Post #384: Messiah Of Evil

This week finds us digging even deeper into the Folk Horror-y rabbit hole started by Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched and egged on further by the Cthulhu-centered Top 10 List from this past Tuesday. Lovecraft and Folk Horror have always been pretty firmly enmeshed for me what with their pagan cult rituals tied to gods of a distant, bygone era.

I also mentioned that Janisse’s documentary points out a big handfulla titles that I had not realized were folk horror. And that brings us to Messiah Of Evil, a movie that’s been on my watchlist for a good long minute but always got passed by for something else.

The first thing that struck me about it was the look. Yes, it’s got the look you’d expect from a 1973 flick, but beyond that, it has a distinctly giallo look and vibe to it. The lighting, shooting, even Marianna Hill’s hair fairly well screams “Made in Italy,” so much so that I had to check.

Imagine my surprise to see that it is, in fact, American and directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, that visionary husband-and-wife team who would, in 1986, bring us the glory, the spectacle that was Howard The Duck. Still, the convoluted plot, the opening murder that contributes zero to the story—holy Mario Bava, Batman.

Striking almost as quickly was the realization that Messiah Of Evil is in fact an awfully good take on “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Huyck and Katz pretty well dispense with the genetic degeneration and return to the sea aspect of Lovecraft’s story, but the overall concept and many of the individual details remain pretty damn faithful. To be fair, I’m hardly unique in seeing this. It’s not a major revelation, especially not for anyone who’s ever read the story.

The focal point is Arletty (Hill) who has come to Point Dume (ho ho), California, seeking her estranged father who has implored her to never try to find him. She clearly ignores him, the scamp, and upon her arrival finds a weird little Eurotrash trio—Thom and his two sycophants Laura and Toni. The three of them are inexplicably plying some local with cheap booze and questioning him in their hotel room when, just as inexplicably, Arletty shows up.

Like ya do.

Charlie relates the story of “the dark stranger” who appeared years ago at the time of a blood moon. Well, this dark stranger, it turns out, was a Donner Party survivor who became some kinda cannibal/vampire thing who brought his nutritional proclivities to Point Dume.

Like ya do.

The Point Dume locals, like Lovecraft’s Innsmouth residents, are furtive and creepy. Unlike Innsmouth folk, they largely lack any tell-tale physical abnormalities. One notable exception is Bennie Robinson who plays an albino trucker and could pass really well for having what’s known as “the Innsmouth look” (IMDB says this is his only movie appearance, but I could swear I’ve seen him in something else).

The locals do, however, wander about in a trance-like state, often staring wordlessly at the moon. On one hand, It’s tough to pin down whether they’re vampires, cannibals, or zombies. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter, and it’s never clarified (adding even more to the movie’s giallo-tude). Even more unnerving, they show up en masse and in total silence on more than one occasion. The theater scene is particularly chilling and brings along some Carnival Of Souls energy.

Ultimately, in an escape sequence highly reminiscent of the end of Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Thom attempts to flee with Arletty who, like Lovecraft’s Robert Olmstead, is beginning to feel the beginnings of her own transformation (interestingly, in his book Nightmare Movies: Horror On Screen Since The 1960’s, Kim Newman refers to both movies as “underrated” and “neglected”). I won’t give away the very end, but I think ol’ H.P. would have been okay with it.

 Streaming- AMC+, Darkmatter, Epix, Fandor, Film Detective, Hoopla, Paramount+, Philo, Plex, Pluto, Prime, Roku Channel, Screambox, Shudder, Sling
 Rent- Alamo On Demand, Prime

By the way PS—I haven’t seen Bennie Robinson anywhere else. I was thinking of stuntman Dar Robinson (no relation as far as I can discover) in his role as Moke in the Burt Reynolds movie Stick. He’s the guy who falls off the balcony, shooting on the way down. Phew. Now I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Post #383: Top 10 Tuesday, Top 10 Cthulhu Mythos Stories Not By Lovecraft

Lest you think that all we do here in Castle Blogferatu is lounge about watching movies all the live-long day, there’s also an impressive, if I do say so, library to be availed. In particular there’s a good deal of Lovecraft and works inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.

Lovecraft is, of course, a troubling figure. The reach of his influence is undeniably far, but the man himself was a fairly rabid racist and xenophobe (it’s said that he later regretted and attempted to disavow such benighted attitudes).

