Feb 19, 2014

The Ghastly Ones

Before the hysterically melodramatic bourgeoisie-bashing flicks of Bavarian bad boy Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the somewhat recent would-be-demented independent dysfunctional family reunion You’re Next (2011) directed by Adam Wingard, there was The Ghastly Ones (1968) aka Blood Rites aka Blood Orgy directed by sub-(in)famous gutter auteur Andy Milligan (Vapors, Nightbirds). Advertised as being shot “In Cranium-Cleaving Color!”, The Ghastly Ones was mad man Milligan’s first color feature and a semi-psychedelic one at that, but more importantly it is the sort of fucked family film that the sadomasochistic sodomite did best as a work directed by a man who spent virtually his entire life estranged from family and scorning the memory of his obese mother by modelling most of his cinematic villains after her. Described by then-unknown horror filmmaker Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) in Film Bulletin as being, “like a home movie from Bedlam and gives evidence of being processed in a dirty bathtub,” The Ghastly Ones is an oftentimes unintentionally hilarious piece of low-class, low-camp celluloid trash sass masquerading as a high melodrama, albeit with absurdly inane exploitation gross-out scenes. Indeed, The Ghastly Ones is the sort of film that can only be appreciated by the already Milligan initiated as a murderous melodrama for the morally insane that wallows in decided disdain for the nuclear family, especially of the bombastic bourgeois sort. A whacked-out work of garbage camp lunacy penned and directed by cinema history’s most marvelously misogynistic and hysterically hateful homo, The Ghastly Ones is probably best known in the horror world as a film that somehow managed to make the UK’s ‘Video Nasty’ list under the inferior alternate title Blood Rites, yet the film will probably be best enjoyed by those looking for an aesthetically malevolent mutation of the melodrama as a work that did for exploitation cinema what Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), and especially Martha (1974) did for German New Cinema as a damning work that defiles and denigrates the moral fiber of the family with the sort of venomous vengeance that one could only expect from a pissed poof with a large pink chip on both shoulders. The sordid story of three upper-middle class sisters who go with their equally banal cuckolded husbands to their deceased father’s manor for a three-day rendezvous of bloody murder to ostensibly collect their inheritance, The Ghastly Ones demonstrates that lies, greed, jealousy, hypocrisy, and hatred are the things that make families stick together like flies on dog shit. 

 Vicky (Milligan superstar Anne Linden) has been married to her lawyer hubby Rich (Fib LaBlaque) for seven long years yet her homo pastor brother-in-law Walter (Hal Sherwood) still has the gall to say to her like a true queen bitch, “You know, when Richard married you, I was furious with him. I didn’t think you were good enough for him…but I’m sure in time you’ll prove me wrong.” As hinted, Rich and his bro Walt once buggered one another, but he has more pressing problems to worry about as a man with a law firm who is somewhat broke, but luckily his wife Vicky is about to inherit a handsome sum via her father's death. With her sister Liz (Carol Vogel), who has been married to her husband Don (Richard Romanus, who would go on to star in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973)) for five years, and other sister Veronica (Eileen Hayes), who has been married to her husband Bill (Don Williams) for three years), Vicky meets with a grotesque lawyer named Dobbs (Milligan superstar Neil Flanagan in cheap Halloween makeup) to hear the reading of her belated father’s will. In the will, the father Crenshaw hilariously states, “My dearest darlings, by now you’re all happily married—something I never was. You loved your mother; I never did. She was a good mother but a bad wife. She was possessive, selfish, and frigid.” In the will, it is stipulated that the three sisters must “reside at the Crenshaw house in sexual harmony for a period of 3 days” and that “in case any unforeseeable events occur, the eldest heir shall re-disperse according to her best wishes.” When the sisters and their husbands arrive at Crenshaw manor, they are greeted by two maids, Martha (Veronica Radburn, who is best known for playing Annie’s psychiatrist in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977)) and Ruth Trask (Milligan superstar Maggie Rogers), and their hunchback brother Colin (Milligan superstar Hal Borske), who resembles a retarded gay werewolf and is featured at the beginning of The Ghastly Ones massacring a loving dandy couple. 

