Thursday, 16 June 2011

Video Nasty #7 - Blood Rites

Question: Can you link Blood Rites director Andy Milligan with Akira Kurasawa within six degrees of seperation ?

Everybody should see at least one Andy Milligan atrocity in their life and Blood Rites, Milligan’s film from 1967 is a good place as any to descend into the netherworld of the Staten Island auteur. The story concerns three estranged sisters who are requested to spend a few days at their family home with their husbands in “sexual harmony” (as instructed by their father’s will). However the blissful reunion doesn’t last very long when the lovers get picked off by a homicidal maniac…

In the Trash Cinema sweepstakes, Andy Milligan gives the likes of Ed Wood and Phil Tucker a good run for their money. Almost every aspect of Blood Rites is amateurish. Milligan could occasionally display some talent like the interesting 1965 gay short Vapors, and the stylish and eerie Body Beneath from 1970, but mostly the director churned out ultra-low budget exploitation films for the 42nd St. crowd. Blood Rites looks and sounds particularly impoverished with its cheap dime store gore and the needle-dropping soundtrack. It’s an ugly and depressing film as well with disastrous framing, copious amounts of naked ugly flesh, and Milligan’s handheld camera which swirls around with drunken abandon. Milligan had a penchant for shooting his films as period pieces to stop them dating but the mix of turn-of-century costumes and the very 1960’s décor – check out the op-art style wallpaper – makes the whole film look decidedly weird.

The endlessly talky screenplay was co-authored by Milligan and it’s a fascinating window into the director’s soul – in one scene one of the wives is raped by her husband, for really no good reason except to satisfy Milligan’s misogyny, and in another moment an incestuous union is implied between one of the husbands and his brother. Unlike the trance-like performances of Blood Feast, Blood Rites manages to cobble together a modicum of acting talent. Especially good are the sinister housemaids played by Veronica Redburn and Maggie Rogers. Hal Borske who plays Colin their retarded sidekick deserves praise for his dedication to the film – Milligan has him wearing ridiculous false teeth throughout the show, chow down on a not-so-freshly killed rabbit and even sets him on fire for the lively climax. Blood Rites exits on one of the more rugged back roads of American Cinema, and the way is often littered with bodies, including Milligan himself who succumbed to AIDS in 1991. He was 62.

Hal Borske as the much abused Colin - lock up your rabbits
Something Weird’s DVD of Blood Rites, (under the Ghastly Ones title) is double-billed with another Milligan film Seeds of Sin (which was hijacked by producers and re-edited to include a mass of irrelevant sex footage). The fullframe transfer is decent enough but the print Something Weird had to work with was in a pitiful condition, full of wear and tear and omnipresent scratch lines. It’s unlikely better materials could have been sourced but the DVD goes some way to replicating the Grindhouse experience – this is probably how audiences saw the film back in ’67, at the Anco theatre on 42nd St. The audio on the DVD fares little better – it’s hissy and murky but still good enough that you can still hear Milligan impatiently pass instructions to his long suffering his cast. Extras include some Milligan trailers, a gallery of stills and artwork, and two significant additions – the Seeds of Sin work print (called Seeds), and an excellent and highly amusing running commentary by Hal Borske and Basket Case director and exploitation film archivist Frank Henenlotter.

As for the teaser at the top of this post, Andy Milligan directed Richard Romanus in Blood Rites, who later starred in Mean Streets directed by Martin Scorsese, who played Vincent Van Gogh in Dreams, directed by Akira Kurosawa...

Stephen King was evidently not a fan of Blood Rites. In his 1981 non-fiction book, Dance Macabre, an overview of the Horror genre, he wrote:
In the hands of Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre satisfies that definition of art which I have offered, and I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country. I would not do so for The Ghastly Ones. The difference is more than the difference between a chainsaw and a bucksaw; the difference is something like seventy million light-years. Hooper works in Chainsaw Massacre, in his own queerly apt way, with taste and conscience. The Ghastly Ones is the work of morons with cameras.


  1. Terrific review, Wes. I wondered when you would get around to Milligan. Another endlessly fascinating director, although his films are much more interesting to talk about than watch. My favourite thing about him was his insistence on using a camera that recorded both sound and at the same time, a totally amaterish approach, guaranteed to produce bad results - you just ahve to admire his dedication! I have Bloodthirsty Butchers sitting on the shelf, waiting to be watched. Is it worth the effort?

  2. I could never bring myself to watch any Milligan Wes, and although I enjoyed your review you haven't managed to sway me on that opinion! I do admire your decision to plough on knowing how poor some of these movies are and you're definitely keeping it entertaining.

  3. Jon, I can't say I've seen Bloodthirsty Butchers so proceed with caution. Yeah, Milligan is utterly amateurish - the in-camera sound is baffling alrite - all through The Ghastly Ones, you can hear the hum of electrical cables and Milligan (or some other crew member) shouting "get down" at poor Hal Borske who has been doused in kerosene and set alight !

    Many thanks Mart. I don't entirely subscribe to the so-bad-it's-good school of Cinema either, but Milligan is kinda interesting for all the wrong reasons. But saying that, I'm looking forward to catching some decent stuff looming on the horizon - The Burning, Cannibal Apocalypse and Cannibal Holocaust. Franco is up next and that could go either way...

  4. Awesome Six Degrees there! I haven't seen this one - but I have seen - and own - some Andy Milligan - so I know of what you speak. He's certainly a peculiar talent. My favorite Milligan line came from Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film author Michael Weldon - who said "If you're an Andy Milligan fan there's no hope for you."

  5. Yep... I dunno what it is about Andy Milligan - more than any other trash film maker, but there's something strangely compulsive about his films. After watching one, you swear never again to go thru that ordeal but give it some time and his films sort of creep up on you again. If you can still find it these days, Jimmy McDonagh's biography Ghastly One: The Sex-gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Miligan is highly recommended...