Good God, was Andy Milligan a sick man! The man behind such low-budget visual nightmares as BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, TORTURE DUNGEON, THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE!, and THE BODY BENEATH is infinitely more interesting than the films he produced, and coupled here are two of his most popular titles. Making them all the more interesting is that they both allowed Andy to exorcise many of his personal demons through a very pressured cast, obnoxious characters, and slimy scripts filled with hateful dialogue. Whereas most of Milligan's films are so-bad-they're-fascinating, these two fit quite perfectly together as time capsules of 60s filmmaking and mirror images of the many deep, dark problems of Andy Milligan.
Opening with a completely unrelated massacre of a couple by wide-eyed Milligan cohort Hal Borske and his trusty meat cleaver (complete with eye gouging, amputation, and inept gore galore), THE GHASTLY ONES starts off with a bang before settling into a family reunion from hell set to a snail's pace. Three sisters from different walks of life reunite when their father passes away and are told by the family lawyer (a completely unrecognizable Neil Flanagan, GURU THE MAD MONK himself) that they will only inherit any money from their father's will if they spend an entire weekend in "sexual bliss" at the family mansion. Welcoming the trio are British maid Martha, lady of the house Hattie (the incomparable Maggie Rogers), and resident idiot Colin (Borske, now with fake teeth poking out of his mouth). But also hiding in the basement is a hooded killer who methodically kills off the sisters and their husbands with pitchforks, butcher knives, and the requisite meat cleaver.
If you've never seen an Andy Milligan film, this would be a good place to start. It's filled with all the typical Milligan ingredients: bitchy relatives, stereotypical heterosexual romances, shaky hand-held 16mm camerawork, muffled soundtrack punctuated by needle-drop library music cues, able actors trying their best with terrible dialogue, with dripping blood, ugly sex and nudity, and garish set design, all rolled into a feature-length monstrosity. I prefer BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS and THE BODY BENEATH as far as Milligan horrors go, but GHASTLY ONES has a certain something that keeps it interesting with repeated viewings. The sole acting standout in the cast is Maggie Rogers, who had worked with Milligan multiple times in his stage productions and whose real tour-de-force performance was as the family matriarch in SEEDS (more on that later). Everyone does a capable job with the dated stupid dialogue and playing out the ridiculous and contrived heterosexual love scenes, but these scenes really slow the movie to a crawl. However, this is almost required in a Milligan film: no money, no action, so fill the movie with talk to save the budget. Thankfully the gory setpieces accompanied by outrageous blaring library music make the film a real treat in the right frame of mind and the typical frenzied Milligan ending capped off with an unfunny comic punchline finishes off what is a love it or hate it experience. I loved it!
Presented in its fullscreen aspect ratio, SWV has remastered the film from a 35mm print and it looks quite good. Colors sometimes bleed and seem dark and muddy at times, with green scratches periodically, but unless the transfer was taken from a 16mm master (a la their BODY BENEATH disc, which is really gorgeous), this is the way the film will always look on video. It looks better than the out of print Midnight Video print, that's for sure, and is better-looking than the sorry VideoKart Milligan double-feature disc from late last year. Audio will always be muffled, but it sounds fine.
Now let's move on to the real reason to own this disc: SEEDS OF SIN, which is ultimately a sexier edit of Milligan's SEEDS. It is the only remaining footage of Milligan's black-and-white sexploitation days and if this is a sampler of what he had to offer in this genre, it is a crying shame that none of his other features have survived. Craggy Maggie Rogers plays Claris, the wheelchair-bound heavy-drinking mother ruling over a brood of twisted spawn she calls "bad seeds." Buck-toothed Carol (the underrated Candy Hammond, a brief Mrs. Milligan) lives at home and masturbates to muscle magazines while lusting after her brother Michael; Michael despises his wife for forcing him into marriage by a faked pregnancy; priest Matthew is shacking up with a trollop and sexually molests emotionally troubled Buster, who resides in a military school and has suicidal tendencies; the vain Margaret partakes in a sado-masochistic relationship with a greasy bohunk whose animalistic brutality during sex leaves her gasping for more. Gather all these unhappy people in a house on Christmas Eve and you shouldn't be surprised that the reunion results in a vicious bloodbath, with each character being brutally bumped off until the final stand-down between family reveals the culprit.
