And then there's Andy Milligan. Just as compulsively devoted to making movies, just as inspired by tales of monsters and mayhem, just as determined to overcome shortcomings of money or talent as any of the above-mentioned luminaries, Milligan's oeuvre is something else entirely. For Naschy and Franco and others, nearly every film, no matter how "bad," seems a genuine expression of a deep kind of love. For Milligan, every movie seems a scream of pain and rage, an open, suppurating psychological wound. With the Joymongers above, you want to sit down and talk movies with them over a glass of fine port. With Milligan, you just want him to get help. NOW.
Perhaps Milligan's most eye-catchingly titled film, The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! (1972) is no exception. Though lighter on the papier mache gore effects and overt sadism of Guru the Mad Monk (1970) or the monster-on-monster action of Blood (1974)--reviewed here and here on MMMMMovies respectively--TRaC!TWaH! is still packed to the gills with all the venom and hysterical hate of both those movies, and then some. Is that a recommendation? Maybe.
|It's Hobo-Stomping Day!|
Turns out the victim is Malcolm Mooney (Berwick Kaler), the mentally handicapped youngest son of the aristocratic Mooney clan. His rescuers are brother Mortimer (Noel Collins), eldest sister Phoebe (Joan Ogden), and youngest sister Monica (Blood's Hope Stansbury).Far from being concerned about their brother's burns, however, the Mooney siblings immediately start hurling hateful recriminations at each other for having let Malcolm get out of his cell. Monica even spanks her wounded brother as Mortimer hauls him inside, which doesn't seem very sisterly to me.
|"I'll show you all! I WILL win the World Bitch Championships this year!"|
It doesn't take long for the audience to realize that the Mooneys are as dysfunctional as grass is green. When Phoebe wonders aloud why Monica hates Malcolm so much, Mortimer spits back, "Monica hates everything and everybody! She's just ONE BIG HATE." When Phoebe tattles to bedridden Pa Mooney (Douglas Phair) about her sister's behavior, she gets another dose of venom. "I'm tired of Monica getting blamed for everything. She's my baby, and she'll always be my baby! If you don't like it, then GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" Pa has a frail ticker, though, and drops into a seizure, whereupon Phoebe injects him with something--a fresh supply of bile is my guess--to keep him going a few more days.
To his credit (?), Milligan packs an awful lot of familial dysfunction into the first five minutes of his flick. All the characters seem absolutely frantic to get out as much hatred and venom as humanly possible in the limited amount of time they're allowed. It's like an episode of the Jerry Springer show that plays 24/7 in the Mooney household. Sartre famously said, "Hell is Other People," and I have to believe that Milligan agrees 100%--though he might add "--and yourself" to that formulation.
|The Disembodied Head of the Amazing Madame Mombo is overcome with passion at the sight of Manly Mortimer's nipples.|
Things don't get any better when youngest daughter Diana (Jackie Skarvellis) comes home, having been away in Scotland at medical school for the past four years. With her she brings hapless new hubby Gerald (Ian Innes), who can have no earthly idea what he's let himself in for in marrying a Mooney. Pa is dead-set against the marriage, hinting cryptically that they "can't take the chance" until he finishes his "experiments"--experiments Diana was educated in order to assist him with. Monica makes it her business to let her new brother-in-law know the score right away, however. "Hello, I'm Monica, the middle sister. The BITCH! The one they always talk about behind her back!" Well, it's not bragging if it's true. Gerald's first dinner with the family further establishes the unwise nature of his choice of bride, as it ends in fisticuffs and Monica shouting, "You go to HELL! ALL OF YOU!" No surprise that Gerald wants to get (the fuck) out of there after one night, and this before he learns the Mooney's real dark secret.
So the way it shakes out is this: the Mooney's are a family of werewolves, which might be a spoiler if it wasn't, you know, in the TITLE of the movie. Their affliction is passed on through the blood, which is why Pa doesn't want any of the kids to marry. Malcolm is the most bestial of the clan--for reasons that become off-puttingly clear later--and Diana is the most nearly normal, since her mother, Pa's second wife, was "untainted" by the curse. However, the second Mrs. Mooney was mysteriously poisoned shortly after Diana's birth, a fact that concerns Pa less than you would think.
|"Mousey, this is going to hurt me more than it does you...haha, just kidding. This is gonna SUCK for you."|
Milligan gets quite a bit of mileage out of questions of familial taint (ooer). Diana explains Malcolm's malady with a shrug: "The genes get mixed up at conception and he never developed into a normal baby!" As it happens Gerald also has a strange family history--his father was executed for raping a six-year-old girl, and Gerald himself was raised by nuns who habitually stripped him naked and whipped him in front of all the other orphans. Though Milligan's ADD-directorial style never allows this to gel into a really cohesive subtext, the pervasiveness of the characters' scarred pasts and their effects on the present are definitely an interesting aspect to the story.