The fact remains, though, that the world he created continues to be expanded on and added to, a practice that is unlikely to stop any time soon. So here’s a list of my Top 10 Cthulhu Mythos Stories Not By Lovecraft.

#10 Diana Of The Hundred Breasts (Robert Silverberg, 1996)

I must confess, I’m not the biggest Silverberg fan. Many years ago I bought a copy of Lord Valentine’s Castle based entirely on its cover. I have never finished it. Still, this story is engaging and touches on something I’ve thought about as a lecturer on mythology, and that’s the idea of the gods of myth and legend are in fact various Elder Gods (a sentiment shared, to ridiculous proportions, by folks like Giorgio Tsoukalos).

#9 Little Lady (J.C. Koch)

J.C. Koch is one of the numerous pen names used by Gini Koch. This particular story follows a group of bandits/thugs who have just burned down some small Western town and brought the survivor with them. She’s supposedly going to lead them away from any pursuers and on to safety. She intends to bring them to meet her “father,” and things very quickly become far more than they seem. The end of this story in particular is undoubtedly cosmic horror of the first order. I found it in an anthology called The Madness Of Cthulhu.

#8 Sticks (Karl Edward Wagner, 1974)

An illustrator happens upon some stick lattices whilst fishing in the Adirondacks. That’s just the beginning. What’s even more interesting about this is what we’ll see later in The Blair Witch Project and, even more strikingly, Season 1 of True Detective. Also interesting is that Wagner edited two books for, wait for it, Carcosa Press where Wagner saw the and apparently took inspiration from the illustrations of Lee Brown Coye.

#7 A Study In Emerald (Neil Gaiman, 2003)

I enjoyed the hell outta this story. Based (obviously) on “A Study In Scarlet,” it’s just so damn clever. I don’t wanna give too much away, but Holmes and Watson as well as Moriarty and Moran live in a Lovecraftian London. There’s some interesting role reversal in terms of character and narration, and the whole thing is just a helluvalot of fun.

#6 Bad Sushi (Cherie Priest, 2007)

I wrote about this a while back in Horror 365 Movie 97. John Pinette once did a bit about trying to lose weight and dreaming that Dr. Phil was outside yelling, “It’s not what you’re eating. It’s what’s eating you!” Indeed. Like The Stuff. In this case, an aging sushi chef, Baku, notices that something’s a little off about both the sushi he’s been preparing and the patrons who’ve been partaking of it. The careful reader will also be rewarded by a big ol’ heapin’ heppin’ of clever cultural and Lovecraftian references. Bon appétit.

#5 Jerusalem’s Lot (Stephen King, 1978)

I mean, there had to be a Stephen King story on here. Night Shift is one of my all time favorite short story collections. This story is widely considered a prequel to ‘Salem’s Lot and is pretty much his homage to Lovecraft, almost as if King were trying to exorcise the influence of “The Rats In The Walls” by writing it out of his system. Very Lovecraft and maybe some of Stoker’s Lair Of The White Worm sprinkled lovingly throughout. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone told me Ken Russell read “Jerusalem’s Lot” in connection with his Stoker adaptation as well. Jus’ sayin’.

#4 The Big Fish (Jack Yeovil, 1993)

Kim Newman writes under this name. I first ran across him on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments as well as at least one documentary about Video Nasties. This story does a fantastic job marrying detective fiction with Lovecraftian horror, better, in fact, than “A Study In Emerald.” That may be a personal note as I love noir every bit as much as horror, and Yeovil’s P.I. is much more Marlowe-esque. The story therefore becomes a kind of Murder My Sweet meets “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and Yeovil’s ear for that hardboiled Chandler-y dialogue is flawless.

#3 Pickman’s Other Model (1929) (Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2008)

This is another story from Horror 365 #97. It picks up shortly after where Pickman’s Model leaves off. Blackman, her narrator, is yet another a long line of ill-fated Lovecraft narrators: “the mind may not…simply forget the weird and dismaying revelations visited upon men and women who choose to ask forbidden questions.” It’s straight out of the Lovecraft playbook. It works well as a standalone story. It also works as a sequel, reading much like a finely executed second chapter to the source material.

