The Dungeon of Andy Milligan Collection
1965-1984 / 1.33:1, 1:85.1.
Starring Neil Flanagan, Berwick Kaler, Maggie Rogers
Cinematography by Andy Milligan
Directed by Andy Milligan
“I should have killed Andy.” – Jimmy McDonough
In 1987 Andy Milligan was working on his latest film, a bloody revenge saga with a Frankenstein theme called Monstrosity. His biographer Jimmy McDonough was by his side, working the clapper, absorbing Milligan’s abuse, and taking notes on the final years of the director, still a poisonous devil when the mood took him. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1929, dead 62 years later in Los Angeles, Milligan wore his resentments like a crown, shoveling contempt on anyone who crossed his path—including his audience.
Made wherever the money was, New York, London or Staten Island, Milligan’s body of work spanned continents yet the results were anything but sophisticated—juvenile and uncommonly mean spirited, the films resembled the Super 8 fantasies of a disturbed 12 year old. His screenplays usually stretched 10 minutes worth of action across a 90 minute running time—which left plenty of room for dialog, except Milligan didn’t write dialog, he urped up endless exposition punctuated by angry rants—like their director, his characters were a vocal band of malcontents. They were vicious, too—the hallmark of any Milligan film was its violence, usually carried out with a rusty tool like a pitchfork or handsaw—the more medieval, the better. Preposterously fake but vigorously executed, that bloodshed constituted the only truly happy moments in his movies—the carnage was so gleefully performed there was little doubt Milligan would have preferred to be in front of the camera himself, whaling away with his trusty axe.
“Many film directors were once puppeteers. That’s why actors say, “We’re not your puppets.” And we think to ourselves, ‘Oh yes, you are.'” – John Waters
As an ex-navy man, dressmaker, sadist, and puppeteer, Milligan found a convenient outlet for at least three of his hobbies in the Off Broadway theaters of the early sixties. Storied, if tiny, venues like Caffe Cino and La Mama, along with even more threadbare spaces like The Showboat (where Milligan directed Abe Vigoda in a George Bernard Shaw play), gave the young playwright-director an opportunity to vent his spleen in excoriating melodramas like The Two Executioners. In 1962 he filmed 8mm excerpts of two of those plays (Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession and Eugene O’Neill’s Before Breakfast) before attempting his first full scale film project. Using (in every sense) a rotating band of actors from Caffe Cino, Milligan cobbled together a bleak little drama called Vapors, a quasi-coming out story set inside the graffiti-streaked walls of St. Mark’s Baths. Starring Cino regular Gerald Jacuzzo the 30 minute vignette was sincere but its grim and otherworldly setting made sure it would remain a niche item (though it did reach a wider audience when it was billed with Paul Morrissey’s My Hustler in 1966).
The desolate nature of Vapors had a chilling effect on its box office inspiring Milligan to switch gears for his encore. Cheerful sexploitation pictures—”nudie cuties” like Russ Meyers’s The Immoral Mr. Teas—wallpapered 42nd Street during the early sixties. And then there was sexploitation marinated in malice. Channeling his bile into product readymade for the disgruntled raincoat crowd, Milligan’s The Promiscuous Sex and Gutter Trash were scuzzy skin films for straights but produced by a gay man with a sadistic streak. Milligan’s latest offerings were, in the words of producer Lew Mishkin, “sexless sex pictures.” Even Al Goldstein’s Screw Magazine hated the stuff (“…hours of beatings, whippings, rapes, etc., etc., ad nauseam.”)
Milligan managed to find a measure of success with those grubby wankfests but still longed for a better return on his meager budgets. In the summer of 1967 he brought a work-in-progress to film distributor Sam Sherman. The unfinished film was a sexy period piece ala Ten Little Indians about the reading of a will and some mysterious murders. The savvy Sherman was a good judge of profitable trash—at 27 he was already wise to the ways of “The Deuce” and kept his nose to the grindhouse. His verdict on Milligan’s reel? “This is as bad as something gets.” Sherman suggested the director’s efforts would benefit from the addition of some bloodshed for the blood hounds—in essence he advised Milligan to follow the lead of schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis who graduated from Bell, Bare and Beautiful to Blood Feast—and made a pretty penny.
Milligan took Sherman’s advice and on September 6, 1968, The Ghastly Ones opened in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Mooresville Drive-in on a double bill with She Freaks (“all in bloody color”). Milligan’s sub-par recording techniques must have been especially difficult to grasp on the tinny drive-in speakers but what appeared onscreen—an incoherent melange of mannequin parts, animal innards, and something resembling raspberry syrup—somehow spoke to the hardtop crowd. Milligan touched a nerve that night in Charlotte—The Ghastly Ones was still making its way around town at Christmas. Thanks to Sam Sherman and the enigmatic movie fans of North Carolina, Milligan was able to continue his reign of error.