Presumably due to his bestial retardation, Malcolm is locked in a cell-cum-chicken-coop, surrounded by nervous birds that are occasionally thrown across the frame by off-camera crewmen. To control his other children's monthly episodes, Pa sedates them and himself on nights of the full moon, though this doesn't stop the kids from congregating in the courtyard and tearing more chickens apart to sate their unnatural bloodlust. This is actually a rather eerie scene, perhaps because it's the first time in the movie the family gets together without screaming invectives at one another, instead silently cooperating on their little blood ritual. The fact that "voice" of the doomed chicken in its death throes is clearly done by a human impresario--perhaps Milligan himself?--is both hilarious and strangely disquieting.
|Pumpkin Orange Gown + Tan-in-a-Can == FABULOUS!|
We get more of Monica's psychopathy later, when an urchin friend of hers (who appears out of NOWHERE) tries to blackmail her with knowledge of the Mooney curse, and ends up getting hacked to death in a gazebo. This is the only real gore scene of the flick (minus the mouse execution), with Monica cleaving mannequin-hands off stuffed sleeves while Milligan indulges his patented "swirling camera" chaos technique. Not as juicy as the scenes in Guru the Mad Monk, but at least it's something.
After Gerald accidentally touches his mom's silver cross to Monica's back (after she leaps out of his armoire brandishing a knife!), the resultant puff of smoke and screaming exit clues him in to what's really afoot. Pa Mooney tells him the whole story, though strangely his "experiments" seem to have nothing to do with fixing the whole werewolf thing, but rather with prolonging human life towards immortality. (?) Fed up with her sibling's hysteria, Diana has the cross melted down into bullets and buys a gun for them (in another strange extended scene with a lonely silversmith, played by Andy Milligan himself in a fright wig and Fuller Brush-moustache), and gets ready for the Big Climactic Showdown.
Things have been dragging a little in the latter half of the movie, but the final confrontation with the Mooneys brings it back around, as each family member seems compelled to confess some past sin before wolfing out and attacking. (Spoiler: Phoebe's has something to do with the death of Diana's mom and the reason for Malcolm's condition.) Milligan's swirling camera is in full effect again, and it's hard to see whether the werewolf makeup is any good, but I'm guessing not. With her family exterminated, Diana has one more surprise in store for Gerald, who must end up thinking those days being whipped naked by sadistic nuns look pretty good in retrospect.
|Blink and you'll miss him|
I mention Milligan in the same breath as people like Naschy and Marins and Franco, but let's be clear about one thing--as a filmmaker, Andy hasn't a smidgen of the talent of any of those guys. His movies are bad--badly written, badly edited (Andy did the splicing himself as well, with the same ADD quality as his writing and directing), badly photographed, and mostly badly acted. (I would single out Hope Stansbury's performance as a rare exception--her bitchy psychopathic portrayal of Monica is a bright spot here, and I always enjoyed watching her spew venom at her hapless costars.) So with all these caveats, why does Andy Milligan fascinate me so?
Maybe it's because his films feel like expressions of a diseased mind, cries from a wounded, desperate soul. Not for help, perhaps--in Milligan's movies human beings seem genuinely beyond all help--but for expression, to be heard over the howling din of the madding crowd. Milligan seemed to have an OCD for filmmaking--he made over 25 movies, all of them on shoestring or nonexistent budgets, and most of which he wrote, edited, photograped, and even made the costumes for (he was an accomplished gown-maker) himself! In the realm of Mad Movie directors, Milligan is far from the most accomplished, but he definitely makes a run for the top spot of MOST MAD.
|The Duke dictates his autobiography to a nude dwarf amanuensis with a 12-inch schwanschtucker.|
Not many casual viewers are going to like The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! If you're looking for a werewolf extravaganza, this isn't it--there's really only one scene of werewolf action, and that comes eighty minutes into this 90-minute flick. Lycanthrope fans might find something interesting in the idea of the werewolf family's interaction, and how they're cursed not only by their werwolfism, but by their dependence on one another--but it's a bit of a stretch.
Still, I found this movie fascinating--maybe in the way highway accidents and public arguments between enraged relatives are fascinating. Somehow all that bile and venom and hate got under my skin and made it hard for me to look away. And I think there's something to be said for a movie that can get to you like that, however badly made it is on a technical level. So would I recommend TRaC!TWaH! to the unintiated? Probably not. But rating it on my own reaction, I'm giving it 2 thumbs. If you're looking for something different and possibly unique, give Milligan's movies a shot. But don't say I didn't warn you.
|Andy Hates Us All|
Nota Bene: Whether you're a Milligan movie fan or not, I can HIGHLY recommend Jimmy McDonough's excellent biography of the man, The Ghastly One: the Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. A fascinating portrait of an extremely damaged man, with lots of great stories about the movies and the people behind them, not to mention Andy's connection to Warhol, Cafe Cino and the beginnings of Off-Broadway theater. Even if you never plan to see an Andy Milligan film, it's a GREAT read.