• The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan Collection (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review (Part One Of Five)

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: March 16th, 2021.
    Director: Andy Milligan
    Cast: Veronica Radburn, Maggie Rogers, Hal Borske, Anne Linden, Berwick Kaler, Julie Shaw, Susan Heard
    Year: 1968/1968/1968
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan – Movie Review:

    If their ridiculously comprehensive Al Adamson boxed set release in 2020 wasn’t enough, Severin Films once again dig deep into the trash film vaults for another, equally impressive effort – The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan Collection, bringing together fourteen of the man’s films in one fantastic collection loaded with extra features.

    Here’s a look at the first two disc in this nine disc collection.

    Disc One – The Ghastly Ones:

    My God, that checkered wallpaper! Shot entirely on location in New York City’s forgotten borough of Staten Island (‘Shaolin’ if you’re a Wu-Tang Clan fan), Andy Milligan’s low budget soap opera/horror picture The Ghastly Ones opens with a couple getting sliced and diced by a goofy guy (Hal Borske) with a meat cleaver. It’s a pretty fun scene imposed on the film by its producer that doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the picture.

    From here, we meet Veronica (Eileen Hayes), Victoria (Anne Linden) and Elizabeth (Carol Vogel), three sisters who, along with their respective men, show up for a family reunion of sorts when they learn that their father has died. A lawyer (Neil Flanagan) lets them know what’s required if they want their inheritance – they have to spend a few nights at the family mansion and each enjoy a night of wild sex! What they don’t know is that dad’s hunchbacked butler is a murderous lunatic and never mind the fact that he left a dead rabbit in Veronica’s bed with a weird note. As the three couples hunker down to spend the night, murder most foul becomes far more common than it should be, and things go from weird to weirder. Who could it be - Martha (Veronica Radburn) the main, simpleton Colin (Hal Borske) or the matronly Hattie (Maggie Rogers), or someone else entirely?

    Described by Stephen King as the work of ‘morons with cameras,’ The Ghastly Ones is actually a pretty fun watch if you’re able to look past the fact that it isn’t even close to the horror film that it was marketed as way back in the late sixties. One of Milligan’s better known pictures, this one has pretty much all of the traits associated with his work. We’ve got plenty of dialogue fit for a soap opera delivered with remarkably vitriolic vigor by the cast, we’ve got Staten Island locations doubling for wherever this movie is supposed to be taking place, we’ve got a plethora of costumes that Milligan most assuredly worked on himself and we’ve got a few choice scenes of beautifully amateurish gore effects. As it is in most of his films, women are treated like second class citizens (for more on Milligan’s issues with women, be sure to read Jimmy McDonough's The Ghastly One: The 42nd Street Netherworld Of Director Andy Milligan, it’s fascinating stuff!) and the whole thing feels like it was shot on another planet (if you’ve spent much time in Staten Island compared to the rest of NYC, it almost is, and I say that with love).

    One of the director’s more accessible pictures, the film is sometimes very effective with its camerawork (Milligan photographed the film himself) and sometimes not. The movie, like much of his output, is amazingly erratic, but it’s a more than watchable mix of melodrama, ineffective horror and earnest performers doing their best to deliver some insane dialogue with a straight face. Milligan’s tendency to portray straight relationships is, here as it was in quite a few of his movies, oddly skewed but given that he was definitely gay in real life, it sort of makes sense that he might see things this way. It’s all strangely surreal, a product of a filmmaker without a whole lot of technical ability driving by passion to produce a series of films that definitely do subscribe to the auteur theory whether he intended them to come out that way or not (he didn’t).

    All in all, it’s a pretty amazing experience.

    Disc Two – Night Birds / The Body Beneath:

    Disc two starts off with one of the five movies that Milligan made in England, The Body Beneath. The movie, a somewhat typical Milligan piece complete with bad costumes, follows Reverend Alexander Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed) who returns to his native England with the explicit intention of reopening the creepy Old Souls Church. What the locals don’t realize, however, is that Ford is actually a vampire who has enlisted the aid of his mute wife, Candace (Emma Jones), a trio of female vampires and a hunchback named Spool (Berwick Kaler again) to help him bring about a second coming of his vampire bloodline. To help set this plan in motion, he bites his granddaughter, Anna Ford (Susan Clark), he drugs her husband Graham (Colin Gordon) in order to allow his lady vampire minions to turn him into a vampire as well. If that weren’t bad enough, the fiends kidnap Ford's cousin, Susan (Jackie Skarvellis), with the intention of using her to breed a new line of vampire babies. When Susan's boyfriend, Paul Donati (Richmond Ross), tries to save his beloved, things start to go awry, particularly when Spool decides to help the Reverend’s victims and winds up being tortured!