#2 Fat Face (Michael Shea, 1997)

This one’s just straight up creepy as hell. A prostitute has her curiosity aroused by a face she sometimes sees in the window of a building she regularly passes. Eventually this curiosity gets the better of her, and she goes to satisfy it. The story is chock fulla Mythos standards: unexplainable attraction to the unknown, strange architecture, soft but unidentifiable strains of music. And for some reason, the description of Fat Face himself always reminds me of Butterball from Hellraiser.

#1 Flash Frame (Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2010)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” freaked me out over the color yellow for a good long time, especially sickly, aged, decayed-looking yellow, the kind of yellow that pervades “Flash Frame,” Moreno-Garcia’s story of a cursed film which has many of the same effects on viewers as The King In Yellow has on readers. It’s a peculiarly haunting story, the kind that, once you start it, it takes a hold and won’t let go for a while. You start to get a sense of what this story is getting at if you watch Antrum or Fury Of The Demon, but ultimately they don’t come close to the grip “Flash Frame” will have on you. I don’t wanna spoil this for anyone, so I’m gonna stop here.

And that’s this week’s Top 10. Have you read any of these? What’s your favorite Lovecraftian fiction by other writers? Let me know in the Comments.

Post #382: The Last Wave

I’m given to believe by those who would know better than I that Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds was swoony. Tempting the dishy priest to break his vows is apparently something some folks find hot hot hot hot hot. But before all that, wedged nicely in between holy orders and being a Musketeer, Chamberlain was in The Last Wave, an Australian folk horror oddity from Peter Weir.

I’m also given to believe by those who would know better than I (having neither seen nor read The Thorn Birds) that Father Ralph was a greedy, grasping, overly ambitious, sexually obsessed, hypocritical piece of shit. So, y’know, a Catholic priest.

I like Weir. I’ve seen most of his movies. Of those I’m familiar with, this one is hands down the weirdest. Or maybe Weir-dest. Picnic At Hanging Rock is a close second, but this one is just stuh-range. It opens with some rural school kids out playing when they hear thunder, but see no clouds. This is followed by a freak rain storm accompanied by huge hailstones.

Next, Billy Corman, an Aboriginal man, runs through a sewer complex apparently fleeing someone or something. Soon he passes another man, Chris Lee (David Gulpilil), who says something about Billy having stolen something.

Billy ends up at a pub when Chris and some other men come in. Billy flees again and is pursued by the others. They catch up to him in a vacant lot, and a car can be seen in the nearby street. In the car is an older Aboriginal man, Charlie. As he stares out from the car, Billy grabs his chest and falls to the ground. The other men are rounded up and charged with murder.

Normally a tax attorney, David Burton (Chamberlain) is assigned to defend them through the Australian Legal Aid system and is immediately stonewalled by his defendants. It isn’t long though before David starts having nightmares that seem somehow prophetic. One involves Chris holding out a sacred stone to him with blood on one corner of it.

We find out later that David has had such dreams since childhood. At one point his stepfather even reveals that David had dreamed the exact circumstances of his mother’s death before it happened. Throughout all this, the freak storms continue, including a storm of black rain (the movie’s alternate title was Black Rain in fact).

Eventually Chris informs David that David himself may in fact be “Mukurul from across the sea,” a spiritual entity associated with the Dreamtime. He warns David to leave him and the other men alone or he will die because of what he sees in his nightmares. All of this brings David into conflict the Charlie, the shaman.

In the third act, Chris leads David to a subterranean complex that was once an ancient temple. David pieces together the pictographs on the walls and how his visions fit in with them. He then confronts Charlie and flees the complex only to exit onto a beachfront. The final shot is David looking up and either seeing or having a vision of a towering wave.

It’s at times a surreal film that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s a vision (visions that often border on hallucination). What I like most about The Last Wave is not only its Folk Horror nature, but also its cosmic horror implications. These aren’t overtly Lovecraftian, but they’re there, especially in the prophetic nightmares, the underground temple, and the mystical stones.

Along those lines, it’s also worth pointing out that David undergoes a kind of self-discovery similar to the one experienced by Robert Olmstead, the narrator of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The realization isn’t as transformative for David, but the horror is arguably just as strong.

Ultimately, the end of The Last Wave is undeniably bleak. Either David is on the shore witnessing what is about to be a massive destructive event, or it’s a vision, in which case, like Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, he’s doomed to live the rest of his life under the influence of the nightmare those visions have revealed.

 Streaming- Criterion Channel, HBO Max
 Rent- Apple TV, Prime