Andy Milligan Double Feature: The Body Beneath (1969)74 min. / Guru, The Mad Monk (1970) 56 min. Color. $7.98 single disc DVD.Region “0”
Andy Milligan (Feb 12,1929- June 3,1991) was an interesting eccentric.
An avante garde theatre director. Born in the Midwest, his early life was troubled by an abusive alcoholic mother.
After serving four years in the Navy, he was discharged and move to NYC to run a dress shop. During that period, he became involved in the genesis of the original Off Off Broadway theatre movement at Café Cino and La Mama. He got involved with directing, writing, and even designing and creating the costumes for his productions. Some of them were so quickly put together that the costumes practically fell apart as actors exited the small stages.
It was a time of great freedom and creativity, though very little financial reward.
To make a bit of extra money, he did appear in some early television as an actor, though how many he appeared in is not quite clear (Imdb lists 4 shows, but not what he played in them).
The greater though secretive freedoms of homosexuality in New York City also allowed him to explore that aspect of his life.
This led him into creating a 30-minute short called VAPORS (1965). Milligan assumed a lot of alias but seemed to have done almost everything but act to get this film made. It plays like a one act by writer Hope Stansbury (a member of his film family before and behind the camera). It is a sad tale of sex and a failure to connect with others (though only a male male kiss is shown, and a character opening his robe walking towards the camera is shown. In most prints, there is a black line across the nudity.) .
Like most of his films, the film deals with rejects, degeneracy, and a palpable gloom. VAPORS is probably one of his most thoughtful film and shows the direction that he could have gone.
Milligan moved to Staten Island to a large house where he would shoot a large portion of his NYC area made projects. As always, he handled almost every job, probably including the catering. His budgets were never very large, but his ambitions were.
Sadly, for him, he got involved with distributors who took advantage of him, so that he rarely saw any real money for his projects.
He ran a hotel in Staten Island (which probably provided some of his funding) as well as running a theater on West 39th Street for several years, from 1979 until he left NYC in 1985.
His move to California only produced three more films as well as briefly running a dress shop and another theatre company. Nearly penniless, ill health took him in 1991.
Since the early day of video, Milligan’s films have been offered on tape. The transfer was often taken from prints that were dupes. Milligan shot often on 16mm, with his films blown up to 35mm. The duplicates seem to have been reductions from 35mm to 16mm again, meaning the films had been through several transfers.
Framing was off, and grain was often a major problem, as well as color shifts and sound warbling. Mind you, these may have existed in the originals, but so many of his film negatives have disappeared (indeed many of his films have vanished as well, again due to shady distributors).
Having worked in a film storage house, it is amazing how films can be mislabeled and put within the wrong film cans. Perhaps one day we will find a cache of his original prints as well as his lost films and be better able to judge his works.
As I was researching this piece, I discovered that someone had posted a print of one of his “lost “sexploitation films, COMPASS ROSE (1967) https://youtu.be/00AS-GaLe78 . I reached out to playwright Robert Patrick, and identified the opening bedroom set as being one for a Landford Wilson play at Caffe Cino ! Just a little more info on this never released film .
That said, now to this Alpha DVD double feature. The prints are worn, and the sound has a bit of warble in places. That said, they are in better condition than copies of these films that I have seen in the past. The scratches on the film also increase the grindhouse feel of the theatres in which these films were unspooled.
GURU, THE MAD MONK was released September 1970. The film was shot for an incredibly small $11,000. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) was produced for only $10,000, but that was a modern-day project. GURU was an ambitious period piece, which required several costumed characters, as well as furniture, props and locations that would suggest the time.
The main part of the filming took place around and in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church ,346 W 20th St in NYC. The Church, established in 1832 on land donated by, among others, Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas/The Night Before Christmas”.
The Church, which is still a major part of the Chelsea Community to this day, has dedicated outreach programs, food banks, and permit a lot of performances upon the property.
Nothing, I think, was quite like the craziness of GURU THE MAD MONK. One wonders what the director did to convince them to film this hysterical historical within these sacred walls?
The film was obviously shot with haste, with some shots carefully composed (a nice travelling shot is quite impressive within the Church) as well as many obvious one take blunders that remain in the final print (an actress stumbles upon her line, a character steps upon the train of Guru, a loud rip being heard. Nothing is made of this, so it appears to be unintentional. A light switch is quite visible in one shot in this medieval tale, as well as the title card for the screenplay is misspelled!
