A man crosses a street on his way to work. A car misses a stop sign and screeches to a halt, just inches from his body. He leaps towards the vehicle, spits in the driver’s face, and screams, “You ignorant bastard! I wish I could run YOU over! Your sister’s a filthy bitch! Your mother stands up when she pisses! YOU SHOULD KILL YOURSELF! FUCK YOU!”
Can you feel it? That’s hate. Pure, voracious hate. You and I would never think about, let alone act upon, impulses such as these. But somewhere else, people do. Proof exists. Just examine any film that begins with “Photographed and Directed by Andy Milligan.”
The late Andy Milligan was not a genius. Rather, he was a flawed and obsessed human being. Self-destructive, darkly sadistic, sexually twisted, egotistic, and all together unnerving, there’s only one thing that sets Andy Milligan apart from a flat-out degenerate: an obsession with channeling his neurosises through film.
I’ve read Jimmy McDonough’s unsettling biography (The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld Of Filmmaker Andy Milligan) twice. Yet, I still can’t fully comprehend the extremes of Mlligan’s drive. Why even bother, you ask? What’s the point of delving into the life’s work of a such a detestable person? Two reasons. One, he made trash-gore films. Two, he poured his life into those films. Literally.
Milligan, a Staten Island native, channeled everything he had into making movies. I’m not talking time, money, and a love for the process, like Ray Dennis Steckler. While those necessities are certainly included in the mix, it goes deeper than that. Milligan’s dirt-cheap films are drenched with every childhood trauma, every negative tick, every inner demon that the guy ever had. His filmed output served as collateral on a reckless life that could end at any moment. That’s why Andy’s work is so fascinating. He was filming it. He was living it. He would die with it. No other outsider filmmaker can boast such overwhelming claims. No matter how appalling Milligan’s reality can seem to “normal” people, his anomalous film work cannot be ignored. Quite the contrary; the notably damaged nature of every film that bears the Milligan name literally begs to be experienced. The urge can’t be helped.
From 1962 to 1990, Andy Milligan had a hand in close to forty motion pictures, with topics ranging from sexploitive scuzz to medieval basement gore to gay bathhouse gloom. Budgets floated around $10,000 or less. Production values settled just above the savvy of a home movie. While many are lost today, fourteen of the surviving two dozen films lie in the cherished vicinity of trash-horror. Fourteen films which rarely deviate in their topical dysfunction and never evolve from a technical standpoint. But hey — they all feature Costumes By Raffiné (Andy Milligan’s seamstress pseudonym)! These are inhuman fairy tales with equally fierce titles. Films which sprout not from the pen of a jovial muse, but from the inner darkness of a very scarred man.
The old guard of self-centered, pants-too-tight film critics have had their day. Were he still alive, Andy Milligan would not be invited to their retirement parties. Would he even care to attend? Would you?! This is now. Andy’s legacy, however flawed, stands today as one of the most curious bodies of trash filmmaking ever produced. Let’s celebrate the hate.
THE GHASTLY ONES (1968, Something Weird DVD)
I see a new world. The family dysfunction, the toilet bowl film prints, the period piece melodrama; The Ghastly Ones kick starts it all.
After a little unrelated prologue dismemberment, the Crenshaw sisters convene for a reading of their Father’s will. In order to make good on an inheritance, the three sisters are required to spend three days on Daddy’s estate in “sexual harmony” with their respective husbands. Hot damn! Concurrently, a black-hooded killer wasn’t invited. Whatever. The killer saws, pitchforks, and stabs through 72 minutes of unflattering close-ups, unexpected creeps, and homosexual actors struggling through straight sex scenes. Also, a hunchbacked retard gets whipped with a belt. A lot. Get used to all of that.
The Ghastly Ones embraces the real baggage, commences with the animosity, and funnels it all into a tasty whole. The streaks of heavy dialogue are endearing, thanks to the short runtime and eventual pay-off. A somber air of spookiness blankets the attic sets, especially during the disorienting climax. This is not Milligan’s most ruthless (or explicit) effort, but it’s by far his most accessible. Even if it makes no sense. Every subsequent Milligan horror outing would expand from the seeds sown here. A true weirdo classic.
SEEDS OF SIN (1968, Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray)
Incest, suicide, abortion, murder, a pirate patch, and muscle-mag masturbation; it’s Christmas, Milligan-style!
Seeds Of Sin is pretty much the The Ghastly Ones, save for a few key differences. It’s Christmas. The tone is harsher (Mom’s advice: “You ruined my life, so I’m gonna ruin yours!”). The artsy camerawork seems more coordinated than usual. Most importantly, producer Allen Bazzini was unhappy with the film, so he spliced in lengthy softcore sex scenes (Stretch marks! Indistinguishable faces!) featuring new actors that disappear after doin’ the deed. In the end, there are so many raunchy layers to contend with, both visually and mentally, that it’s almost a hassle to even bother. So enjoy the brief bits of gruesomeness. Fast forward through the unappetizing sex. Have fun trying to decipher dialogue through Mom’s screaming fits. Or better yet, just watch Milligan’s original 40 minute workprint, which is also included on Something Weird’s DVD. Either way, Seeds Of Sin is piping hot insanity. Aside from the sex, you won’t get bored.