    Made the same year as Nightbirds, The Body Beneath is about as different as it can be from the film Milligan made just a few months earlier. Gone are the claustrophobic interiors and artsy black and white shots, replaced here with garish use of color, fairly inappropriate period costumes and some fun gothic Victorian era locations. Gavin Reed steals the show here, playing the vampire minister with no shortage of enthusiasm and seemingly having quite a good time in the part. While the film itself is quite awful on most levels, Reed makes it watchable enough. Jackie Skarvellis is also fun as Susan, playing her part with a similar amount of spirit. While The Body Beneath is very much a vampire film, it’s interesting to note that they all wander around in daylight never once sporting fangs or showing any sort of abhorrence for crosses. Milligan shows little regard for the staples of the genre, instead infusing the picture with his typical flare for melodrama and characters who argue. A lot. There are plenty of logic gaps here, some strangely framed scenes (Milligan was his own photographer here as well) and dialogue that doesn’t really go anywhere or serve any purpose, but the score is great even if it’s frequently completely out of place. As goofy as it all is, The Body Beneath is one of Milligan’s more polished efforts and more accessible than most of his work. While it is still obviously a low budget film made by a slightly crazy director, there’s at least a fairly coherent story here and it moves along at a fairly decent pace. It’s not a masterpiece of horror by anyone’s standards but it’s entertaining enough and its inclusion on this disc is very welcome indeed.

    Another one of a few movies that writer/director Andy Milligan made in London, Nightbirds made its home video debut from the BFI under some rather interesting circumstances. The film was never released though Milligan did have a personal 35mm blow up print. When he passed away, the film wound up in the hands of Milligan’s biographer, Jimmy McDonough, who wound up selling it (along with a few other bits and pieces) to filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, the man who made Drive. As luck would have it, however, Milligan’s print was not complete as he had cut from it to make the trailer for the film. Something Weird Video (who had included the trailer for Nightbirds on one of their many trailer compilation releases), however, came to the rescue and supplied their 16mm elements from which a composite was made to present Nightbirds on home video for the first time ever and in its proper, complete form. Severin Films now gives the film its first official North American high definition release on Blu-ray, a worth addition to their Andy Milligan boxed set.

    So how does this movie shape up? As a somewhat twisted drama, it’s pretty decent actually. Let’s face it – a lot of Milligan’s movies were horrible but Nightbirds, as stagey as it is (the director’s theater experience shows here), proves to be fairly involving.

    When the story begins a beautiful woman named Dee (Julie Shaw) comes across as down on his luck young man named Dink (Berwick Kaler) and for reasons never really explained invites him back to her ramshackle apartment. He stays for a while and they soon develop a fairly intense and unusual relationship. She wants to have sex and he shows some signs of nervousness, which she takes to mean he’s a virgin – but he insists he’s had plenty of girls before even if later in the film he admits that all he did before she came along was masturbate a lot, sometimes two or three times a day. Regardless, Dee is quite experienced in the ways of love and Dink accepts this without jealousy or judgment.

    Things do get more complicated for our couple when they quickly run into money problems. They need a blanket and decide to shoplift one but that goes bad and Dink gets beaten up by the shopkeeper. When a man named Ginge who lives in the building and has a strange crush on Dee decides he wants more attention from her, Dink starts to get jealous, but so too does Dee when the couple meet with an older woman named Mabel, an aged former prostitute who he’s been ‘friends’ with for some time. Given that Dink continually tells Mabel how beautiful she is and insists at one point she stop flirting with him because she’s giving him an erection, their relationship is questionable. As Dink and Dee start to realize that maybe their relationship isn’t as perfect as it seems, even if they do have great sex together, power and control issues arise while the two attempt to nurse back to health an injured bird they’ve come across.

    Nightbirds is a strange film, as most pictures helmed by Milligan tend to be, but it’s quite well acted. Berwick Kaler, who would go on to quite respectable career on British stage and screen, is very good here as Dink. He’s obviously quite broken, and when he explains to Dee how his home life was ruined by his alcoholic parents we can see why he comes to her for nurturing and how at times he almost treats her as a child would treat a mother. This gives their relationship some strange traits, as does Dee’s penchant for ‘wanting to try new things’ when it comes to their sex life. It’s here, in these few short but fairly graphic (there’s both male and female full frontal nudity here) sex scenes that Dee seems to be most comfortable with her new boyfriend. Mabel’s involvement is also an interesting element, as she too plays a maternal figure to Dink, and though you never get the impression they’ve slept together the odd flirting that occurs between the two of them gives you the impression that they’d like to. This obviously affects Dee’s feelings towards Dink’s oldest friend and somewhat understandably causes issues later in the film.

