Hallucinating Evil!!!

This edition of BRAIN HAMMER’S PICKS FROM THE CRYPT features a terrible trio of incredibly bizarre 70′s horror flicks that are often overlooked by horror fans. These fucked up flicks are so overlooked in fact that I’ve actually encountered more than a few people who had already had them in their collection and didn’t even know it! All three of these semi-obscure horror gems are widely available on dvd, either by themselves or included in reasonably priced collectors sets. It’s time to give these clas-sick flicks the attention they deserve.

 

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

 

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)

This one starts with a sweaty confused looking man apparently running for his life. He ducks behind a wall and rests by a fountain while attempting to catch his breath. Then a friendly looking girl in a tacky dress appears from out of nowhere to comfort him, before slitting his throat with a razor blade. Welcome to the wild world of MESSIAH OF EVIL! You will never be the same. The haunting theme song “Hold On To Love” that accompanies the opening credits slowly begins lulling the viewer into submission. Then we are treated to an extended out of focus shot of a deranged woman babbling inside a large insane asylum hallway. The mad woman thoughtfully warns the viewers 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. No one will hear you SCREAM!!!”

We are then introduced to a pretty young woman named Arletty (Marianna Hill of “The Baby” and “High Plains Drifter” legend) who goes looking for her missing father and stumbles across an undead cult of rat munching murderous maniac albinos that are wiping out a small town on the California coastline while awaiting the upcoming return of their messiah. As Arletty searches the town for her father she befriends a swinger named Thom (Michael Greer) and his two sexy female traveling companions – Laura (Anitra “Invasion Of The Bee Girls” Ford) & Toni (the aptly named Joy Bang!). Thom is bored and disillusioned and has more than a little money to burn. He particularly enjoys paying the town drunk Charlie (the eternally drunken and shiftless Elisha Cook Jr. of “Salem’s Lot” infamy!) to ramble on about the nights when “blood covered the moon.” Charlie tells Arletty that her father is dead, but assures her that he will be back to see her soon, and whatever she does – she must not bury him!

Arletty is horrified by the words of the booze addled derelict, but decides to resume the search for her father. It doesn’t take long before the town’s madness begins to infect her mind, pollute her body, and threaten her life and the lives of Thom, Laura, and Toni. The zombified townsfolk attack and devour Laura in a deserted supermarket, and Toni gets dispatched while watching a Sammi Davis Jr western in a grindhouse theater. Then Arletty begins puking up lizards and bugs just as her dead daddy finally shows up to reveal the incredible history of the messiah of evil! Massive amounts of blue paint, fire, and decomposition are unleashed until finally Arletty and Thom wind up in the Pacific ocean desperately attempting to swim for their lives.

As one of my favorite obscure horror flicks from the early 70′s, this flick is just brutally bizarre. It’s also one of the most strangely haunting little films I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The director Willard Huyck (who would later direct the infamous “Howard The Duck!”) and writer Gloria Katz deserve much credit for creating such a memorable and disturbing horror film. Many of the scenes throughout are genuinely creepy, and there are a number of visually stunning shots. This actually reminds me quite a bit of a Dario Argento flick: great to look at, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The narrative is rather jumbled and it will probably take a few viewings to fully grasp and appreciate what is being presented.

Despite the rather gory sounding premise, this film is somewhat restrained in the gore department. This is a rather unusual zombie flick, as there is a distinct lack of graphic gut munching on display. It’s worth mentioning that this flick was also titled “Dead People” and “Revenge Of The Screaming Dead”; both titles would make this appear to be a run of the mill zombie effort. There’s no shortage of bloody violence though, and the film possesses an unpleasant dreamlike atmosphere that will keep you on edge. The death scenes that take place inside a garage, supermarket, and movie theater are all fantastic stuff that make this sometimes confusing film well worth the effort.

MESSIAH OF EVIL can easily be found on dvd, usually for cheap. I recommend shelling out a few extra bucks and seeking out the special edition, 35th anniversary release from Code Red. This version looks and sounds the best, and features goodies like interviews and commentary tracks. Penny pinchers should check out the Diamond Entertainment dvd, which includes “The Devil’s Nightmare” (also a great flick!) as a double feature. You can also find this flick in several of those cheap-o “horror collections.”  There’s no excuse for not owning this clas-sick!

 

THE DEMON (1979)

THE DEMON is a very strange South African (!) slasher flick about a demonic masked killer who sports a glove with tiny knives for finger nails and enjoys slowly asphyxiating his victims with plastic bags. This one starts out with the violent abduction of a young girl. Her distraught parents call in psychic detective Cameron Mitchell to investigate. Cameron hams it up big time, and sweats, slobbers, and stammers his way through a very over the top performance as a psychic sheet sniffer. After checking out the girl’s bedroom (check out the groovy Patrick Duffy & David Soul posters!) he provides the family with child-like drawings of “the demon” and helpfully explains that “he is less than a man and more of a man…much more.”

We then meet our “final girl,” a young nursery school teacher (Jennifer Holmes) named Mary who keeps getting the feeling she’s being followed. Mary shares a house with her disco bunny cousin Jo. Jo is dating a swinger in tight pants by the name of Dean, and the film is ruthlessly padded with scenes of their 70′s styled romance. The demon kills time by waiting outside of “Boobs Disco” and is rewarded with a freshly ejected drunken skank to assault. He chases her down with his deadly glove and has a wild run in with a gaggle of bikers and pimps along the way! Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder, a little kid discovers a skeleton with a blonde wig up in a tree, the father of the kidnapped girl tracks down the demon and gets snuffed for his efforts, and Cameron has an explosive final encounter with the missing girl’s mother!

