I've spent a lifetime reading about horror movies, but until recent years I rarely came across any mention of a chestnut named Messiah of Evil. Now considered one of the most important cult features in the history of the genre, it was a buried treasure for a long time.

I've heard Messiah of Evil called a zombie movie, and maybe there's some validity to the claim, but the film is closer to Carnival of Souls than Night of the Living Dead.

At long last Messiah of Evil has gotten its due and is out in a gorgeous Blu-ray from Radiance Films.

The story is kind of muddy and neither plot nor character-driven. It's more of a nightmare scenario of a woman in a small seaside town searching for her missing father. The man was an artist and she stays at his studio, which is full of surreal paintings and decorations.

Production values are extraordinarily high for this kind of picture. Imagine the best of Bava and Argento. Shot-by-shot the entire film looks like a series of nightmarish paintings.

As for the story, a man of God was trapped with the Donner Party and resorted to cannibalism. He survived, but his soul was corrupted and he turned to dark arts. The townsfolk captured the fallen minister, killed him and cast him into the ocean. Now, a hundred years later, he is preparing to return and evil has overtaken the inhabitants, turning them into bloodthirsty ghouls.

You don't have to worry about any of that. Messiah of Evil works best as a swirling series of hellish situations. It's stunningly shot, with chiaroscuro lighting, imaginative camerawork, and an intriguing electronic soundtrack. The acting is, for the most part, fairly weak, but you'll be so mesmerized by the visuals you won't care.

Messiah of Evil was co-written, produced, and directed by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who wrote the screenplay for American Graffiti, which was also released in 1973. The married partners also wrote Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Howard the Duck, and may the Lord have pity on their souls, Best Defense.

Written by Mark Sieber

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