    Kaler gives his character some interesting childlike traits, at one point standing in the corner after being scolded by Dee, and later apologizing profusely and groveling at her feet after he strikes her out of anger. He plays the part with convincing immaturity and we completely buy him here. On the flip side, Julie Shaw plays Dee with gleefully manipulative intensity that lets us know in no uncertain terms who is in charge in this relationship. She controls and exploits Dink with no remorse, using both sex (and one point she tells him he can prove how much he loves her by performing oral sex on her) and simple caring to get what she wants from him and showing little regard for his actual feelings for her (he constantly tells her he loves her, she does not constantly tell him this). On top of this, she’s proven to be not only a consummate liar but quite heartless in regards to her own past and her own family – without treading into heavy spoiler territory there’s a very well-played scene here in which a member of her family is in discussion with Dee and lets us know just what she’s been up to and what she may very well be hiding from. In typical Milligan fashion, the leading lady in this film is portrayed as anything but positive, but at least here there are reasons for it. Shaw is very good in the role and it’s a shame that she didn’t do much more outside of this film and two others around the same time.

    Shot by Milligan himself almost entirely inside the grubby little apartment that Dee rents (we do venture outside a few times but the bulk of the action takes place indoors), this could very easily have been a production for the stage. The film is well shot, with lots of close ups giving us ample opportunity to understand the emotions that they characters are going through, though the film often uses some of those bizarre camera angles that Milligan was known for. Although the film was obviously shot fast and cheap, Nightbirds turns out to be quite an interesting little psychosexual drama featuring some great performances and interesting subtext. It’s a bleak film to be sure, but quite fascinating in its own strange way.

    The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin brings The Ghastly Ones to Blu-ray for the first time ever in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer with the seventy-two-minute feature framed at 1.33.1 fullframe taking up 21.3GBS of space on the 50GB disc. Taken from a 2k scan of a 35mm release print, this looks about as good as can be expected given what elements exist for this picture (all pre-release elements are gone). Very likely taken from a print, detail is good but never at the higher end of what Blu-ray can offer, though vastly improved over the Something Weird DVD release from years back. Colors also look better, more natural than the DVD, but still showing some fading. Expect some print damage throughout, sometimes more obvious than others – there are some pretty bitch scratches and marks noticeable here – but again, you’ve got to keep your expectations in check here. Overall, under the circumstances this looks pretty solid.

    The Body Beneath and Nightbirds, both sourced from 2k restorations of their original 16mm camera reversal elements, are presented on a 50GB disc, with the first feature taking up 24GBs of space and the second 22.8GBs of space. The Body Beneath is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33.1 in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. It looks about as good as you can expect though some fairly serious print damage crops up just past the half way mark that couldn’t be removed. Colors are sometimes a bit faded and scratches and specs are about, but this isn't going to put anyone interested in the movie off of it. Detail is pretty good, and again there are no issues with heavy noise reduction or edge enhancement. As to Nightbirds, the fullframe AVC encoded 1080p picture shows good contrast and doesn’t suffer from any serious print damage but specs and small nicks and scratches are present throughout. Contrast on the black and white image looks good and those who appreciate a good grainy picture will appreciate the fact that the picture hasn’t been scrubbed down or bombarded with heavy noise reduction. Detail is fine considering the age and availability of elements, with close up shots showing the most but even medium and long distance shots showing off the dirt and decay evident throughout Dee’s apartment. There aren’t any issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and while the image quality is obviously limited by the original photography, overall Nightbirds looks pretty good for what it is.

    Audio chores for all three films are handled by a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks. Optional SDH subtitles are provided in English only. Audio quality is fine for the most part, though some hiss works its way into the mixes now and then. You might pick up on some occasional sibilance here and there but overall the tracks are mostly pretty clean. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow and the levels are properly balanced, but as it is with all of the films in this collection, we’re at the mercy of available elements here.

