Welcome back, kids, to this Saturday's double-feature from the Something Weird series. I chose "The Ghastly Ones" and "Seeds of Sin" entirely at random only figuring it was another combination of a cheap horror film and a sexploitation flick from the old days only to discover that both films are the work of director Andy Milligan (1924-1991). Early today I would have said that all I knew about Milligan as a cult auteur was that he was out there in the realm of underground films somewhere between Ed Wood and Russ Meyer pointed in the direction of Roger Corman. I had also heard of Michael Weldon's choice riposte from "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film" where he declared, "If you're an Andy Milligan fan, there's no hope for you." These two films provide all the evidence you would ever need to conform Weldon's hypothesis.
Milligan made 29 movies between 1965 and 1968, consisting mainly of gory horror films dressed up as period pieces, such as "Bloodthirsty Butchers" and "The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!", and sex melodramas with rampant nudity, including "Gutter Trash" and "Fleshpot on 42nd Street" as part of NYC's "grindhouse" cinema (most of the theaters were on 42nd Street). Milligan shot most of his films with a hand held 16mm movie camera on extremely cheap budgets. What usually happened then was the films were blown up to 35mm size and shown in and around New York "art" theaters. Today there are only three of Milligan's films available on DVD and here are two of them (the third is "The Body Beneath"). Something Weird has apparently included every trailer they could find for a Milligan opus (even if they do not have sound).
"The Ghastly Ones" (a.k.a. "Blood Rites"), Milligan's first horror film, is a 1968 film shot in "cranium-cleaving color" at his Victorian mansion on Staten Island. After a prologue in which a couple with a really large umbrella are hacked up by some guy, this movie has three daughters and their husbands at a reading of their late father's will. It is his wish that the couples spend three days in the family mansion "in sexual harmony," and then they will find out who gets what from the old man. But once there the handyman is eating live rabbits, the couples start fighting, and then people start dying and showing up as the main course at dinner.
It takes a long time to get to anything remotely close to the required sexual harmony and even longer for characters to start dropping, but once they do, they start dropping like flies. But by then you might be asleep. It has been a long time since I have seen a horror film where nothing happens for such a long time. But if you are loose for a high content of cheese with your blood and gore, you will not be disappointed. This film comes with a spirited discussion between actor Hal Borske, who plays Colin the guy who eats the rabbit, and Frank Henenlotter, the director of "Basket Case." In addition to insights into Milligan's work both interesting and irreverent, they discuss Da Vinci writing backwards and other unexpected choice topics. The first two-thirds of the film is a two, the last third a four, and the commentary a five. Do your own math.
"Seeds of Sin" (originally released as "Seeds") was also shot in 1968, at the same location, and offers a similar plot wherein a family reunion ends up with everybody dead (the end). Claris Manning (Maggie Rogers) is a wretched old invalid whose daughter Carol (Candy Hammond) decides to invite the rest of her siblings home for the holiday. But since there is an inheritance to be had when the old lady dies, the list of possible benefactors needs to be trimmed. Because this film is shot in black & white there is not as much gore, and I should also point out that the film ponders the question, if you are contemplating suicide and a door opens driving a sharp instrument into your heart, were you murdered? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Like "The Ghastly Ones," this film opens with a scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the film involving an orgy. The difference is that this prologue was clearly shot by someone other than Milligan with different actors. In other words, this is the "producer's cut" of "Seeds of Sin," because the producers decided to take sex scenes and insert them in between (and sometimes during) the scenes Milligan shot. It is really easy to tell the inserted stuff, because the music suddenly becomes most drums and some guitar. This is X-rated material (not XXX-rated material) and watching this film takes me back to watching late night horror shows, except that instead of commercials suddenly popping up at the wrong times we have Sixties style porn. It also has me wondering when was the last time I saw such serious tan lines in a movie.
Fortunately the people at Something Weird uncovered the first and third reels of the original 16mm footage Milligan shot. Some of it does not have sound, but the 40 minutes of that are twice as good as the finished movie, which is twice as long. But in its edited form "Seeds of Sin" is a true cinematic car wreck, by which I mean you cannot take your eyes off of it as Milligan's story get interrupted for the sex scenes. From the original footage and the unfinished trailer included on the DVD, you can get some idea as to what was cut to make room for the sex scenes (apparently they did some cutting before the insertions). There might not be a Doctoral dissertation in reconstructing the original "Seeds of Sin," but you could probably get a decent Master's thesis out of it. Both versions of the film merit four stars for decidedly different reasons.
All of the extras are found in "Andy's Closet," which includes the above mentioned footage, the extant trailers of the Andy Milligan oeuvre, and as is to case to date with these double-feature CDs from Something Weird earn five stars (or higher for the unrepentant fans of Milligan). Be aware that the copies of both films have some significant problems, with "The Ghastly Ones" being all scratched up and the original parts of "Seeds of Sin" having major sound problems (subtitles would have been nice). So, that would be three stars for the first feature, four stars for the second, plus five for the extras, which adds up to twelve, divided by two is six, which is one more than five, so we round down because this DVD is a celebration of a true giant of sexploitation and horror. Be sure to join us next Saturday night, when we have "Bloodlust" and "Atom Age Vampire" on the midnight menu.