Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Some Thoughts on Messiah of Evil


Fell back into Chicago's super underrated industrial grindcore masters Plague Bringer yesterday. This band should be so much more well-known in the metal/industrial community than they are. There's literally nothing I can think of that batters me like this album does. From the drawing of breath that opens the first track, I smile and prepare to be undone.

While looking around on their Bandcamp for any sign of recent activity (none), I discovered that in 2017 they released this "Lara Flynn Bringer' shirt and now I am extremely sad that it's sold out, there are none I could find on ebay or etsy, and I'm shit out of luck acquiring one. 

Maybe Plague Bringer will resurface and do another run of it. Maybe. In the meantime, if you dig this kind of sonic madness, PB's Bandcamp is HERE.



After hearing about Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz's 1973 underrated Horror film Messiah of Evil for the first time back on the old Shockwaves podcast a couple years ago, I started to look around for where to watch the film. The title alone had me, along with the fact that I couldn't remember ever hearing of it before. Back when I was cutting my teeth and really getting into the genre twenty years ago, the two friends who indoctrinated my interest and made it an obsession both had extensive film collections, so the fact that, between the two of them, I don't think either ever mentioned it surprised me. Turns out that's because the film wasn't released on DVD until 2009. That brief mention on Shockwaves sent me into a tizzy trying to track down a streaming service that featured the film. No dice, until two years ago I found it on Prime.

Score, I thought. Only no, no score at all. I started the film and turned it off after only a few minutes because, whatever source the streaming giant culled the film from, the picture quality was unwatchable. Maybe my relatively recent conversion to the Cult of Blu Ray at the time - something I swore for years I would never do - had spoiled me. I've become a bit of a stickler for clean picture transfers, and this one wasn't even what I'd call weak. It was awful. This prejudice is not a bad thing at all, I realize now, except that, for Messiah of Evil, it meant I would have to wait.

Fast forward to last week when I fired up Shudder and found that not only had they added Messiah of Evil, but the picture quality is gorgeous! So after a few false starts over the last five days or so, I finally watched the film last night. I was not disappointed. 

First, I don't know if it's just the similarities between Phillan Bishops's electronic score for the film and Carl Zittrer's for another under-seen film from the 70s I adore, Bob Clark's inimitable Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, but Messiah of Evil's score made me warm to the film immediately. Add to that the fantastic settings - most especially our heroine Arletty's missing father's home on the beach, the design behind which was created by artists Jack Fisk and Joan Mocine, the former of which would go on to work with David Lynch on Mulholland Drive and Paul Thomas Anderson on There Will Be Blood and The Master, and I could not take my eyes off the screen. If you read this blog, you'll know how important both Lynch and PTA are to me, so you can imagine what a harmonic charge I felt realizing there was precedent here that fit with my own personal film aesthetic.

There is not a lot of information about Messiah of Evil out there on the internet. However, in regard to the design and look of the film, I found what I feel is the holy grail over on Dr. John Trafton's website. His article Messiah of Evil: Film and the Influence of L.A. Pop Art absolutely blew me away. Mr. Trafton's wealth of knowledge on not only Los Angeles' history, but Film, Pop Art and the overall social fabric of the City of Angeles post-1940 makes for fantastic reading. I can't recommend this enough, whether you want a deep-dive into Messiah of Evil, or just an interesting read that focuses on Art can influence Cinema; you can find the article HERE.

Messiah of Evil has a real work-with-what we have vibe; Katz and Huyck smartly use a lot of California's most attractive and, when shot right, surreal asset: the beach. The sound of the waves is nearly omnipresent here, and if you've ever stayed in a town where that is indeed the major sonic background, you'll know it makes for a heightened, slightly surreal experience. The constant sound of the ocean seems to work in contrast to the everyday world we humans have made for ourselves, especially here in LaLaLand where commerce is god. This makes sense when you think about it; the ocean has always been a transcendent experience for me because to sit on the beach and quietly listen to the waves, you're literally sitting on the edge of humanity's world, listening to the planet breathe. In other words, this is one of the few experiences available to us where humanity is dwarfed by the larger organism that birthed us: the Earth. 

It's worth mentioning that this oceanic setting firmly establishes Messiah of Evil in a sub-genre I have recently become quite enamored with, the aptly named Seaside Horror. I guess I've always been mildly aware of the feel of this genre-within-a-genre, however, it wasn't until Joe Bob Briggs showed both Dead and Buried and Humanoids from the Deep on his Last Drive-In double feature this past season that I fell in love with both and gained an understanding of the Seaside Horror aesthetic as a style for which many filmmakers have contributed entries. The idea of a double or triple feature with Messiah and either or both of these films, or John Carpenter's The Fog or even Dan Gildark's Cthulhu makes me nearly giddy with excitement. Hell, perhaps I should look into organizing a Seaside Horror Marathon?

Finally, another aspect of this film I found fit its tone perfectly was the Night of the Living Dead references in regard to its ghouls. Messiah seems to split the difference between zombies and vampires, which is cool because I don't know how much of either creature I need to see again at the moment. Mr. Trafton talks at length about this in the piece I linked to above, so I'll just implore you to go read what he has to say, while I wrap up this rather lengthy post and get on with working on the sequel to Shadow Play.


Zeal and Ardor - Eponymous (pre-release singles)
Exposé - Greatest Hits
Chicago - 25 or 6 to 4 (single)
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Black Sabbath - Eponymous
Jethro Tull - Benefit
The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
Peter Gabriel - So
Slope - Street Heat
Windhand - Grief's Infernal Flower
Windhand - Soma
Van Halen - Eponymous
U2 - War
Talking Heads - Fear of Music
Mannequin Pussy - Perfect EP
Plague Bringer - As the Ghosts Collect, the Corpses Rest



In some respects, I have been listening to my own personal dogma and not to my intuition. This is a nice reminder to be aware of that. We all need help thinking outside the paradigms we draw up for ourselves. 

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