Milligan learned all about sadism from his mother (she would hold his hand to a hot stove as punishment) and so it made sense that most of his films would portray home life as not only unhappy but downright depraved. Seeds is the story of one such family at Christmastime—”Sown in incest, harvested in hate!” The main antagonist (among many) is Neil Flanagan as Matthew, a priest who returns home with a nympho in tow but spends most of the holiday bedding his equally ravenous siblings, including younger sister Carol and brother Buster—who apparently wasn’t so willing back in the day (“You ruined my life by touching me!”) Milligan’s camera whips from one atrocity to another—McDonough branded the roller-coaster movement “Swirl Camera”—and only settles down to concentrate on the sordid confessions: as Buster, Gary Connolly is awarded one of the funniest monologues in the Milligan canon, an out of control screed about misunderstood Nazis (he screams all his dialog). Being a Milligan film the family members are dropping like flies, picked off one by one by a shadowy killer. The least likely suspect (there’s a clue for you) is the usually naked Carol (played by Candy Hammond of Gutter Trash). Hammond rocked the exploitation world by marrying her director during a break in the filming (Milligan gave Candy a rain check on their wedding night and left to celebrate at a gay bar—cruel but on brand.)
In the spring of 1968, Milligan killed some time shooting Torture Dungeon with Staten Island standing in for the coast of England. The bloody tale of a depraved monarch’s power grab suggested Milligan was repeating himself but as luck would have it he found financing for a block of films to be shot in London proper. Though new surroundings tend to expand a man’s horizons, Milligan’s relocation did the opposite. The films he wrote and directed while overseas were prime Milligan—essence du merde. The director was in the right place and time to test people’s nerves; in some quarters of the burgeoning punk scene, misfit moviemakers like Milligan were perceived as part of the invading army, a take-no-prisoners cultural insurgence personified by The Damned and nihilistic performance artist G.G. Allen (Todd Phillips’s 1993 documentary on the doomed rocker even had a Milligan-friendly title, Hated.)
Shot on a formidable Hempstead Heath estate used as a backdrop for The Rolling Stones’s Beggar’s Banquet gatefold, The Body Beneath, though blessed with stately surroundings, sported a half-assed plot about a vampire looking to extend his progeny. The movie ends in a bacchanal of bloodshed, a sequence with a dreamy/fractured vibe that wouldn’t be out of place in Roger Corman’s The Trip. Body was followed by a particularly ugly, if haplessly cheesy, take on Sweeney Todd, Bloodthirsty Butchers. The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! began as a tale about a family of werewolves but was expanded by producer William Mishkin to include a rodent subplot thanks to the success of Willard. All of Milligan’s London films were Edwardian period pieces but Nightbirds, written on the plane trip to England, aims for an intimate character study ala Vapors. The trailer promises the movie is “for young people who don’t mind having their faces slapped” but the film, basically a two character piece about the pitfalls of desire, is for the most part positively sanguine—compared to Milligan’s bath house debut, it looks like a Cassavetes project. Berwick Kalar plays a lost and lonely man-child named “Dink” and Julie Shaw, a truly odd presence, plays Dee, the strangely pliant girlfriend with whiplash mood swings.
Fresh from his European sojourn Milligan remained a stubbornly unchanged man—the only difference in his working habits by way of a new 35mm camera. Though the unwieldy contraption gave Milligan fits with its more complex synchronization system, the new technology did nothing to affect the usual mess playing out in front of the camera. Guru, the Mad Monk was shot in the fall of 1970 and, as McDonough noted, the heavier camera had a distinct effect on Milligan’s dizzy shooting style—no more “Swirl Camera.” Though for Milligan fans used to his grainy 16mm projects, the switch to 35mm must have felt like Dorothy opening the door to Oz.
In the mid-seventies Greil Marcus reported a friend’s cruel but kind review of Van Morrison: “If he had much stage presence it’d be hard to take.” So it was with Andy Milligan—if he had any talent his films would be unbearable. But 1972’s Fleshpot on 42nd Street hints at the movie that Milligan could have made had he been able to roil our emotions instead of our stomachs. It’s the story of a young streetwalker whose road to ruin takes a detour—her tryst with a pick-up leads to unexpected happiness—a new feeling for the love-hungry hooker. The john is named “Bob”, an amiable doofus played by the legendary stickman Harry Reems as if auditioning for a shampoo commercial. But it’s prolific porn actress Laura Cannon (real name Janet Lynn Channin) as Dusty, the world-weary, near-numb prostitute who gives the film its low key but very real punch. That her happiness is short-lived and her fate ghastly, reminds us that this is not only another Milligan movie, it also underscores his debt to the hardscrabble pre-code dramas of the early thirties.
