... The Dungeon of Andy Milligan collects 14 of the notorious auteur’s films, with a bounty of extras and audio commentaries. Good Lord! Severin has even included a compact disc full of soundtrack music. I am impressed with the wealth of supplements here and by the quality of the transfers, given each grindhouse film’s bastard provenance. The films themselves? Well, let’s be kind and call them the “mixed bag” of an “eccentric, quirky, misunderstood filmmaker.”
For years after I read Stephen King’s 1981 nonfiction horror overview Danse Macabre, the phrase that he used to dismiss bad amateur filmmaking— “the work of morons with cameras”—stuck in my head like used bubblegum. I used this phrase often in my classes to describe a wide range of bad horror films, and I’ve even used it in my column. The booklet included in the boxset reminded me of something I had forgotten: when King originally used that phrase in his book, it was to describe the films of Andy Milligan.
And it gets worse. Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog called Milligan “the horror genre’s unwanted weirdo” and described his work as “recklessly shot body count bitch-fests.” Director Joe Dante once described the average Milligan film as “a home movie from Bedlam [Insane Asylum], seemingly processed in bathwater.” John Waters opined, “Andy Milligan is one scary man.” Perhaps Michael Weldon put it best in his indispensable Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film when he concluded, “If you’re an Andy Milligan fan, there is no hope for you.”
I include the preceding paragraph as a huge caveat emptor for any low-budget exploitation fans reading this column. Milligan’s films are strange and awful. I personally find them irresistibly strange and reliably, fascinatingly awful. Your mileage may vary. DO NOT PURCHASE THIS WONDERFUL BOX UNTIL YOU HAVE AT LEAST TASTED THE CONTENTS INSIDE FIRST. Like heroin, the first taste of Milligan is always free:
I have so far only watched the first film in the set, The Ghastly Ones, but I watched it three times. The fine folks at Severin include three commentary tracks, each of which is a must-listen. (Sticklers might argue that Fred Olen Ray’s track doesn’t qualify as a full commentary because HE DOESN’T MAKE IT TO THE END OF THE FILM. Let’s call it 2 ½ commentaries, then?) The Ghastly Ones is the perfect Milligan primer. It’s all here: the absurd framing that often reveals more ceiling than performer; the performances by a group of community theater-caliber actors who have been working together way too long; the casual nudity; the crazy wallpaper; the elaborate, impeccable costumes; the ineptly shot yet disturbing gore; and the irrational, crazy, virulent hatred of women. It’s all here on display. The Ghastly Ones is Andy Milligan’s Citizen Kane.
The commentaries included here are entertaining and essential. Director Frank Henenlotter and actor Hal Borske discuss what it was like working for Milligan. Borske is one of only a few surviving actors from Milligan’s stock company. CineFear.com editor Keith Crocker discusses the film as it relates to Milligan’s life and other work. He has a fascinating theory about what the budgets of these films really were. Fred Olen Ray, God bless him, describes in some detail the realities of the odd 16mm camera Milligan used to shoot his films. It was this camera, and not Milligan’s apparent lack of skill, that led to the films looking the way they do. The camera simply lacked a through-the-lens, reflex viewfinder. When framing his shots, the best Milligan could do was use a crude viewfinder attached to the side of the camera... and guess. Fascinating.
I look forward to the two to three weeks’ worth of further entertainment this boxset promises. Severin has assembled 14 of Milligan’s films (Besides The Ghastly Ones, you get Nightbirds; The Body Beneath; Torture Dungeon; Bloodthirsty Butchers; Curse of the Full Moon; The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!; The Man With Two Heads; Guru, The Mad Monk; Legacy of Blood (and its TV version, Legacy of Horror); Fleshpot on 42nd Street; Seeds; Carnage; Blood; and The Bearded Lady’s Wake. Combined with more than 10 hours of bonus features, fragments from two other Milligan projects, a CD of Hal Borske’s compositions from the bearded lady movie, and a wonderful 125-page book by Stephen Thrower, this is THE MUST BUY BOXSET OF 2021.
Art inspires art.