Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blood (1974): or, The Dysfunctional House of Frankenstein

Picture an early Paul Naschy movie, something that might have been ancilliary to the Daninsky saga. Say the plot goes something like this: the son of the world's most famous werewolf returns to the relocated-to-America Talbot estate under an assumed name with his vampire bride, the Daughter of Dracula, in tow. Unable to take possession of his ancestral home immediately , the younger Talbot, something of an amateur scientist, spends his time in a rented house with his two servants (a legless butler named Orlando and his lame, limping, sexually frustrated wife) and his mentally challenged ward Carlotta, performing experiments.

What kind of experiments? Well, mainly they're raising a crop of enormous man-eating plants (!) in the cellar by feeding them Carlotta's blood, so that they can extract from the roots a serum which not only allows Mrs. Talbot to keep from vamping out, but also suppresses the werewolf's transformations every full moon. Then, of course, things start to go wrong...

As you can see, a perfectly serviceable, even smile-inducing kitchen-sink, monster-fantasy plot, worthy of a spot the early Naschy filmography.

Now, subtract all funding for things like effects and sets, remove any sense of competency in the cinematography and editing, and replace Naschy's boundless, child-like joy and enthusiasm with bottomless pits of boiling, seething, unending HATE.

Welcome to Andy Milligan's Blood.

"I hate you."

Working with almost zero budget, Milligan produces a one-hour opus that, while never able to cover up its grindhouse roots, is still difficult to dismiss as the work of a bumbling amateur. Sure, the editing looks to have been done by a chimp with epilepsy, jumping from a conversational scene to an action-filled monster-fight and back in a few feverish tics of a neurotic eye; sure, the cinematography is bottom-drawer throughout, especially in an extended nighttime scene where the viewer must deduce what's going on purely through use of the soundtrack; sure, the sets--meant to be late 1800s manors and inns--are obviously modern apartments and houses (watch especially for the "kitchen" scene)--there's no denying all these zero-budget shortcomings.

Still, though, there's something fascinating, something hypnotic about it all--something that settles in your brain and tells you there's something, SOMETHING there--which prevents you from switching off or looking away.

"God, how I hate you!"

Maybe it's the way Dr. Orlofski (nee Talbot) and his vampire bride snap at each other with a venom that could only come from years of living together in a hatred that sprung from withered love. (In bed the vampire woman, her amorous advances refused, spits at Oronofski "Go to hell!", to which he replies, wearily, "We're already there.") Or the mystery of the ailment that took servant Orlando's legs (forcing him to drag his body around on an cart that is always unseen by the audience--we just hear the squeaking wheels while the actor shuffles around on his knees), an ailment that also infects his sexually frustrated wife, and that perhaps has something to do with the plants.

Perhaps it's everyone's out-in-the-open, reasonless hatred for the grotesque, retarded Carlotta, whose brain damage is the fault of the doctor and his servants taking too much of her blood. Is it the strange borderline incestuous exchange between the female servant and her visiting virile brother? The seemingly kind-hearted lawyer's assistant who in the end proves herself as capable of venom-spitting as any of the other snakes? The incongruous hilarity of the country-fried nosy neighbor? The blink-and-you'll-miss-it transformation of Orlofski to bargain-mask werewolf? The bad accent and strange physical mannerisms of Old Lord Talbot's gypsy lover? The incessant creaking of the man-eating plants?

"I, too, am brimming with hate for you."

Individually, each of these aspects of the film is a standalone piece of absurdity, but taken together they add up to...something. I don't know yet WHAT that something is. But the venom, the VENOM of everyone in this movie for everyone else, the hatred that pervades every scene, in the end just serves to glue all the delirious anachronisms and movie monster mayhem together into one big hateful craft project from Hell.

I don't know why Blood affected me the way it did, or why I can't stop thinking about it. But I have to think that that fact alone--the fact that something in Milligan's shoestring, misanthropic vision won't get out of my head, refuses to be forgotten or ignored--means SOMETHING.

Taken on a sliding scale to its resources, the acting in Blood is actually not bad. Dr. Orlofski in particular handles his role admirably, and a few of the bit characters (the female servant, her husband Orlando, the crooked lawyer and the inquisitive landlord) turn in memorable performances as well. So while no one will win any awards, in the world of shoestring productions, Milligan has a good cast here.

"Hate hate HATE HATE HATE!!!"

I didn't know much about Andy Milligan before watching this, but afterwards, fascinated, I did more research. The erudite and entertaining Bleeding Skull has a thoughtful retrospective of Milligan's filmography (http://bleedingskull.com/features/milligan.html), of which Blood is reportedly the most accessible--other entries are said to contain more gore, more strangeness, more nudity (none in Blood), and more hate.

Though I don't know quite what to make of Andy Milligan, I do know that I want to see more of his work. Maybe it will give more clues to why I'm so fascinated. Or maybe not. Whatever the other films reveal, Blood is an weird piece of no-budget cinema that trash fans everywhere need to see.

2.5 befuddled thumbs up.


PS--Since originally viewing Blood and jotting down my thoughts about it, I've purchased and read the excellent biography The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan by Jimmy McDonough. Milligan is indeed a fascinating, tragic, one-of-a-kind character, and his experiences in grindhouse filmmaking and the Warhol-era NY art scene make for riveting reading. He was not the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with, but definitely an original, for better or worse. I highly recommend the book to those interested.


Karswell said...

Truth be told I haven't seen many Milligan films, and the only ones I can think of off hand that didn't make me wanna chop my eyes off were The Ghastly Ones and The Rats Are Coming- The Werewolves Are Here! Still, both contain lots of stinkiness running rampant.

I can send you a copy of Carnage if you want? It's soooooo terrible you will laugh off your bunz of steel!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Hey, I'm always up for some carnage. :)

In all seriousness, though, even if you hate his films, the biography I linked is well worth reading. A picture of obsession, neurosis, and filmmaking. Fascinating.

Karswell said...

I think the guy is 100% inspired which makes his films slightly mentionable... if only there was just a single ounce of film talent to back up his ideas he'd probably be miles more interesting than HGL.

Tenebrous Kate said...

I have yet to see an Andy Milligan film, but I will confess that you make this movie sound like a tempting sort of freakish Paul Naschy/Paul Morrissey hybrid with a raging hate-on. I'll be adding this to the list of titles to seek out!

Anonymous said...

I see here a film review for an Andy Milligan film where the reviewer is struck by its venom and hatred? That is Milligan's specialty - that's what Milligan's movies are all about. I however missed the chance to order this on DVD and I'm very disappointed as I have not seen Blood! though I have seen many other Milligan pictures. Anyone for Guru the Mad Monk?

The Vicar of VHS said...

Hi, Anonymous!

Thanks for stopping by. I actually reviewed Guru here:

I need to see more Milligan. I was fascinated by the recent biography that came out and would like to see more.

Anonymous said...

You get to see more Neil Flanagan (who played Guru) as Peter the Eye in Torture Dungeon... he chairs the council and his two associates are also called "Peter" - he sports an eye patch and what seems to be the same outfit as his red Guru one. At one point he says, "Does my eye deceive me..."

Jeremy Brooks, who is Father Polanski in Guru the Mad Monk, plays the main villain in Torture Dungeon... he's the one who says "I hate time! Time is evil! Time is spent! It must be destroyed!", and then starts hitting his hunchback servant and having a fit...

Anonymous said...

Blood! is now available for download on the Internet for free.

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