The Devil's Messenger
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Lon Chaney stars as Satan in this three part story based on a collection of episodes from the never-aired TV series "No. 13 Demon St." The Devil sends his reluctant messenger to the surface to recruit new souls. Once in Hell, the damned are instructed to prepare for the delivery of Satan's horrifying "final message" to earth. Herbert L. Strock (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, How to Make a Monster) and his unbilled co-director Curt Siodmak (author of Donovan's Brain, The Wolfman) chronicle the characters' descent into insanity and Hell in this haunting nightmare that takes its cue from One Step Beyond and The Twilight Zone.
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3 shorts tied together by the Devil sending his messenger to deliver a parcel each time. The premise is fairly original for the time period. The Devil offers a suicide victim somewhat of a reprieve if she'll help him prank some people on earth. She delivers an item to each, hence the title. The items are presumed cursed and are part of the victim's demise.
It stumbles in a few spots. The messenger isn't all that interested in saving her soul. She's forced to act as a messenger until the third task, in which she gets to exact her vengeance. The second story is somewhat lame. I'm not sure what happened. It starts out promising; a naked woman frozen in an ice block. But she's modern looking, not a stone ager. I think she's supposed to be a beautiful prehistoric woman. Peaks one's curiosity. How did a woman end up frozen in an ice floe deep under ground. [She's discovered by miners.] Well, suddenly, one scientist develops an unhealthy obsession [falls in love] with the Ice Woman. He becomes a real fruitcake over this woman. He claims to have known her thousands of years ago and her name is Angelica. Turns out she's in suspended animation and comes to life as the ice block thaws. He rescues her from the ice and it really gets wierd.
Overall, it's worth a look for schlock lovers. Lon Chaney Jr. plays a mischievous Devil or Devil's Advocate.
Moving on, perhaps seeing her potential, Chaney makes a deal with her that if she does some tasks for him, she could escape the worst parts of hell. (She has to deliver cursed items up to earth.) This leads to 3 separate stories that eventually connect. (The 1st deals with a man sexually obsessed with several women. The 2nd deals with a man who betrays his profession and friends over a woman frozen in ice.)
The signature moment is when Kadler rebukes the devil for messing up people's lives, and he responds: "Dear, people ruin their own lives." The devil can tempt and persuade, but we make our own decisions. If we notice, the parties the devil picks out already had problems to begin with.
In an especially chilling moment, Chaney manipulates Kadler's most vulnerable emotion. He offers her a chance to get even with the man who rejected her. Needless to say, Kadler gets more enthusiastic about her work. The 3rd story deviates from the standard formula and focuses on revenge more than anything. (Kadler's x lover is not really a bad person, and we really have no reason to dislike him.) One could even defend his act of murder in that a reasonable person would have felt threatened. But the 3rd story does compensate with fear, suspense, and tragic irony.
Another reason I consider this a masterpiece ahead of its time is because while some movies glorify war, this movie seems to emphasize that war is hell on earth. And while suicide over love is a common thing, we have an interesting conversation that could occur between the parties: "I'm not in love with her, and I haven't been for a long time!" In one brief moment, we see how stupid suicide over love is.
Between the great acting, the scenery, the scary stories, the memorable themes, and the sudden unification of 3 great stories, this movie is a masterpiece of horror!
Despite living in his father's shadow, Chaney could be one hell of an actor. After all, he played Lennie Small in the original Of Mice and Men. You get reminded of that when you watch late period Chaney and he has to use his voice and body instead of makeup in films like Spider Baby (why I haven't reviewed that yet I have no idea).
That brings us to The Devil's Messenger, a 1961 anthology that takes three episodes of the Swedish TV series 13 Demon Street. From the tale of a 50,000-year-old woman trapped in ice bewitching scientists to a man who learns of his death in a dream to a photographer who attacks a woman in teh snow and can't escape her, these are some pretty decent stories. And oh yeah - there's a framing device starring Chaney, Karen Kadler and John Crawford that was directed by Herbert L. Strock (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein).
Guess what? Those three Swedish episodes - The Photograph," "The Girl in the Glacier," and "Condemned in Crystal" - were directed by Curt Siodmak. Who is that? Oh, only the guy who wrote the original The Wolf Man, I Walked with a Zombie, Son of Dracula and House of Frankenstein as well as directing Curucu, Beast of the Amazon and The Magnetic Monster.
Look, any movie where Lon Chaney Jr. makes good on Satan's plot to nuke the world is one I'm going to love.