I first heard of the obscure 1973 horror film Messiah of Evil from an unlikely source: Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself, an essay film that examines the city through its myriad portrayals in movies — the modernist architecture that's always associated with bad guys, the location work that yields a documentary-like sense of place in films as different as Killer of Sheep, The Exiles and Jacques Deray's early-1970s hit-man thriller The Outside Man.
Among the movies cited was this early chiller by the writing-directing team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, better known for writing American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It looks like an eerie, atmospheric scareshow along the lines of the early ’60s classic Carnival of Souls: the art director was the great Jack Fisk, a figure deserving of a retrospective, whose work is the throughline linking Eraserhead, Badlands and Phantom of the Paradise to The Tree of Life, There Will Be Blood and The Master (with time out for the confounding blaxploitation oddity Darktown Strutters).
I haven't seen this yet, but the genuinely creepy trailer reminds me why the clips in Los Angeles Plays Itself stood out: a sense of desolation that's more unnerving than the umpteenth bogeyman leaping from the shadows. It's screening second in this weekend's 12 Hours of Terror horror marathon at The Belcourt, co-sponsored by the Scene.