Some of the costumes are quite good, some, like the dress of the leading lady, are an obvious 1960s sun dress with alterations. The makeup is never blended, with one character playing an older man wearing obvious white and blue make up, while poor Igor, the hunchback, suffers most from non-blended applications to his face.
Producer M.A. Issacs ( whose initial form the first letters of Maipix Organization in what seems there only attempt at producing, the film later being released by Nova International Productions)seems to have suggested the story to Milligan, perhaps inspired by Hammer’s RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (Fox, 1966).
Milligan upgraded his equipment on this project to 35mm, which may explain why this film is a bit slicker looking than a lot of his earlier projects. However, it is also more expensive film stock, so even using short ends (left over unexposed film sold back to the labs from other productions), it increased the costs on his already tiny budget. Milligan, later in life, felt that this was his worst film. While it is not a classic, it is certainly far from his worst.
Set upon the fictitious island of Mortavia during the Middle Ages, a young woman named Nadja (Judith Israel, her only film credit) is imprisoned upon a false charge of having killed her baby.
Everything seems to center around the Lost Souls Church of Mortavia, which seems to contain the prison as well as the Church wherein sentencing is carried out.
Carl (a very monotonic Paul Lieber, who went on to a long successful career on television and on stage in L.A., winning 5 Dramalogue Awards and an L.A. Weekly Award for his performances), her jailer, is smitten with her, and seeks to save her.
He appeals to FATHER (not a mad monk as the title suggests) Guru, the religious leader. Guru is played by actor Neil Flanagan, who also appeared in Milligan’s SEEDS (Aquarian,1968,) and TORTURE DUNGEON (Constitution,1970, an earlier “period” film that was shot on 16mm with a $15,000 budget).
Flanagan was a staple of the Village theater scene, winning an Obie in 1967 for his starring role as an aging drag queen in Lanford Wilson’s hit ‘THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT” and a second Obie in 1976 for his contributions to over 10 years of Off Off-Broadway Theatre. He died from AIDS in 1986 at age 52. He relishes his plummy role in this film and plays it to the hilt.
Guru makes a deal with Carl to save the girl, but it involves Carl having to help finance the Lost Souls Church by a bit of body snatching. In exchange, Guru will keep Nadja hidden until his three-month morbid indenture is over.
Carl is sent to see Olga (Jacqueline Webb) who will provide a potion to make it appear that Nadja is dead (a la Juliet in Romeo & Juliet). Olga also requires a price, which is to supply human blood from the executed for her experiments. Carl reluctantly agrees, and Olga seals the deal by pricking his palm with a needle. It is almost laughable when he lifts his hand, for it is drenched in blood!
We see various accused brought before Guru within the Church, wherein he gives them a blessing and then brands them before they are dragged away. Igor (Jack Spencer) the deformed hunchback, stirs the fire and hands over the torture instrument. When Nadja is brought before him, he slips the drug into some sacrificial wine, and gives it to the young woman.
The medicinal works and Nadja is buried, only to be dug up by Carl, and hidden within the church. Carl is really not too observant, as both the mad mon…er.. Priest and Olga have plans for the young woman . Guru and Olga are, it seems bumping uglies, and enjoying torturing and killing others from Milligan’s stock company. Olga, it seems, doesn’t want the blood for experiments, but for herself, as, it is revealed, that she is a vampire! One thing about a Milligan film, is sometimes things can appear out of nowhere.
Next up on the disc is THE BODY BENEATH. In 1968, Milligan had gone to England after making a multi picture deal with producer Leslie Elliot. Eliot had been involved with producing the MGM film THE LIQUIDATORS (1965) but he also ran the privateThe Compton Cinema), and ,having released some of Milligan‘s earlier work in the U.K., he may have been on the lookout for inexpensive product that he would own.
Their first production was NIGHTBIRDS (Cinemedia, released in 1970). The dark kitchen sink drama barely got a release and vanished for years. Thanks to Nicolas Winding Refn (director of NEON DEMON, Broad Green 2016) and the BFI, the film was been restored and released to DVD in England in 2013, where it has been getting mixed reviews but better than one often associates with Milligan’s work.
Refn is obsessed with Milligan’s work, buying up prints from various sources, including those in the private collection of author Jimmy McDonough, who wrote the must have biography of the director, THE GHASTLY ONE (Chicago Review Press,1st Edition, October 1,2001). For more on the fascination by the one director for the other, read
For some reason, Leslie Eliot dissolved the partnership during the making of one of the remaining films (no doubt the director’s caustic personality) , and Milligan was forced to deal once again with William Mishkin.
