[31 Days Of Horror ’21] Mini Reviews: The House That Screamed (1969) and Messiah Of Evil (1973)

Mini Review
Day 05: From The 1960’s
The House That Screamed (1969)

Moving to the 1960’s with horror, the genre was changing and moving in sorts of directions, it was the decade that gave us many classics and plenty are just waiting to be rediscovered by audiences. The House That Screamed (1969) is not a title that usually comes up when discussing this decade, perhaps it really should be because this piece of cinema has certainly inspired many and perhaps most notably Dario Argento with Suspiria (1977). The film takes place in a French boarding school some time in the 1900’s, a new student Teresa (Cristina Galb√≥) gets admitted to the school, under the rule of Sra. Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) and her protege Irene (Mary Maude). Students begin disappearing at that very locked up and prison-esque school, which starts to worry Teresa who befriends Fourneau’s son Luis (John Moulder-Brown) and gets tormented by the other girls. What is going on at this school?

The film itself is an intriguing one, keeping to the one setting of the school with mostly a female cast, having a very gothic feel and elements of giallo and even very early slasher tropes. Visually this is really stunning to look at, from the costumes to the set, there is a lot of care for the detail and it is quite rewarding to see. The slow burn and character driven plot works for the story being told, there is a mystery at play and the welfare of Teresa especially keeps the suspense up. On a script and direction level there is a lot to appreciate, especially with how some scenes are edited and shot, visual tricks that would be used after this film.

The performances are quite solid, Lilli Palmer is a commanding presence and even with some over the top moment, she remains a very intense and almost terrifying presence. Cristina Galbó goes through a lot of torment as Teresa, there are a few particularly horrible bullying scenes and the horror of those moments are captured so well with the performance. There are psychological elements within the film, repressed sexuality is represented in different ways and there is some exploration with the Oedipus complex. The House That Screamed is part Black Christmas (1974) and Suspiria (but made before those two) with gothic giallo thrown into the mix, a captivating film that viewers wont soon forget.


Mini Review
Day 06: From The 1970’s
Messiah Of Evil (1973)

70’s horror cinema is as unique as the other decade, as the genre evolved and changed over time it really began to become more impactful and less in the shadows. Whilst there were some very popular films from the decade – The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), Carrie (1976), The Texas Chainsaw Masscre (1974) just to name a few, there are many under-seen gems out there that are just as good. Messiah Of Evil (1973) aka Dead People may have been one of those under-seen gems for many years, however in the past few years its popularity has increased and a new audience is discovering it.

The plot revolves around Arletty (Marianna Hill) whose father has gone missing and she travels to the small seaside town of Point Dune to try and find him. Once reaching the town, she soon discovers the place is not what it seems and no one seems to know of her father. Arletty crosses paths with Thom (Michael Greer) and his two friends Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang) who seems to be in town to find out about old legends. She begins to learn more about what her father went through in this town as she reads her diary and can see something isn’t right with the town or its very strange residents.

Messiah Of Evil is an experience, the plot is mostly irrelevant and at times difficult to follow, it relies on the visuals and atmosphere to create a unique viewing experience and leaves enough cookie crumbs along the way to piece together what is actually going on. The surrealist nature of the piece is exactly what gains and keeps the attention for the viewer, its vibrant, psychedelic and unnerving. The plague that has befallen this town isn’t the focal point, it’s Arletty’s waking nightmare of this town and her ultimate fate. The nightmare of the film can be seen as a reflection of the changing times, with a country dealing with the fall outs of wars and the death of the 60’s. There are not many films out there that can evoke a very intense experience for the mind, Messiah Of Evil is one of them and it’s more modern counterpart would be Mandy (2018). This is a film worth exploring and embarking on a horror journey that is like no other.


Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea


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