Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Messiah of Evil (1973)

You probably haven't heard of this film, either under the title above or the alternative appellation of Dead People.  Had it been released six months later, however, things might have been different.

This is not because the film is all that great.  Nor is it because the extra time would have let them fix its problems - the issues are too profound for that.  It's because the husband and wife who wrote and directed this film were also the co-authors of a little film called American Graffiti, which hit cinemas three months after this.  Had the order been reversed, this might have got a higher profile release.

Or maybe it wouldn't, since as I mentioned, it is a deeply flawed film.  Not entirely without merit - there are some interesting visual themes and a couple of really well staged sequences that frankly deserve to be in a better film - but deeply flawed.

The two biggest flaws?  First is its tendency to tell, not show.  There is a lot of narration in this film.  A lot.  There's narration over a chase scene.  Frankly, part of what makes the good sequences stand out so much is that they are among the few times the narrator shuts up.

The second biggest flaw is that for all the narration, the characters' motivations aren't at all clear.  We get to see (and hear) what they do, but there's little indication why.

The plot's straightforward enough, albeit told in a deliberately obfuscating manner.  A young woman comes to a seaside town in search of her father, a well known artist.  She falls in with a trio of alternate-lifestyle-types who are also from out of town, and spends her time alternately reading her missing father's diary and sort-of-flirting with the male member of the trio.  Eventually, we learn what happened to daddy: vampires.

As I said, there are two really well done scenes in the film (the supermarket and the cinema, should you want to try googling them), and some interesting visual themes (the vampires are all dressed in respectable upper/middle class attire, putting them at clear odds with the more counter-culture 'good guys').  These interesting elements can't save the film, however.

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