    Extras for discs one and two are spread out as follows:

    Disc One – The Ghastly Ones:

    The Ghastly Ones comes with three completely unique commentaries, the first one featuring actor Hal Borske and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, carried over from the old Something Weird Video DVD release of the movie. They start by talking about how Borske thinks the movie is going to suck based on the opening scene, how he came to play Colin in the film, how Andy Milligan's mother was the real killer, how the producer required a longer opening scene which he and Milligan hated and where Milligan got some of the cast members from. They cover how low budget the shoot was, how Borske almost stabbed someone for real during the first murder scene, how one of the actors wouldn't cuss on screen which drove Milligan crazy, the lurid advertising campaign that was created for the film, Milligan's thoughts on drug use, how Seeds came to be found, Milligan's issues with his mother and his reaction to her passing, the Mishkin's meddling with Milligan's films and how they fucked up so many of his movies, why Compass Rose was never released, what it's like to participate in a pie fight orgy, how and why Milligan wound up in California, being interviewed by Jimmy McDonough for his book on Milligan and lots more. If you haven’t heard this track, definitely give it a listen as it’s gold. Borske pulls no punches and has a great sense of humor and Henenlotter keeps him engaged throughout.

    The second track features CineFear.com's Keith Crocker, who talks about the ridiculous umbrella used in the opening scene before then going on to talk about how the distributor wanted the opening scene added on to the film and which wasn't Milligan's idea. He talks about Borske's work in the picture, how the film shows many traits that Milligan's films are known for, Milligan's tendency to bring the qualities of live theater to his films, how and why Andy had access to mannequins whenever he wanted, how the sex scenes in Milligan's films are never erotic, thoughts on the different characters that show up in the film and some of the recurring cast members that show up in Milligan's movies, the film's distribution history and Jerry Balsam's involvement in getting the film out there, how Balsam treated Milligan compared to how Mishkin treated him, the house used as the main location for the picture, how he started getting in touch with 'Andy Milligan people' after putting some articles online on his website and loads more. Crocker occasionally rambles and goes off topic but he’s always a kick to listen to and he’s got a lot to say about this movie, pretty much all of which is as entertaining as it is interesting.

    The third commentary is a partial track that features filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. He speaks about his intentions with the commentary - not to analyze the film or Milligan's work but to pass along some info without going on camera to do it. This leads into Ray speaking about seeing Milligan's films at the drive-in in his younger days, his thoughts on what it was like to see The Ghastly Ones at the drive-in, how Milligan compares to Ed Wood and William Castle, different types of film stocks used for low budget movies of the period, how Milligan's cinematography was affected by the cameras used on his shoots, why different cameras would be used in different situations and how amazing it is that Milligan's movies could be blown up and shown in theaters. Ray's commentary, which runs just under twenty-minutes, is interesting and unlike the other two tracks quite technical in nature.

    As to the rest of the extras, the one-minute Blood Rites Alternate Title Sequence is just that, a quick alternate title sequence for the film taken from a VHS release. The title card is really the only difference here but it’s neat to see it. The film was released under this title on home video in the UK by Scorpio Video.

    Ghastly & Depraved is an interview with 'marketing wiz' Samuel M. Sherman who speaks for seven-minutes about how he was doing magazines for Jim Warren where he brought in a friend named Bob Price when they decided to do some freelance work doing film advertising campaigns only to wind up working on the marketing campaign for 'a sex film set in the future' called 'Sin Sisters Something 2000 A.D.' that Milligan made, which he thought was junk. Sherman renamed the film The Degenerates, did the press book and the film turned out to be a hit - big enough that Milligan got hired back by the same producer, Jerry Balsam. They then renamed another Milligan projects as Depraved that also turned out to be a hit. This led to work for Doris Wishman on A Taste Of Flesh, and then a color picture for Milligan that turned out to be The Ghastly Ones. Sherman talks about meeting Milligan in Staten Island at his home, his thoughts on how to change the movie from a sex film into a horror film and how they came to name the picture. Milligan then worked in horror for a while for the Mishkins and the rest is history. Great stuff, Sherman is always a fascinating guy to listen to and it's great to get his input on his work here. Make sure you listen to it all the way through.

    Talk Of The Trade is an interview with early Milligan actress Natalie Rogers that runs for six-minutes. In this piece she talks about how she got into acting after working as an airline stewardess and then moving into a singing career. She went into theater from there and met Andy Milligan in the 'off off Broadway' scene. She talks about what it was like working with Milligan on the stage, getting to know his entourage, audience response to their work together and then working in his film 'Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me!.' She talks about shooting it in a tenement over six weeks, Milligan doing his own camera work, shooting on location in Staten Island and both his drive and his energy. She also talks about her father's response to her appearing in the film, which opened with a pornographic short, and how sad it is that the film is gone and seemingly lost forever. It's important to document people like Rogers given that the work she did with Milligan has been lost. Also, you’ve got to appreciate just how jangly her earrings are!

