The Ghastly Ones/Seeds of Sin
By: Paul Ryan on September 27, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. 148 minutes
The Movie
Director: Andy Milligan
Starring: Veronica Radburn, Hal Borske
Screenplay: Hal Sherwood, Andy Milligan/ John Borske, Andy Milligan
Country: USA
Year: 1967/1968
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 her money…

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 full frame.
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.
Extra Features
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.
The Verdict
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.
Movie Score
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