 The first night at the home, Veronica and Bill are treated to a dead rabbit in their bed with a note reading, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.” Meanwhile, Rich and Vicky find a ‘X’ written in blood on their bedroom door and Don goes to investigate. Ultimately, Don collapses after being drugged and Rich is found dead hanging upside down like Mussolini in the basement by his wife Vicky, with the viewer assuming retard Colin has committed the grizzly crimes. The next day, Don and Collin chop wood together and after the former finds a plank of wood with a bloody ‘X’ on it, he is gagged and disemboweled by a cloaked figure. Wondering where Don and Elizabeth have disappeared to, the guests proceed to eat dinner and find Elizabeth’s decapitated head on a platter. While rummaging through old photos, Bill discovers something interesting about the Crenshaw family but Colin snatches a particularly incriminating photo away from him and he is gutted with a pitchfork not long after. Servant Martha later discovers the very same picture and realizes an awful truth, but she is butchered with a sizeable hatchet before being able to tell someone. Not long after, the cloaked killer is revealed to be servant Ruth, whose real name is Hattie and who is not a mere maid but the fourth and oldest Crenshaw sister, who states to the two surviving sisters, Vicky and Veronica, “Meet your sister, Hattie! That’s right…your sister. You didn’t know that did you?… 31 years ago I was the first born in this house. My momma died giving birth to me. My father, our papa, loved my momma very much. He was so alone he married again, but he was so heart broken, he stayed away aside from five visits and he laid in there with that woman. That bitch! Your mother. Out of those five visits, 3 girls were conceived.” Hattie also reveals that her stepmother lied to her and convinced her she was one of the Trask children. Hoping to take the inheritance she believes is rightfully hers as the eldest Crenshaw daughter, Hattie planned to kill all her sisters and frame demented dullard Colin for the crime. Of course, she ultimately fails because Colin knocks her down the stairs and kills her while Vicky and Veronica stare in horror. 

 As star Hal Borske (who played hunchback ‘Colin’) revealed in the audio commentary for the Something Weird Video DVD release of The Ghastly Ones, the killer of the film, Hattie, like most of Milligan’s filmic villains, is based on auteur Andy Milligan’s own mother. As a man who had a physically and emotionally (and even sexually) abusive alcoholic mother (Milligan apparently shouted she was a “bitch” at her funeral), a bitchy sister (whose boyfriend once beat the shit out of the director in 1969, thus resulting in brother and sister never seeing each other again), and a half-Jewish pedophile half-brother, Milligan indubitably had a warped view on family matters and that is certainly quite clear in The Ghastly Ones.  As one-time Milligan collaborator Jimmy McDonough wrote in his bio The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan (2001), “Utilizing his Staten Island regulars, Milligan made yet another forgettable period horror movie in 1978, LEGACY OF BLOOD, and, improbably enough, it’s a nicely shot but pointless remake of his own GHASTLY ONES.” Additionally, Milligan’s early work Seeds (1968) aka Seeds of Sin, which only survives today as a butchered print featuring inserted sex scenes that have literally nothing to do with the film (Milligan oftentimes worked for Jewish exploitation distributor William Mishkin and his scumbag lawyer son Lew, who butchered/lost/destroyed most of the filmmaker’s works), is a sort of prototype for The Ghastly Ones in its depiction of a nasty and ultimately quite murderous family reunion. Undoubtedly, in terms of Milligan’s surviving films, The Ghastly Ones is a borderline ‘cream of the crop’ work that only falls behind Vapors (1965), Nightbirds (1970), The Body Beneath (1970), and Fleshspot on 42 Street (1973) in terms of its marvelous melodramatic malice. I think Milligan biographer McDonough paid Milligan the greatest compliment when he stated, “In terms of aesthetic, technique, and temperament, Andy Milligan and Rainer Werner Fassbinder are eerily similar. While far more sophisticated, movies like THE STATIONMASTER’S WIFE or MARTHA don’t seem all that far from Seeds, and entire sections of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ feel as if Milligan could have been lurking behind the camera. People talk and talk without ever getting close to one another,” Christian Braad Thomsen wrote of one particularly pungent Fassbinder creation. It’s a description that fits any Andy picture.” Featuring charmingly cynical one-liners like, “It always takes money to bring people together, doesn’t it,” “When you have been married as long as Richard and I, you will think twice about sexual demonstrations in public,” and “I want what’s coming to me…I’ll do anything to get what I want,” The Ghastly Ones ultimately demonstrates that when it comes to families, every member is more or less a ghastly one with some sort of unsavory ulterior motive. 

-Ty E

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Andy Milligan was a woofter, there-by rendering this movie worthless.