Mishkin and his Constellation Films were known mostly for cheap nudies and sexploitation films. He was willing to help distribute films by Milligan because even if they just played the NYC grind circuit he could make his money back. Unfortunately, distributors could and would sublease titles out to other regional distributors, so filmmakers would be at the mercy of the original distributors for a full accounting. Neglect by the distributors is also how many of these and other films were lost (it is said that Mishkin’s son destroyed the films rather than pay for film storage fees). Is it any wonder after a lifetime of mistreatment that Milligan’s negative world view seeped so heavily into his work?
It is doubtful that Milligan ever saw more than what he spent on making his films, and, like poor Ed Wood, did not retain the rights to his own work. Mishkin had backs Milligan’s sexploiter THE PROMISCUOUS SEX (1967, “Made in Greenwich Village! “ for about $10,000, returning a profit over 13 times its budget), and so he was willing to back the four remaining British films, if they were exploitive.
The results were BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (released January 1970,on a whopping $18,000 budget, with certain scenes filmed when Milligan returned to the U.S.),THE RATS ARE COMING, THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE (released in May,1972, again an $18,000 budget ,with some footage shot in Staten Island to complete /pad the film after Milligan returned to the U.S. in 1970), THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS (released June 1972,shot on a “massive” $20,000 budget) ,and the film we are reviewing here THE BODY BENEATH (released September, 1970,again with a budget of $20,000 estimated).
THE BODY BENEATH is one of Milligan’s most uniformly acted production. There are less overly over the top histronics, though still many plummy performances. Like all his British films, this was shot with his 16mm Auricon camera. These cameras were popular with journalists as they were a single system machine that recorded sound DIRECTLY to the optical track, thus eliminating the need for a separate audio recorder. A major liability was the camera were parallax view, meaning you were not looking directly through the lens, but what you saw from your viewfinder was slightly off from what was really being filmed.
In a wide shot, this is not normally a problem, but Milligan’s style were tight shots to cover perhaps how little set decoration there was in the scene, giving the framing an often claustrophic effect. Plus, one of the characters might be barely in the shot due to the framing problem combined with the parallel view. Retakes, alas, would cost too much.
Auricon 16mm camera rig used by reporter Tony Hamilton not Milligan
The film begins with Anna Ford (Susan Clark,NOT the Canadian actress of the same name who played Mary Kelly in MURDER BY DECREE ,Avco,1979. This British actress seemed to have done mostly minor roles, with this being her largest part.) going to place flowers at her mother’s grave just as the graveyard is about to close. Never a good thing, as Barbra (Judith O’Dea) found out in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD(Continental,1968).
Moments after the caretaker alerts her to the closure, Anna finds herself surrounded by several bluish tinged blonde women. “Hellloooo” says one with an almost childlike quality. This is a bit chilling, but the print has very warbly sound at this point (though I don’t know if any other print that I have seen is any better, so it may have been in the original recording and Milligan never bothered to redub it later.).
Just a side note: the original poster declared that the film was “filmed in the graveyards of England”. This was probably to make ticket buyers assume they were going to see a Hammer or Amicus Film. The one thing these films shared was filming in Highgate Cemetery, which was also used in Hammer’s TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970) and Amicus’ TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE(1973).
Highgate today and as it appears in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA
Back to this film. Graham Ford (Colin Gordon.I think IMDB is mistaking him for another actor with the same name so I cannot tell what his credits are.) is awaiting his wife’s return when he is visited by the Reverend Alexander Ford (Gavin Reed,who had small roles in films like CARRY ON LOVING,Rank ,1969, relished his leading role here ) and his wife, Alicia (Susan Heard,who played a maid in Milligan’s NIGHTBIRDS as well as various crew roles on his other U.K. films .).
IMDB : not the same actor who appeared in this film !
Gavin Reed is delightful, making Milligan’s overwrought writing roll easily off his tongue as if he is in an Oscar Wilde play (who is referenced during their exchange), giving the part some much needed wit. His talk of the family genealogy reminds one of Ernest Thesiger in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (Universal, 1932). Graham we discover is Canadian and finds that the Reverend and his wife are freshly arrived from Ireland to re-open All Souls Church (a satellite of the LOST Souls church from GURU?) and he has a lease on Carfax Abbey (a clue for all you Dracula fans) next door. To put a point on it, Graham says that it is right next to Highgate Cemetery. In real life Carfax is near Whitby, nearly 264 miles from London.