The film then lets you catch your breath and slowly settles into the third act, where the killer finally begins the assault on Mary and her friends. Prank phone calls, a broken key inside a doorknob, and a sudden blackout all lead into a lengthy game of cat & mouse where the demon stalks Mary in the darkness. Hats off to director Percival Ruebens for the infinitely wise decision to keep his leading lady topless for a good five minutes or more during the climax!

This often overlooked old school horror flick is in many ways a “prototype” slasher flick. It features a lot of the classic slasher ingredients that would later be featured in classic 80′s slasher flicks. It borrows heavily from John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and lifts its lethal glove from Mario Bava’s “Blood & Black Lace.” (which also starred Cameron Mitchell) This flick also comes off as terminally confused. “The demon” is never really defined or explained, much like “the shape” in “Halloween.” In some scenes he appears to have super human strength, but by the end of the film the supernatural elements are forgotten. It appears that this one started off as more of a fantasy and was then changed, perhaps in the middle of production, to become more of a clone of Carpenter’s film. It feels like two films being spliced together.

Despite these flaws this one is certainly worth a look for hardcore fans of obscure 70′s horror. The plot is anything but routine, and is full of wild twists and turns that will keep the viewer entertained. It doesn’t deliver a lot of chills, but it provides more than enough tacky 70′s atmosphere, cheap laughs, and jaw dropping WEIRDNESS to keep me satisfied. Cameron Mitchell steals the whole movie. It’s well worth tracking down a copy just to watch him chew up the scenery. “What we’re dealing with here is an aberration of the species – hallucinating evil!”

 

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT (1974)

In an appropriately unusual beginning, this truly bizarre little horror film starts with a young woman named Diane Adams (Mary Woronov of “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School” & “Eating Raoul” legend!) sharing her memories of the notorious Butler mansion, a house of horrors in a small New England town with more than a few dark secrets. The mansion’s reclusive owner, the profoundly disturbed Wilfred Butler briefly returns to the mansion on Christmas Eve 1950 after several years spent living in exile and then promptly dies in a mysterious fire.

The heir to the Butler mansion is Wilfred’s grandson Jeffrey. In December 1971 Jeffrey finally inherits the mansion and immediately decides to sell it. His big city lawyer John Carter arranges a meeting with the local city council and quickly negotiates a cash sale of $50,000. The town mayor, sheriff, switchboard operator, and newspaper publisher (John Carradine) all seem strangely desperate to purchase the Butler mansion, if only to see it burnt to the ground.

As the sale is being finalized a deranged lunatic escapes from a nearby asylum and tears a path to the mansion, hacking apart any man or beast that gets in the way. Carter and his mistress Ingrid are already at the mansion when the killer arrives, and in the film’s most memorable scene the unseen slasher violently hacks them to pieces with a hatchet inside the master bedroom. Once alone within the large dark house, the killer begins making creepy phone calls to the city council members. One by one, the madman lures the townsfolk to their doom inside the mansion. As the body count rises it becomes clear that all of the victims had a past history with their slayer.

In the middle of all this madness Jeffrey (James Patterson) shows up in town and meets Diane. He convinces her to give him a ride to the mansion to get to the bottom of things, and she hesitatingly agrees after her father (the mayor) turns up missing. As the story reaches it’s incredible conclusion the twisted secrets of the Butler family are finally unearthed, much to the viewers shock, horror, and confusion. Graphic tales of incest and murder are revealed via sepia-toned flashbacks that are quite disturbing. The odd, dreamlike quality of the film is further enhanced by the offbeat ending – which finally wraps up this extended flashback within a flashback.

I really enjoy this 1972 effort from the late great writer/director Theodore Gershundy. This murky and morbid film is one of the darkest horror flicks I’ve ever seen, both in terms of image quality and content. The combination of the grainy pitch black photography and the lurid and incredibly complicated plot gives this film an unbeatable dreamlike quality. The sepia-toned flashback scenes are incredible, eye popping stuff and provide the majority of the film’s shocks. Any nagging complaints about the pace of the film or the confusing storyline can usually be ignored after repeat viewings, and trust me – you’ll most likely need a few viewings to sort it all out.

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT was filmed in 1972, but didn’t see a release until 1974. Sadly, the film’s star James Patterson passed away shortly after filming wrapped. Bob Clark’s 1974 clas-sick “Black Christmas” is often called the “original” slasher film, but many people have argued (correctly, I’d say) that “Silent Night Bloody Night” proceeded it by a few years, and that it features more than a few elements that would later appear in Clark’s film. The frenzied POV shots of the killer in action, the creepy phone calls, and the fact that the killer is (almost) never seen are all details presented here first. How much influence, if any this film had on “Black Christmas” is debatable, but there should be no debate that SNBN is a very important old school horror film.

There’s no excuse for not checking this one out. It’s public domain, so multiple “budget” dvd companies have already released this. All of the usual suspects, including the fine folks at Diamond Entertainment, Mill Creek, Platinum, and Alpha Video have released this on dvd – either by itself or included in one of those dvd collectors sets. There seems to be some confusion as to which release is truly uncut, but I can assure you all the versions I’ve seen have ran about the same length and they all look like shit. A pristine, digitally remastered dvd print would be much appreciated. This is a true cult clas-sick, much deserving of a larger audience.

 

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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