Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fractured Flickers :: Murder Set-Pieces II :: The Joy and Terror in the Aisle in William Hyuck and Gloria Katz's Messiah of Evil (1973)

In a tale that rings all too familiar in the world of independent schlock filmmaking, the money ran out on the production crew before Messiah of Evil could be finished. To try and salvage it, while the investors squabbled over shares and losses, director and co-writer Willard Huyck and producer and co-writer Gloria Katz managed to *ahem* 'abscond' with the work print of their film, edited it together as best they could, and started shopping it around to several distributors, looking and hoping for some completion funds. And when this proved futile, they returned the negatives to the investors and walked away, figuring they'd never see it in the light of day or a darkened theater any time soon -- if ever.

Luckily, calmer heads prevailed and it was decided that some profits were better than no profits at all. Thus and so, even though the climax was never filmed, Messiah of Evil was re-edited for a third time (-- by Scott Conrad, no less, who would cut Rocky next), leaving us with a plot that either makes no sense whatsoever or is intriguingly ambiguous, depending on your patience for such things, and finally released to theaters nearly two years after filming wrapped under several different titles, including the rather blunt, Dead People.

Made with an graphic artist's eye and a deliberate film school keen, this tale of family skeletons, witchcraft, and cannibal curses from beyond the grave is alternately filtered through a Benzedrine buzz or a three Quaalude haze, making Messiah of Evil a visual delight with it's mesmerizing pop-art production design and vivid color schemes that, for the record, predates Argento's Suspira by nearly five years. And in the middle of it all, are two outstandingly ambient murder set-pieces that really leave an impression on the viewer both in style and in substance. We already covered the Clean Up in Aisle Five segment last time; so now, let us move to the Fox Theater, where Joy Bang (no, really), finds herself ensconced in a mini-homage to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1964):

Though I didn't include any vid-caps of what our captive audience was watching (once more consisting of out-of-work aerospace engineers and their spouses), the majority of inserts were from the final conflagration and raging inferno of Bernard Girard's Gone with the West (1975), a slightly tetched-in-the-head Spaghetti-Os western, which features James Caan as Sonny Corleone-Wales, Stephanie Powers as Charo E. Coyote, Aldo Ray as Snidely Whiplash (-- where we find out what he's been doing when he's NOT terrorizing the citizens of Hard Times), and Sammy Davis Jr. as the gunslinger, Kid Dandy, who gets most of the attention, here. 

According to the filmmakers commentary on the highly recommended Code Red DVD, this sequence had to be shot twice in two different theaters when the first proved too cavernous to light properly, rendering the footage too murky to use. And, quite hilariously, in the original work-print, Huyck and Katz had cut in scenes from a trailer for Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953), which they rescued from a garbage can.

And even though our two main players behind the scenes went on to do Howard the Duck (1986), again, cannot recommend their first feature film enough, Boils and Ghouls. Go forth and watch this. Now!

Messiah of Evil (1973) V/M Productions :: International Cine Film Corp. / EP: James P. Graham, Alan Riche / P: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz / AP: Alan R. Howard / D: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz / W: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz / C: Stephen M. Katz / E: Scott Conrad / M: Phillan Bishop / S: Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford, Royal Dano

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