Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Ghastly Ones/Seeds of Sin

For those of us who enjoy wading through the sewage of grindhouse/drive-in cinema, the films of Andy Milligan are like a bright shiny rat carcass floating in the sludge. They’re just as slimy as everything else around, but they stand out and, when poked with a stick, can be quite entertaining. Something Weird Video has done Milligan proud with this ultra-sleazy double feature.

First up is the 1967 opus, The Ghastly Ones, the first of Milligan’s films to be shot in color. It’s a period piece taking place in the nineteenth century—an odd choice considering the obviously impoverished budget. Not being one for subtlety, Milligan jumpstarts the story by having a young couple attacked and brutally murdered just minutes into the film. The gore is low-tech, a hardboiled egg subbing for an extracted eyeball, and an obviously contemporary New York skyline can be glimpsed in a few shots. At the 3:22 mark you can actually hear someone (presumably Milligan) giving direction to the actors.

We soon meet the three Crenshaw sisters: Vicky, Elizabeth, and Veronica, all bedecked in period costumes reportedly of Milligan’s own design. They, along with their respective spouses are summoned to the office of H.H. Dobbs, a nearly fossilized attorney sporting a horrific quantity of nostril hair. Dobbs reads Old Man Crenshaw’s will, which stipulates that his three daughters and their respective husbands must spend three nights in “sexual harmony” in the family estate on the remote Crenshaw Island before the estate can be divvied up between them. They are met on the island by the Trasks, a colorful trio of caretakers, consisting of two spinster sisters and their deranged, rabbit-mauling, hunchbacked brother Colin. In classic Old Dark House tradition, the boat won’t be back for days, cutting off our characters from the mainland.

What follows is a drawing room mystery with a sexploitation era sensibility, and a post-Blood Feast helping of gore. There is ample nudity, often featuring performers both male and female who really ought to know better. The number of unsightly moles on display might lead one to think the cast had rolled in a pile of Milk Duds prior to the sex scenes.

From the film’s opening with one of those great 60’s title cards with drippy lettering unapologetically proclaiming that this is a horror movie, and a pretty trashy one at that, all the way through to the jarringly abrupt climax, Milligan keeps things flowing nicely. Plot elements are introduced and never resolved, but the pace never falters.

The story is peppered with all manner of depravities. Vicky and Richard bankroll their trip to the family estate by borrowing money from Richard’s brother, a flamboyantly gay clergyman who appears to have had an incestuous homosexual relationship with Richard. Elizabeth’s husband Donald enjoys rough sex and doesn’t care who hears. The Trask sisters keep their mentally challenged brother in line by flogging him at the drop of a hat.

Offensive? Gleefully so. Boring? Never.

The low rent look and feel are a big part of the film’s charm. Shots like those in the restaurant scene in which two characters in the foreground are cut off just above the chin, with most of the frame filled with superfluous background make one wonder if there was actually anyone behind the camera. The musical score is obviously culled from the cheapest library tracks Milligan could get his hands on. In fact, the music playing during film’s climactic scenes will be familiar to anyone who has seen The Beast That Killed Women, or the animated Spider-man series from the 60’s. The scratchy print only adds to that grungy feeling, fostering the sense that you’ve unearthed a film that hasn’t seen the light of a projector bulb in decades.

Seeds of Sin is a perfect co-feature as it not only stars some of the same cast as The Ghastly Ones, but was also shot in the same house with same retched checkerboard wallpaper. Sporting a 1968 copyright that places this film a year after The Ghastly Ones, it was back to black and white for Milligan.
Again, the viewer’s attention is grabbed right away, this time with a pre-credits orgy. Anything to keep asses in seats would appear to be the Milligan philosophy, although The Ghastly Ones’ audio commentary suggests that the orgy may not even have been filmed by Milligan, but added perhaps at the insistence of others.
The Manning family is as dysfunctional as they come. Family matriarch Claris, something of a modern day Elizabeth Bathory, is a bitter old wheelchair-bound alcoholic, surviving only on the constant blood transfusions provided by slime bag family physician Dr. Kram. Claris is mortified to learn that daughter Carol has invited her siblings home for Christmas.

Each of the Manning children suffers from one classic form of Milligan deviance or another. Carol, in addition to her passions for bodybuilding magazines and masturbation, has a sexual history with her brother Michael that she seems keen on rekindling. Drew bungles his girlfriend’s abortion, and Buster has discovered, blackmail, attempted suicide, and pyromania at military school. Meanwhile, Peter and Jessica the two servants are plotting to do away with Claris and make off with her money. Soon someone is bumping off family members, and the plot, such as it is, is off and running.

As always, Something Weird has loaded up the disk with some choice extras. There’s the aforementioned audio commentary for The Ghastly Ones featuring filmmaker and trash movie historian Frank Henenlotter, and cast member Hal Borske who played the dimwitted Colin. The banter is brisk and informative, with Borske providing some fascinating tales from his years as a part of Milligan’s troupe. There’s also a Gallery of Andy Milligan Exploitation Art and trailers for five Milligan films. The highlights, however, are the unfinished trailer and workprint of Seeds of Sin, both of which contain footage excised from the theatrical print.

1 comment:

Pat B said...

Cool review. I laughed. I cried. I soiled my keyboard.

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