Much is made of the ragged nature of Andy Milligan’s films in horror/grindhouse circles, which was a reflection of him being an autodidact who wore multiple hats throughout the production and post-production processes. However, despite the catch-as-catch-can aesthetic of his films, he managed to get the majority of his films into theatrical release.
Even more impressive was the fact that he managed to make films on both sides of the Atlantic. After several experiences being ripped off by American distributors, he threw in his lot with aspiring young producer Leslie Elliot in the U.K. This development would implode before he could complete a projected three film deal but Milligan, ever resourceful, pitched some ideas to old financier/foe William Mishkin in NYC. In a year, he produced five feature films before returning to the States – and this Milliganmania installment picks out a triple bill of the best for your home theater programming pleasure.
THE CURSE OF THE FULL MOON: This one’s better known to grindhouse buffs as The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, a version retooled at the behest of distributor William Mishkin that cashed in on the success of Willard by adding in a handful of rat-themed horror scenes (one involving the real, very nasty killing of a mouse). It’s better in its initial, Milligan-approved version, in which a prodigal daughter brings her prospective beau home to the family manse and lights the fuse on a barrage of family secrets, hostilities and, yes, lycanthropy. Divorced of the release version’s cut-away digressions, the original cut has more of a pressurized feel that makes you feel like you’re trapped in the house with the loonies. Some complain it’s too gabby but the exchanges and monologues have that rat-a-tat-tat energy one associates with Milligan’s strongest work and it benefits from a solid, mostly English cast that can carry his reams of dialogue (that said, American Milligan regular Hope Stansbury is the scene-stealer here as a bad seed daughter who gets nuttier with each reel). Also worthy of note: Milligan’s unique take on lycanthropy, which is interwoven with his take on the poisonous nature of family lineage, and a frenzied final reel where the monstrousness inherent in the family comes boiling to the surface with fur and fangs.
BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS: this is Milligan’s take on the Sweeney Todd legend, with the usual Milligan menagerie of tormented melodramatic subplots revolving around the main story of a barber who kills customers that won’t be missed, takes their valuables and then hands them off to a female bakery owner who uses their carcasses as the secret ingredient in her meat pies. Between the periodic killings, he weaves in periodic doses of cheesecake and a subplot involving the villain having a mistress who works in a theater (thus allowing Milligan to draw on his off-Broadway background in a convincing manner). The mostly English cast is pretty strong, with the scene-stealers being Berwick Kaler as a lusty, greedy assistant to the bakery owner and U.S. player Susan Cassidy as Sweeney’s floozy mistress. Look out for a few fun shock moments, the most memorably being a couple finding a gruesome surprise under the crust of a tough pie, and prepared to be stunned by an unexpected happy ending.
THE BODY BENEATH: this represents the vampire myth as interpreted by Milligan. To his credit, he manages to make it dovetail with a number of his pet themes while also showing an unexpected gift for creating the kind of quietly creepy atmosphere you might associate with European gothic horror. The plot revolves around a sinister priest (Gavin Reed) who heads up a family of vampires and plots to bring uninitiated relatives into his wicked plans to maintain his power. Like The Night Of The Full Moon, Milligan reinterprets vampire mythology to incorporate his take on the poisonous, domineering nature of families. Milligan achieves some surreal imagery utilizing vampire brides in brightly colored costumes and face paint, at times giving this feel of a Jean Rollin or Jesus Franco film. Look out for a sex scene early in the film that plays like an abstract figure study and the amazing finale, which piles vaseline on the lens to create a trippy look as the vampires have the surrealistic version of a board meeting to determine their fates and those of the living.