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Messiah Of Evil (Radiance Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Messiah Of Evil (Radiance Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Radiance Films
    Released on: November 28th, 2023.
    Director: Willard Hyuck, Gloria Katz
    Cast: Marianna Hill, Michael Greer, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford
    Year: 1973
    Purchase From Amazon

    Messiah Of Evil – Movie Review:

    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. Code Red gave the film a long overdue respectable DVD release in 2009 and then a Blu-ray a few years later, but now in 2023, Radiance Films brings it back to the format with a much improved, remastered edition.

    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 co-writers/co-directors Willard Hyuck (who would go on to write American Graffiti and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and direct Howard The Duck!) and Gloria Katz weren’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.

    Messiah Of Evil – Blu-ray Review:

    Radiance Films brings Messiah Of Evil to Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc taken from a “new 2023 restoration from a 4K scan of the best-surviving elements of the film from the Academy Film Archive.” This transfer is solid. While a transfer from original pre-print elements would have likely yielded better results than we get here, Radiance’s new edition provides a solid upgrade over the older Code Red release, offering better, lusher color reproduction, stronger black levels and superior detail. Grain is fairly heavy but resolves without issues and there’s very little print damage to discuss. Compression is never an issue and the image is free of obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. There’s good depth and clarity here and over all, the movie looks great.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language 24-bit LPCM Mono track, there are no alternate language options here though removable English subtitles are offered. The audio is clean, clear and properly balanced and the films unique score has some solid depth to it.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary by critics and horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Thrower that is absolutely worth a listen, as these two do a really deep dive into the movie’s history while also exploring its merits. There’s lots of information here about Willard Hyuck’s life and career as well as that of Gloria Katz, a solid exploration of the themes that the movie explores and its strong visual sense, thoughts on the score, what sets it apart from other American horror films of the seventies and plots more. There’s as much enthusiasm here as there is information, making it completely worth your time.

    An archival audio-only interview with co-writer/director Willard Huyck by Mike White from the Projection Booth Podcast runs thirty-eight minutes and lets White quiz Huyck about how he got into filmmaking, his background and influences and his work on this movie. As is typical with White’s Projection Booth interviews, this is quite interesting.

    Also included on the disc is a fifty-seven minute documentary titled What The Blood Moon Brings: Messiah Of Evil, A New American Nightmare which goes over Messiah of Evil and puts it into context alongside other American independent films made around the same time. It also explores how the movie ties into different horror subgenres courtesy of insight from interviewees Guy Adams, Dr. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Dr. David Huckvale, Mikel J Koven and Maitland McDonagh. It gets fairly heady at times but not in a bad way, as it does a great job of really peeling back the layers of Messiah Of Evil and summing up what makes it such an interesting and enigmatic film.

    Up next is a visual essay on the American Gothic by critic Kat Ellinger that runs twenty-two minutes and like a lot of Ellinger’s material, explores the details of this film from a female-centric viewpoint (which makes absolute sense, given how the movie plays out) and specifically the concept of the hysterical woman as portrayed in the movie. It’s well-thought out and quite thought provoking.

    A trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options finish things up as far as the extras on the disc are concerned (note that the extras that appeared on the Code Red release remain exclusive to that disc).

    As to the packaging, Radiance Films offers up some reversible cover sleeve art featuring original art on one side and newly commissioned artwork on the other and, as is the norm with Radiance’s releases, we also get a removable Obi strip included as well - always a neat touch. The clear keepcase holds not only the Blu-ray disc but also a limited edition booklet featuring an essay on the film by Bill Ackerman titled ‘Some People Do Like His Brand Of Art’ that offers up an interesting dissection of the movie as well as some biographical information on its writing/directing team. The book also includes credits for the feature and technical notes on the presentation and is nicely illustrated with some archival images from the feature.

    Messiah Of Evil - The Final Word:

    Messiah Of Evil remains a high mark in the American horror scene of the seventies, it’s a unique and unsettlingly strange movie that mixes arthouse and genre stylings in creative and engaging ways thanks to some great performances, strong direction and excellent production values. The Blu-ray release from Radiance Films looks and sounds great and features some top-notch extra that do a great job of documenting its history and exploring what makes it so interesting. Highly recommended.


    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Messiah Of Evil Blu-ray screen caps!

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    • Jason C
      #1
      Jason C
      Senior Member
      Jason C commented
      Editing a comment
      Glad to read its an upgrade because I have been agonizing over this one since its was announced. I pulled the trigger a couple of weeks back. I'm trying to be better about not double-dipping as much these days. According to my purchasing spreadsheet I've bough over 3,500 unique SKUs of physical media since 2010. I started tracking whether a purchase is an upgrade or a first time purchase of a film and around 1/3 are upgrades. That's probably too high and is only going to get worse as smaller genre distributors transition more to UHD. I really wanted to hold off on Messiah of Evil until a UHD was announced but having a commentary track with both Kim Newman and Stephen Thrower made it a must purchase. Those two together are worth the price of the disc alone.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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