Producers Allen and Rosily Bazzini acquired Milligan's SEEDS and after a disastrous mini-theatrical run, grabbed a camera, shot a wealth of graphic almost hardcore sex footage (including Deuce favorite Uta Erickson of countless Findlay, Amero, and Wishman epics), cut the same amount of footage from the original version of SEEDS, and inserted their footage to re-sell the feature as SEEDS OF SIN. What a Frankenstein monster they created! In-between character and plot developments are sandwiched humping and bumping faceless bodies that never appear again in the film! Something Weird has done the wisest thing by making it easy to skip past all these inserts by isolating them in separate chapters or at the very end of a chapter so those who actually want to WATCH THE MOVIE can skip past the sex and get to the film. And what a film it is. Populated by conniving children, a bitter crippled mother, and the various people who share their lives, SEEDS is an incredible viewing experience. You don't so much sit and watch it as you have your eyes and ears assaulted by it! Every character has their own secret, whether it be homosexuality, incest, bloodlust, masochism, pregnancy, or alcoholism, and aims to make everyone else miserable because of their own malady. Milligan proves himself an able writer, with fascinating dialogue, interesting characters, and plot twists aplenty. Each murder is directly tied to the corresponding victim: the beautiful Margaret has acid thrown in her face, the venomous maid and butler are poisoned, the sex siren is fried in the bathtub, the broken-hearted Susan has a knife thrust into her heart. Holding together the film is an able cast, all of whom are miles better than the usual participants in Milligan's horror opuses. Candy Hammond is a born natural actress, with believable line delivery and handling her complex character with apparent ease. She and Maggie Rogers are the real stars of the show, and Rogers is AMAZING in this film! Despite "Claris" being a disgusting human being, you simply cannot take your eyes off her. Though Gene Connolly ("Buster") was reportedly some kid found on the street by Milligan, he is just wonderful as the severely emotional military cadet with a warped view on sex and can't seem to find any peace in his life. Helena Velos ("Margaret"), Neil Flanagan ("Matthew"), and Robert Service ("Michael") are all outstanding, really capturing their characters superbly, and even though Susan Cassidy's brief appearance as Matthew's whore is great, she would be better appreciated in BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS as the English torch singer. Overall, be sure to take some Aleve because by the final shot of the film, you just might have a screaming headache...and won't believe this film escaped attention for so long!
The black-and-white fullscreen transfer for SEEDS was taken from the original negative struck by the Bazzinis and looks great. Grain and dirt pop up very infrequently, and the image jitter was captured in the camera during filming in 1968. The film is so damn captivating that any imperfections can be overlooked, I personally didn't care how it looked as long as I could see everything clearly. Audio is the usual muffled Milligan job, but is great. The groovy instrumentals during the sex inserts remain the best thing about these ill-advised additions.
The highlight of the disc, by far, is the surprise inclusion of perhaps the best SWV extra ever pressed onto disc, a 41-minute 16mm workprint of SEEDS! This is the last remaining footage of Andy's original cut, as he pieced it together, the way it should have been seen! There's a longer beginning, a Neil Flanagan scene completely missing from the SEEDS OF SIN print, a longer ending, more spiteful nasty dialogue, more Maggie Rogers, more Candy Hammond, more, more, more! There is still an incredible amount of missing footage, but the fact that two reels of Andy's original cut have surfaced is cause for celebration indeed! I'm crossing my fingers that somewhere, somehow, the complete uncut version of SEEDS will come to be released. It's not only Milligan's very best film (FLESHPOT ON 42ND STREET runs a close second), but is quite simply one of the best sexploitation gems of the genre. We can only hope that some day, the remaining films of Andy Milligan's black-and-white filmography will be unearthed to be appreciated.
After witnessing the unbelievable vision of Milligan's SEEDS workprint, one might be tempted to completely disregard all the other extras as fluff. Actually, they only add extra Milligan value for your buck. First up is a drop-dead hilarious audio commentary on THE GHASTLY ONES by co-star Hal Borske, one of few surviving Milligan actors to tell the tales of the man and his insane movie sets, moderated by 42nd Street guru Frank Henenlotter. As a milestone of sorts, this is also Something Weird's first commentary sprinkled with a liberal dose of profanity, and is actually far more entertaining than the feature film (if that's possible). Borske and Henenlotter discuss not only the bargain basement production of GHASTLY ONES, but also having to sit through Milligan's monstrosities as they unveiled on the big screen, productions at the Caffe Cino, SWV's uncovering of SEEDS and its workprint, the background stories of the cast members (including the grand dame Maggie Rogers), and how Borske almost died several times on the set! Here's hoping that any future Milligan discs will feature Borske and Henenlotter commentaries, as the two make a great team and never run out of things to say! Rounding out the package is a trailer collection, with previews for THE GHASTLY ONES, THE BODY BENEATH, GURU THE MAD MONK, THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE!, and VAPORS. If you want to see even MORE missing SEEDS footage, watch the unfinished trailer for SEEDS, with more Neil Flanagan footage and more of the screaming bout between Buster and Claris. Amazing!!!! The Gallery of Milligan Exploitation Art does not feature the usual eye-popping horror graphics that plastered the drive-ins, but consists of production stills and lobby cards. Making this gallery even more of a treat is classical music composed by Hal Borske! Yessiree that's right, "Colin" is a composer, too! One thing: why was a photo of Borske with a stake over his heart from TORTURE DUNGEON lumped under the BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS category?! Capping off the extras is a well-written liner notes booklet by Christopher Koenig, discussing the history of the two films featured on the disc.
If this double-feature DVD piques
your interest, do yourself a favor and pick up Jimmy McDonough's The Ghastly
One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. Every cult film
fan should have a copy of this book, whether they like Milligan or not. It features
the most comprehensive study of a drive-in moviemaker since Rudolph Grey's Nightmare
of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., in addition to being
the most amazing historical essay on the Cafe Chino community and 42nd Street
moviegoing in general, alongside Bill Landis' Sleazoid Express. As the
premiere disc of Something Weird Video in 2004, this is already one of the top
discs of 2004. SEEDS is the real winner of the disc, and GHASTLY ONES is a satisfactory
supporting feature on this whacko double-feature. Get Milliganized! (Casey
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