Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. 148 minutes
Director: Andy Milligan Starring: Veronica Radburn,
Hal Borske Screenplay: Hal Sherwood,
Andy Milligan/ John Borske, Andy Milligan Country: USA
Andy Milligan is the unheralded king (or some
might say, queen) of no-budget Staten Island horror
cinema. Quite a title, no? A regular jack-of-all-trades,
Milligan wrote, costumed, photographed and directed
a series of ultra, ultra, ultra-cheap exploitation
films over a nearly 30 year career. None of his
films are regarded as especially good, but they
certainly were ambitious. Most sensible directors
wouldn't dare mount a period horror film on
a budget of less than $20,000 (even in 1960's
dollars), but Milligan probably would have called
them wimps. Alternating between reels of talky exposition,
chronically unerotic sex scenes, gore of varying
believability and curious moments of gay angst,
Milligan's films are, at the very least, distinctive.
Terrible to be sure, but distinctive.
Most of Milligan's oeuvre has been hard
to come by in Australia, but thanks to Siren (and
moreover, Something Weird Video) the terminally
curious (i.e.: fools like me) can now see what
all the fuss was about.
Milligan's first color film, The
Ghastly Ones, begins with a double murder
than has bugger-all connection to the rest of
the film (and was actually tacked on by the film's
producers). Afterwards, three well-to-do sisters
(and their husbands) are summoned to their late
father's estate for the reading of his will.
As per the will, the three couples are required
to spend three nights in "sexual harmony"
(Milligan's words, not mine) at the estate
after which they can claim their inheritance.
As you'd expect, a hooded maniac (not the
killer depicted in the unrealated opening scene)
has other ideas, most of them involving stabbing,
burning, poisoning and other pro-social activities.
Featuring headache-inducing camerawork (try to
count how many times you can see Milligan's
shadow looming over the actors), shaky period
detail (these 19th century society sisters have
some awfully fulsome – dare I say fake –
eyelashes) and dodgy gore (the blood looks like
undiluted raspberry cordial!) The Ghastly Ones
is 71 minutes of pure Z-grade insanity. But the
fun doesn't stop there, as we also have
Milligan later opus Seeds of Sin to chew on….
Seeds of Sin is, on the surface,
pretty much a retread of the earlier film, but
has a few unique quirks of its own. Filmed in
exactly the same house as The Ghastly
Ones (the awful lattice wallpaper in
the staircase being the chief giveaway), the film
concerns sweet young Carol (Candy Hammond, who
was married to the openly gay Milligan in real
life), who has brought her squabbling siblings
together to spend Christmas with their cantankerous
- not to mention crippled – mother Clairis
(Maggie Rogers). Surrounded by conniving house
staff and her feuding children, Claris taunts
everyone with the knowledge that she hasn't
made a will. Not that this stops a mystery maniac
from knocking off everyone in sight to get to
That synopsis is about as coherent as Seeds
of Sin gets, as the plot frequently grinds
to a halt to allow for numerous sex scenes, many
of them tacked on by Milligan's financiers
and totally unconnected to the rest of the film.
Still, there's plenty of amusement to be
had here, from the loopy dialogue ("You
all ruined my life, now I'm going to ruin
your dinner!" mad Ma barks at one point),
laughably bad sex scenes – even the ones
shot by Milligan – and demented characterization.
Most amusing is the supporting character of Buster,
a meek, self-loathing, mother-dominated, self-harming
sissy-boy. Arrested Development fans, take note…
Visually both films are as good as their source
material, which is to say, not very. Transferred
from authentically battered 16mm prints, every clumsy
setup, each ill-focused shot and every imaginable
picture film artifact is replicated with complete
fidelity. The print of Seeds of Sin is in better condition than The Ghastly
Ones but is no less problematic for different
reasons. Many of the shots in Seeds judder like crazy (perhaps a result of Milligan's
crummy 16mm camera) and only made the headache I
experienced during the film even worse. The actual
DVD transfer is free of any technical gremlins;
though to be honest, a digital restoration of these
films would take away from the authentic grind house
feel. The disc, a direct port from the US release,
is in NTSC format and all the content is presented
Slightly more bearable than the vision, though
it does get quite muffled at times. The two films
are presented in 2.0 mono, and is similarly unrestored.
This does result in the moments where you can actually
hear Milligan calling out directions to the cast
being preserved for digital posterity.
There's a mighty fine selection of features
on offer here. If you've never heard of
Milligan, the extras here provide a thorough introduction
the work of the Staten Island auteur. For those
who have, you'll be in hog heaven.
Commentary for The Ghastly Ones:
Hal Borske (Colin the hunchback) and Basket
Case Director Frank Hennenlotter get
together for an endearingly honest commentary
track. Borske shares a lot of trivia on the making
of the film (the actors got paid just $25 dollars
per day) and his friendship with Milligan. Hennenlotter
shares his experiences of seeing Milligan's
films on the big screen (lots of eyestrain) and
preparing these films for DVD. A fascinating listen
and a terrific feature.
Seeds of Sin Workprint (40.35):
Two reels from Milligan's original 16mm
workprint, covering the opening and closing of
the film. This features a number of scenes not
included in the final print, making the story
line a little bit clearer. It's also worth
a look for the unforgettable experience of hearing
Milligan's voice off screen directing two
of the actors during a sex scene!
Andy Milligan Exploitation Art Gallery (8.10):
A series of stills from The Ghastly Ones, Bloodthirsty Butchers and Torture
Dungeon, set to music by Hal Borske.
Okay if you're a Milligan completist, not
very interesting otherwise.
Trailers: First up is an unfinished trailer
for Seeds of Sin (4.39), which
consists of random scenes cut together. Like the
workprint there are some scenes not present in
the final cut. We also get a trailer for The
Ghastly Ones (1:39) that looks even worse
than the feature itself. Trailers are also included
for Milligan's later films The Body
Beneath (2:55), Guru, The Mad
Monk (2:20) and the unforgettably titled The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are
Here! (1:00). A silent (as in the audio
likely no longer exists) trailer for Milligan's
early gay bathhouse drama Vapors (1:10) rounds out the package.
A hysterical double header for fans of Staten
Island's answer to Ed Wood. For newbies to
the Milligan aesthetic, either keep some booze on
hand to enhance the experience, or some paracetemol
to cope with the camerawork.
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Originally born unto this world as Terror Australis.net back in March 2002, Digital Retribution is a proudly Australian website devoted to all things horror, cult, and exploitation that strives to promote Australian films and filmmakers while sharing its questionable taste in ultra-violent smut-laden local and international offerings with the rest of the world.