    The Filthy Five is one German language reel of the lost Milligan film of the same name. Here, over twenty-minutes, we get a look at this bizarre black and white picture that Milligan made in 1968. Presented in German with English subtitles and in fairly rough shape, it's still a pleasure to get the chance to see this footage. It starts off with a couple - Johnny and Rose - having sex which then turns into a bit of an argument and then Johnny roughing her up a bit. He slaps her around and then the phone rings. It's a guy named Barney calling for Johnny who tells him to meet him at Grand Central Station. He splits, much to Rose's dismay. Meanwhile, a guy in some shades talks to an older woman named Alison about getting a pretty young thing named Rita in a film he's working on. This segues into a cute dark haired girl getting into bed with a girl named Laura where they have rad lesbian sex while some weird lounge music plays in the background. Alison and shades show up and we fade to black. From there, we get a weird dinner scene where Johnny's career is discussed as well as people named Sidney and Walter. It's really pretty impossible to know what's going on here as we're clearly lacking a whole lot of context but it's a minor miracle that we get to see this footage at all and this material has a definite Milligan feel to it what with the way that women are treated in the film and the frequently very acidic dialogue.

    Also included on the disc is a trailer for The Ghastly Ones as well as a bonus trailer for 1967’s Depraved!, another sadly lost Milligan feature. Here, over two-minutes, we learn what's going to happen at 'the most perverted party of the year' which mostly seems to be chicks getting painted by a dude, people making out and slapping one another around, and doing LSD! It's a damn shame that this movie seems to be lost to time as this trailer really makes it look like a trash-classic of the highest order. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.

    Disc Two – Night Birds / The Body Beneath:

    Aside from a trailer, The Body Beneath also gets an audio commentary from film scholars Vic Pratt and Will Fowler, the co-writers of The Bodies Beneath from Strange Attractor Press. It is a reasonably scene specific dissection of the film, covering the opening scene shot in the cemetery and talking up the effectiveness of this scene and what sets it apart from other graveyard scenes in other horror movies. As the track progresses, they cover Milligan's tendency to rely on locations rather than sets, the gothic architecture featured in the picture, how the film deals with the immigrant experience, the depiction of sex in the movie and the curious ways that Milligan does portray sex in this film, the ornate style of dialogue that Milligan employs in the film and how it's obvious that he was just 'playing this out in his own head.' They also talk about how it's tough figure out when it's night and when it's day in the film, the makeup and costume effects, when certain cast members are clearly hamming it up, the use of tomato juice standing in for blood, references to Lugosi's Dracula, elements of the film that peg it as a psychodrama, background details on the different cast members that pop up in the picture, Milligan's obsession with fabrics particularly when it comes to cigarettes and knitwear, logic gaps that pepper the film, how this film compares to other horror pictures that Milligan made and quite a bit more.

    Extras for Night Birds include a trailer for the feature as well as a commentary track with actor Berwick Kaler and film scholar Stephen Thrower that originally appeared on the aforementioned BFI Blu-ray release. This track doesn’t move at a particularly rapid pace and Kaler’s memory isn’t always razor sharp when it comes to working on this picture, so expect some dead air here and there, but Milligan fans will appreciate the little gems that turn up in the track including an interesting anecdote about the fate of the bird in the film and the director’s involvement in the poor thing’s eventual demise. He notes that Milligan rarely did retakes and only did them on his terms, and talks about how he’s grateful that he was offered this leading role early in his career even if no one ever really wound up seeing the movie. Kaler himself hadn’t seen the film until just before this track was recorded, but he speaks somewhat fondly of the director and the film’s leading lady, though stops short of getting too affectionate for either and stating quite bluntly that he never really got the chance to know either of them. He does state that Nightbirds was shot in roughly two weeks and that he was paid very little for the movie, gives us a few bits and pieces on his work in The Body Beneath, and talks about shooting the sex scenes in Nightbirds before discussing his later career a bit. It’s occasionally slow going at times but given that this turns out to be a bit of a footnote in the actor’s career and a film he basically took on as work for hire, it’s understandable that more than forty years later he doesn’t have as much to say about it as other’s might about some of their own early work.

    The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan - The Final Word:

    The first two discs in Severin Films’ The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan Collection score high marks all around. These are some of his most interesting pictures and they’re offered up here in fine shape and with a host of extra features that do an excellent job of exploring their history and explaining their importance.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Dungeon Of Andy Milligan Blu-ray screen caps!