There was a precipitous drop in Milligan’s output after Fleshpot on 42nd St. He made 22 movies between 1967 and 1973 but only seven between 1978 and 1989 (1973’s Legacy of Blood, already a typically Milliganesque exercise in cognitive dissonance, deserves an asterisk just on the merits: it had its premiere at Staten Island’s Jerry Lewis Cinema). His remaining days were spent in Los Angeles, his work still energized by the rancorous passions of his New York days. Jimmy McDonough was on hand for Milligan’s not-so-grand finale and his absolutely essential book The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan, details the decline with humor and pathos—but the writer has no illusions about his subject: “When Andy’s movies are bad, there’s nothing—nothing—worse.” Thirty years later, Andy Milligan continues to assault our senses. He’s been feted with a lavishly illustrated biography and now Severin’s lavish home video release—an exquisitely produced salute to one of the grindhouse era’s most troublesome characters. With this book and Severin’s new set at hand, it’s difficult to think what else the Milligan completist could want—but voila, there it is nestled in the box next to the discs: Venom—a comprehensive booklet by Stephen Thrower that adds to the legend and fills in even more detailed information about Milligan’s scattershot production history.
Severin handles Milligan’s oeuvre as if they were curating an Ozu retrospective. Among the rarities are two, count ’em, two, versions of Legacy of Blood with the original theatrical cut and the television edit titled Legacy of Horror. Blood (1973) and Carnage (1984), are cut-rate horrors but harder to find than hen’s teeth. Also, in its entirety, is a thing called Toga Party which is actually a revamped Animal House cash-in from 1977 called Pelvis—Milligan was hired to shoot soft core inserts, much to the surprise of the original actors at the movie’s premiere. The transfers for each film are excellent, getting the most out of these decades-old prints as is humanly possible; the colors are strong (for a Milligan film), the grain is subdued (for a Milligan film) and the detail is… delightful? (for a Milligan film).
Here is the official lineup from Severin:
Disc 1: The Ghastly Ones
Audio Commentary with Actor Hal Borske and Filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
Audio Commentary with CineFear.com’s Keith Crocker
Partial Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Fred Olen Ray
Blood Rites Alternate Title Sequence
Ghastly & Depraved – Interview with Marketing Wiz Samuel M. Sherman
Trailer for Lost Milligan Film Depraved!
Talk Of The Trade – Interview with Early Milligan Actress Natalie Rogers
The Filthy Five – One German Language Reel of Lost Milligan Film
Runtime: 72 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 2: The Body Beneath / Nightbirds
The Body Beneath:
Audio Commentary with Film Scholars Vic Pratt and Will Fowler
Runtime: 82 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Audio Commentary with Actor Berwick Kaler & Film Scholar Stephen Thrower
Runtime: 77 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/B&W/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 3: Torture Dungeon / Bloodthirsty Butchers
Torture Dungeon (Never Before Released Director’s Cut):
Audio Commentary with Milligan Historian Alex DiSanto
Runtime: 80 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Bloodthirsty Butchers (Never Before Released Director’s Cut):
Runtime: 79 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 4: The Curse of the Full Moon (Never Before Released Director’s Cut) / The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! (Theatrical Cut)
The World of Andy Milligan – Locations Featurette Narrated by Temple of Schlock’s Chris Poggiali
The Curse of the Full Moon Specs: Runtime 73 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!: Runtime: 92 minutes/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 5: Man With Two Heads / Guru, the Mad Monk
Man With Two Heads (Never Before Released Director’s Cut):
Party Sequence – Alternate Version
Runtime: 89 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Guru, the Mad Monk (Presented in 1.85.1 and 1.33.1 Versions):
Audio Commentary with CineFear.com’s Keith Crocker
Remembering Andy Milligan – Interview with Set Photographer Tom Vozza
Runtime: 56 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 and 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 6: Legacy of Blood (Never Before Released Theatrical Cut) / Legacy of Horror (TV Cut)
Blood or Horror – Interview with Executive Producer Ken Lane
Legacy of Chris – Interview with Actor Chris Broderick
Legacy of Blood Specs: Runtime: 77 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Legacy of Horror Specs: Runtime: 83 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 7: Fleshpot on 42nd Street / Seeds
Vapors (1965, 32 min)
Fleshpot on 42nd Street Specs: Runtime: 87 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Seeds Specs: Runtime: 84 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 8: Carnage / Blood
Toga Party (1979, 84 min)
Carnage Specs: Runtime: 92 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Blood Specs: Runtime: 69 minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1/Color/English Mono w/Closed Caps/All Region
Disc 9: The Bearded Lady’s Wake CD – Electronic Music by Frequent Milligan Collaborator Hal Borske
Bonus: Andy Milligan’s Venom (All New 128 page book by Stephen Thrower)