THE BODY BENEATH (1970, BFI Blu-ray)
Andy Milligan travels to the UK…and invents a new religion.
One of several films shot “in the graveyards of England”, The Body Beneath is to Andy Milligan what A Taste Of Blood was to H.G. Lewis: a vampire epic on a sliding scale. The story concerns Reverend Ford, a Catholic priest who also happens to be a vampire. The good Rev seeks to keep his lineage moving with the kidnapping and impregnation of long lost relative, Susan. Mr. Ford calls Suze an impertinent slut and treats his “humpback” hipster slave (wearing a Mike Nesmith knit hat) like a jerk. There’s some out-of-character Dixieland swing, blue-faced vampira ghouls, humid graveyard tours, and a nice anti-America rant at a dinner party. The big news here is the film’s obvious jump in planning and consistency. Sure, camera-whir noises are just as prominent as the impressive sets, but there’s a definite steadiness to the piece that’s not so evident in Milligan’s other films. It’s nice. Cozy. Perhaps, even effective as a traditional horror film. When the vaseline hits the lens, everything pretty much goes south, but you’ll have a better appreciation for Catholic vampires. And low budget enthusiasm at its most arresting.
TORTURE DUNGEON (1970, Midnight Video VHS)
Now, I’m officially frightened. Even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.
With all the spitting, violence, dirty sex (“I’m trisexual — I’ll TRY anything for pleasure.”), panic attacks, and hunchback abuse, Torture Dungeon is the fantasy-mirrored reflection of Andy Milligan. Falling somewhere between Snow White And The Three Stooges and John Waters’s later Desperate Living, the dubious, Shakespearean-set plot (with a few Ramones accents) finds us in the court of The Duke Of Norridge as he causes general havoc amongst the people in his kingdom; gay hunchback lover, one-eyed witch, and dirt-eating retard included. There’s no real plot thread. Nudity is rampant. Everyone sweats a lot. Black hooded killers deal out camera-spazzed deaths via pitchfork and decapitation, just like they did in The Ghastly Ones. Torture Dungeon‘s unbelievable mix of scummy situations and Waiting For Guffman-like theatrics leads us on a crude road. At times hilarious, sometimes tedious, and always caustic (both technically and topically), Torture Dungeon is truly unsettling, if only for the fact that someone actually made this film.
BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (1970, Something Weird DVD-R)
The bitch ‘n’ bake olympics have commenced! Unfortunately, no one goes home with the gold.
Stomping back to merry olde England, Bloodthirsty Butchers is a claustrophobic mess. Sweeney Todd slaps around his mistress, wife, and…second mistress. Sweeney Todd maims his barbershop victims, then gives the bodies to the local bakery. Sweeney Todd deals out marriage advice. Badly. Filled with horribly tight compositions, goofy sex (shoulders only, thanks), infrequent energy, and tiresome bitching and yelling, Bloodthirsty Butchers is a hump in the road. All women are depicted as pawns of evil. Milligan’s sets (a couple of blank rooms) and budget hit the dirt, moreso than usual. Attempts at violence are limp. When a search for highpoints leads to a neon-tipped boob in a pie and a rare light-hearted ending, trouble is afoot. All hate. No heart.
Note: Should you decide to add this one to your collection, stick with Something Weird’s DVD-R. Their print is the most complete version out there, easily eclipsing the altered (and cut) TV print on Video Cart’s DVD from 2003.
GURU, THE MAD MONK (1970, Something Weird DVD-R)
You want a separation between church and state? Not on Guru’s clock.
“Nothing is free in this world!” A blatant middle finger to Catholic form, Guru, The Mad Monk is a 55 minute blast of prime Milligan dementia. The Lost Souls Church Of Mortavia needs money! Naturally, jaded schizo Father Guru practices the art of supplying dead bodies to medical students in exchange for the green stuff. Inbetween playing judge, jury, and executioner for the members of his sparse parish (branding, needles through eyes, dismemberment), Guru helps out Madame Olga (the vampire), Carl and Nadja (young lovebirds in search of a new life), and eventually murders the Arch Bishop. Think of it as miniature The Body Beneath, only more concentrated. And cheaper. Flower Power bedsheets adorn attic sets. The camera has had a cocktail or two, and roams freely. A singular location (the booming church) seeps with dusty atmosphere. For some reason, there’s not a hint of sex, but there IS a benign hunchback who gets crucified on a wall. His name is Igor! You’ll love it!
THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972, Midnight Video VHS)
Well, not really.
The Rats Are Coming… is Andy Milligan’s greatest title, but the resulting film is his most uneventful. With a “I hate everybody and everything — it’s just one big hate!” kick off, the story of sisters Monica (the bitch), Diana (the good girl), and their inutile werewolf family drudges on. Daddy’s dying. Wolves occasionally howl. Gerald, Diana’s boyfriend, sports the shortest tie and highest-hiked slacks you’ll ever see. A retarded brother gets whipped, lit on fire, and singed with candle wax — what a surprise! Rats? Two scenes. Werewolves? Last ten minutes. The point-and-shoot compositions do what they can within the attractive British moor surroundings. Bottom line, this is 80 minutes of scrambled monotony with 10 minutes of dimestore werewolf action Elmer’s glued onto the end. Pretty chincy. Just for kicks, Milligan stinks up the place with two nauseous moments of actual chicken and mouse mutilation. Nice work, Andy.
Note: If you’re brave, seek out the Midnight Video VHS. Like The Bloodthirsty Butchers, a TV print of The Rats Are Coming... was released on DVD by Video Kart in 2003. They cut a tiny bit of gore, but retained the mouse nastiness and Milligan cameo. Weird.
THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS (1972, Something Weird DVD-R)
“Based On A Story By Robert Louis Stephenson”. Who? Robert Louis Stevenson sez “No comment”.
At once Milligan’s most revealing film and, subsequently, his most disturbing, The Man With Two Heads is a markedly different affair. Family woes are replaced with uncomfortable misogyny and blatant sadism; a literal channeling of Andy Milligan’s psycho-sexual leanings. It’s Jekyl and Hyde amplified by scar tissue. Hyde hits at the 40 minute mark and all hell breaks loose. A prostitute is burned with a cigar, forced to bark like a dog, beaten, and constantly insulted — “Ignorant slut! You are the defecation of the streets of London!” Chicken guts stand in for explicit gore. An orgiastic party scene reveals men riding other men like dogs, people strewn and tortured, and eyes poked with large needles. There’s also a lot of talk…and a hunchback piano player. Through it all, Andy maintains some of the worst compositions of all time, yet the acting chops, grit, and shocking tension reach an apex. The content goes over the line. The layout feels like a real movie. It’ll make you squirm. So long, England.
BLOOD (1973, Code Red Blu-ray)
Dracula’s daughter: “You go to hell!” The Wolf Man’s son: “We’re already there.” No one can escape the Milligan charisma.
With its 58 minute runtime and constant hacksaw editing, Blood is a caffeinated wonder; a full 180 degree turn from The Man With Two Heads. It’s also somewhat traditional, at least by Milligan standards. Dr. Orlofski (aka Larry Talbot) and his bride, Regina (aka Dracula’s daughter) have traveled from Europe to Staten Island. They’ve made the trek to develop Dr. O’s “experiments”. These involve a legless man who scrapes around on a plank of wood, his gangrene-infected wife, balloon noises, and a man-eating plant. Delightful! Orlofski wolfs out for a few seconds, while Regina prances around in plastic fangs. Mouse mutilation gets another shot in the limelight. No one takes their clothes off, but there IS a retarded servant and some great gore. That’s tradition. Blood subjectively retreats from Andy’s inner anger, but not his mucky techniques. As a result, it’s insanely enjoyable as a stand alone trash film, despite the lack of an overall point. Milligan’s energy would soon dissipate. Blood soaked up the last of it.
LEGACY OF HORROR (1978, Gorgon VHS)
Times change, but Staten Island doesn’t.
Released the same year as Halloween, Milligan’s descent into exhaustion — artistically and personally — begins with Legacy Of Horror. Merely an unmemorable remake of The Ghastly Ones, Legacy is best left misunderstood. Three couples, placed somewhere between 1900 and 1960, mumble and eat plants. The expected token retard-handyman is thrown over a bridge. At 37 minutes, the characters convene for a reading of the ol’ “sexual harmony” will, but there’s no sex. At 60 minutes, a black-clad killer dishes out split second maimings, but there’s no bloodshed. As a result, there’s no hope. The least spiteful film in Milligan’s resume, Legacy Of Horror leaves no mark, save for a few spots of well-placed humor (check out Mr. Ito!). Intentioned weirdness seems suspicious. There’s an obvious hope that the film’s irrational moments will gel together naturally. They don’t.
Note: It’s true. Legacy Of Horror has yet to stumble onto DVD. It’s often confused with Legacy Of Blood aka Legacy Of Horror, which stars John Carradine and features the same plot. That film appears on several public domain DVD packs, including a recent release under the “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” DVD line.