Anna comes home but reacts startled by seeing the Reverend. We abruptly cut to another couple, Susan Ford (Jackie Skavellis,who also appeared in Milligan’s THE RATS ARE COMING….) and her boyfriend Paul (Richmond Ross,his only listed film credit). We find out that Susan is pregnant and that she is going to Carfax to meet a relative who recently contacted her, namely the Reverend.
We are introduced to one final relative, Candace Ford (Emma Jones,in her only major role). As she is about to leave her home, her maid answers the door a hunchback, Spool (Berwick Kaler ,who appeared in all of Milligan’s British films, and who since 1981 has appeared as The Grand Dame in York Theatre’s Royal!He has little recollection of his three day’s work on this, other than Milligan wanting him to stoop more) hands her flowers. When she turns, one of the blue faced woman is behind her. She sends the maid to deliver the flowers and steal some blood from Candace by pricking her finger.
Gavin Reed discusses with Berwick Kaler how to stoop lower
Berwick today,in a costume that Milligan would have loved!
The basic plot unfolds that the Ford family line have been vampires, but they need to replenish. Thus, the gathering of the family to restore the bloodline with Susan popping out vampire babies while the other relatives supplying blood.
There is a lot of shaky camera work that is meant to add style but instead induces motion sickness, and many scenes are very ill lit. Gore is low in this film, though a second maid Jessie (Felicity Sentence,who played First Girl in NIGHTBIRDS) ends up with knitting needles to the eyes and dragged off by Spool, while the Reverend seems to need leeches applied to him to keep his blood pressure down, and poor Spool, perhaps the most sympathetic character, is cruelly crucified by the Reverend.
At the end of the film, there is a vampire gathering that shows that Milligan had seen several of Roger Corman’s films, particularly aping the Vaseline smeared lens that Corman employed for his dream sequences. While giving the scene an arty effect, it also perhaps helped hide the improvisational nature of the costumes, which often look they were made from grandma’s sofa!
Hazel Court hazy in Masque Of The Red Death
No one ever addresses why many of the vampires are blue skinned, while the Reverend is not (a question, though, that also comes be questioned about the superior RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, A.I.P.1971, wherein his brides look the worse for wear while he looks handsome, at least until he attacks).
I thought having a vampire as a priest was a unique idea, which allowed Milligan to express his feelings about religion through the character. However, it was pointed out to me that the title character in VARNEY THE VAMPIRE by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest (serialized beginning in 1845) posed as a monk (but was he mad??)at one point and he told his story to a sympathetic priest, before he hurled himself into a volcano . Varney’s subtitle would have fit a Milligan film by the way, FEAST OF BLOOD.
“Neil, are you wearing Grandma ‘s curtains? ” ” No, Ma….”
Andy Milligan’s films , unlike Ed Wood’s , are hard for many to take. One cannot certainly warm up to them as one does with Wood.
Wood, no matter how inept his films, had a certain positiveness to them, a definite “Let Me Entertain You” sincerity, no matter how many wobbly cardboard headstones one saw on display.
Milligan was a more complex individual, dealing with a lot of anger issues, a rage against the world, that he used his theatre work and his films to lash out at what he perceived a cruel world. From all he endured in his life, one is not surprised, but his cruel streak still emerges.
A few of his films have some animal torture which simply pure sadism is (THE RATS ARE COMING had Milligan himself mutilating a poor mouse in the Staten Island shot footage, as well as his killing a pigeon in NIGHTBIRDS) that cannot be condoned.
Luckily none of that is in these two films (just the poor abused actors!).
I cannot say that I find his films entertaining, but that said, they are hypnotically fascinating. Had he more money, a proper crew and support, one wonders what he might have accomplished? Maybe it would have tamed the anger in him. Perhaps he would have eased from the horror films into more films like NIGHTBIRDS and VAPORS, which seem to be where his heart truly was.
What we are left with is a collection of odd films that seem to become more and more a time capsule of what grindhouse truly was.
This ALPHA dual feature could have been called the Andy Milligan Deliver Us from Religion Co bill, and it is nice to get the two films on one affordable disc to recreate the original theatre release from Nova.
If you are curious about grindhouse, microbudget, or seeing what all the cult buzz is about Andy Milligan, then definitely pick up this release.
–Kevin G Shinnick
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