eating as well as blood drinking, especially as it seems to tie in with the fact that they have expelled their own blood.

results of fireThey are difficult to kill. At one point we see two cops open fire on a whole gaggle of infected, to no avail. Bullets do not work. Suddenly one of the cops starts bleeding from the eye and turns his gun on his companion, shooting him down as the uninfected cop runs. Then all of the infected present leap upon the downed cop in order that they might feast. Charlie has told Arletty that she must kill her father but not bury him, only burn him. Fire does leave them particularly crispy.

They do operate mainly at night, but this is tied into the blood moon and the return of the Messiah, and we see them out during the day. However, despite their sentience, when one is badly injured the others seem unable to stop themselves feasting upon him. In a move that takes this away from both the vampire and zombie genre, the infection is clearly from a supernatural force emanating from the moon (or at least concurrent with the moon turning red), bites do not infect others.

Anitra Ford as LauraThe film produces two well done set pieces, in respect of the two companions. Laura finds herself in a supermarket that seems deserted at first and then she spots one or two people in the aisles. At the back of the market she sees a group of infected at the meat counter. She runs but is eventually chased down, unable to get out as they locked her in.

bleeding from eyeToni goes to the cinema and is sat watching a film as more and more infected enter, taking seats and surrounding her and I must say this was a really well done scene. She becomes more and more uneasy and then one turns and is bleeding from the eye. She tries to run, but again they have locked the door, and she too becomes chow for the infected.

Sammy Davis Jr.I should mention the cameo appearance by Sammy Davis Jr. in the film shown in the cinema.

The film has overtones of the atmosphere of ‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death’ and, maybe, even the later ‘Twin Peaks’, it also has a definite Lovecraft edge, perhaps similar to something like ‘Shadow over Innsmouth’. I can (just about) see why ‘Night of the Living Dead’ is mentioned, but these are not your Romero zombies and, despite being rather difficult to kill, they are not the dead as far as we know – despite the alternate title of Dead People. There is more of an overtone of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ to be perfectly honest. Death by fire seems vampiric enough but, in the end, I would say that this is a different beast all together.

having eaten a ratIt is perhaps not the ‘forgotten classic’ that many claim but it is interesting none the less, it does something that borrows heavily from many sources to create something fairly unique. Of interest to both zombie and vampire genre fans, but not vamp – there just isn’t enough to actually push it over the genre border.

The imdb page is here.


CrabStiX said...

Howard the Duck! Now you're talking.

BTW, Does Judy Finnegan know Richard plays away in vamp pics? (I refer to Thom!)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

lmao - I never noticed the likeness until you mentioned it!