CARNAGE (1983, Media Home Entertainment VHS)
A murder-suicide in the name of true love? From Andy Milligan? Exactly.
The roots have been upturned. Carnage, a Poltergeist mocker, deviates from Milligan’s obsessions. It’s not a period piece. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. No tortured hunchback is present. Instead, two instantly likable 80s schlubs get married, buy a haunted house, and wade through a sea of extreme violence, Three Stooges special effects, and hilarious in-law tirades (“After the first three years, marriage gets worse and worse!”). Like Legacy Of Horror, Carnage lacks fire. Fortunately, the smoke still wafts; a breath of fresh grime during Andy’s stale years. Harsh lighting exposes the disgusting, sometimes blood-free grue. A guy wears a dentist’s outfit to dinner. The calm camera endlessly floats over possessed, inanimate objects. Towards the end, a helpful priest gets a machete to the back of the head. That’ll teach him! Carnage diverges in the best of ways. Think of it as a last hurrah.
MONSTROSITY (1987, Video Kart DVD)
Los Angeles is many things to many people. So are toilets.
Seeking to escape the degradation of NYC slums and place his life in turnaround, Andy Milligan moved to LA in late 1985. Monstrosity, an ugly, cramped, gore-strewn rat’s nest, was his first film in the new digs. Like Carnage, Monstrosity bears little resemblance to Milligan’s past furies. Basically, three 80s goons decide to construct a “Jewish Golem” out of spare body and animal parts, in order to gain revenge against a trio of rapist criminals. A direct rip on The Toxic Avenger in the confines of a cynical 1950s classroom scare film, this one hits pretty low. The desperation seeps. Dim, tangent-filled dialogue clashes with banal violence. Soundtracks overlap in triplicate while pop culture references serve as punchlines to unspoken jokes. Monstrosity is the worst kind of mess; an over-long comedy-horror schizo that irritates more than captivates. Yet, the Ye Olde Milligan Way still glimmers, if only for a few fleeting moments. The absurd, downbeat ending and constant scummy lifestyles on display attest to that.
THE WEIRDO (1988, Raedon Home Video VHS)
20 minutes down. If it weren’t for the opening credits, there would be no way to tell who was responsible for The Weirdo. Then, a priest attempts to molest a handicapped woman named Jenny. Andy, who’s on your party line?
The Weirdo, the touching story of “different,” abused young man Donny and his sexual awakening with Jenny, is a remake of a lost Milligan film from 1970. Stapled with an authentic score (fake new age pianos, generic power pop) and a group of actors who were actually casted, you might mistake this film for something “real”. Like Zombie Nightmare. Don’t. Just as arid as it is alarming, The Weirdo entertains thanks to its outrageous negativity. And hilarious acting. It’s like a gutter-gore garage version of River’s Edge; everybody’s endearingly screwed up, but Milligan lacks the resources to reel it all in. Inbreds! Crucifix death! Mother-son belt-whipping! Musclebound assholes! Black screen transitions and odd soundtrack noises give Milligan away (along with the subject matter), but the sluggish direction could belong to any man. At the film’s climax, Jenny asks “Why can’t people be nice to one another?” The air grows chill. Andy Milligan was obviously trying to say something, but no one was listening.
SURGIKILL (1990, Media Arts VHS)
After 90 seconds, it was obvious that Surgikill was going to be a very sad experience. Nurse Boobs, this is goodbye.
Fart jokes. Dick jokes. Surgery gore sight gags. Poo and pee punchlines. Nurses Boobs, Muffin, and Tryit. Andy Milligan was hired to direct Surgikill, a horror-“comedy” that feels like 1982, features a killer spouting wisecracks in a hospital, and remains the single most disheartening career crapper of all time. Even the most nauseating of 80s party comedies (Splitz, Senior Week) can’t begin to stoop as low as the idiotic, screaming morons who populate the halls of the Goode Community Hospital. Makes sense. Evil black comedy peppered Milligan’s later years, and to some degree, his earlier hits. However, Andy’s skillset was not built for straight comedy, let alone slapstick junk as chincy and uninspired as Surgikill. This was no way for anyone to go out. Unfortunately, for Andy’s paralleling life, that’s exactly what happened.
I’m tapped out of hate. Strangely, Milligan’s words resuscitate: “You don’t turn into an artist if you have a happy home life. I only write about what I know. I just remember the ugly things.” Ugliness tends to evoke hatred in men. Andy forged his legacy with ugliness; ugliness is how that legacy is often regarded. These films were Andy Milligan’s life. They’re never pretty. Yet, beauty is a contentious beast. The next time I run into a retarded hunchback, I’ll try to remember that.
Special thanks to Lisa Petrucci & Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video for their help and participation.
For more information on Andy Milligan’s unbelievable life and films, please pick up a copy of Jimmy McDonough’s The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld Of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. Needless to say, it’ll stick with you.