Dec 10, 2014
I have never really cared much for blockbuster ghost stories like The Amityville Horror (1979) and the Steven Spielberg produced (and apparently ‘ghostdirected’) Poltergeist (1982), so I was naturally somewhat interested to see how gay gutter auteur Andy Milligan would molest the intolerably formulaic horror subgenre with his hopelessly hokey haunted house rip-off piece (of shit) Carnage (1984) aka Hell House. Milligan’s first film in about half a decade since the release of Legacy of Blood (1978) aka Legacy of Horror (which was a mediocre remake of the director’s 1968 ‘classic’ The Ghastly Ones) and the failure of his aborted Antebellum Southern Gothic melodrama House of Seven Belles (1979), the work is notable for being the director’s second film shot on 35mm (following Guru, the Mad Monk (1970), which Milligan ultimately disowned) and being the only work where the filmmaker went over budget, or as Jimmy McDonough wrote in The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan (2001) while trashing the film: “Via Lew Mishkin, Milligan hooked up with English producer Michael Lee in 1983 to crank out CARNAGE, a forgettable lowball POLTERGEIST knockoff that featured regulars from the Troupe. Andy pointed out that it was one of the few Milligan pictures to go substantially over budge—$32, 500 instead of $30,000.” In October 1977, Milligan bought and moved into a four-story building in Manhattan where he used one of the floors for the Troupe Theatre, which was an Off-Off-Broadway venue that the auteur founded and ran until he closed the place for good in 1985 and made his way to Los Angeles where he would predictably die of AIDS in 1991. Naturally, regulars from Troupe Theatre appear in Carnage, which boasts some of the most unattractive actresses and especially actors (Milligan may have been a proud poof, but his choice in men was rather dubious) in a horror film, even for Milligan standards. Notably, one of these actors, Dennis Malvasi—a half-crazed and criminally-inclined Vietnam War vet and demolitions expert who falsely complained to be the son of Jewish bad boy actor John Garfield—would became much more (in)famous outside the Milligan circle, as he led a double life as a member of the Christian extremist group Our Lady of the Roses and was involved in four abortion clinic bombings that began in the late 1985 (while Malvasi eventually turned himself in after being declared a fugitive and served his time in prison, he has been in and out of prison ever since then and apparently now lives off the grid somewhere in New Jersey with his wife and three kids). Upon meeting him, Milligan fell in love with Malvasi, whose sole other acting roles include Don Schain's sexploitation flick The Abductors (1972) and frog fag filmmaker Jacques Scandelari's homo-slasher Monique (1978) aka Flashing Lights, and made him a member of the Troupe theater despite the fact that the he was virtually illiterate and had to ad lib his lines, even dressing up in drag for one performance when a female actress failed to show up for a show. Rather unfortunately, Malvasi only had a small and insignificant role in Carnage and would not go on to appear in anymore Milligan flicks.
The film will also notable to exploitation fans in that Bill Landis of Sleazoid Express infamy worked on the production, or as mentioned in Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square (2002) by Mr. Sleazoid and his wife Michelle Clifford: “Andy's realization that he still had a dedicated audience revitalized his interest in filmmaking. By the summer of 1983, he was back at work on a horror movie called CARNAGE. He photographed for the first time in 35mm, using cut-rate ends of film stock, shooting in Manhattan and Staten Island. Coauthor Landis worked on Andy's crew, taking time off from his job managing the shoebox adult grindhouse, the Doll, on 47th Street and 7th Avenue. The film was an entertaining haunted house escapade that wound up being released directly to home video. On the set, Andy was much like he was with his tiny Bolex in VAPORS—a peppery munchkin zooming all over the place, supervising the crew, searching for the best camera angles, acting out scenes for the performers.” A somewhat typical Milligan effort in that the director seems to have put most of his effort into the flower arrangements and misanthropic dialogue, Carnage is certainly a work that will appeal to Milligan maniacs and proud proponents of poor celluloid taste, though gorehounds will certainly find it to be the best of the director’s work as it is certainly his most graphic and gory film to date, as a work featuring a sinisterly sassy corpse bride disemboweling a would-be-robber’s intestines, not to mention some pretty cool, if somewhat softcore, suicide scenes.
In a classically mean-spirited Milligan-esque opening scene, a seemingly newlywed groom blows his beauteous blonde bride’s brains out while embracing her and then turns the gun on himself in the house they have assumedly just moved into together. Flash forward three years later and a less than young unwitting married couple, Carol (Leslie Den Dooven of Milligan’s unreleased 1984 TV series Red Rooster) and Jonathan Henderson (one-time actor Michael Chiodo), move into the house thinking they got a steal in regard to what little they paid for it, not realizing it is haunted by a pissed off poltergeist who still has not gotten over the fact that her husband blew her brains out on their wedding day (of course, as the viewer later learns, this is not exactly how the scenario played out). Carol and Jonathan do not think anything is out of the ordinary when items like coffee mugs and hedge clippers begin inexplicably moving around the house on their own or when an old phonograph randomly plays wedding music late each night. In fact, when the married couple hires an old maid named Rose Novak (Lola Ross of the 1981 Troma turd Waitress!) who soon randomly falls into a catatonic state and subsequently slits her own throat with a shaving razor, they still do not suspect that there might be something somewhat ominous about the less than humble abode that they call home. Of course, maid Rose had an unsettling face-to-face encounter with the ghost Bride, who warned her, “Go! Get out of my house.” Unfortunately, the Hendersons were not home when the disgruntled she-bitch spook committed her most surreal slaughter when she telekinetically murdered two would-be robbers, even ripping out the intestines of the unluckier of the two amateur small-time crooks. It is not until their housewarming party that Mr. and Mrs. Henderson begin to consider that they may have been ripped off in regard to their new home.
On the night of their housewarming party, the Henderson’s unhappily married friends Walter (John Garitt) and Ann (Chris Baker) are the first to feel the Ghost Bride’s wrath. Ann first encounters the ghost while she is brushing her hair, but that does not do enough to scare her away for good. After revealing to her hubby Walter that she is pregnant, chards of glass mysteriously stab her in the arm. That night, Walter decides to take a bath while listening to putrid polka music, but his relaxing moment is ruined when he is electrocuted after the ghost knocks the radio into the tub (notably, the viewer can see that the actor is still wearing underwear while he is being electrocuted!). At this point, Carol finally decides it is wise to do some actual research on the history of her homicidal home, so she goes to city hall where she meets with an eccentric old fart named Willis Karp (Ray Trail) who apologizes for rudely interrupting her while she is on the telephone with her husband and then proceeds to deliver the following classically Milligan-esque rant: “The whole world is rude. Years ago we had manners and beauty about us. Now it’s anything ugly that’s our way of life. People have forgotten to live with manners, so you do the same thing. You wake-up one fine morning and you find your food just like the rest of them.” From Mr. Karp, Carol learns that their home used to be owned by the loving married couple Mark (Chris Georges) and Susan Webb (Deeann Veeder), who he describes as, “such a beautiful couple…they loved each other very dearly.” Apparently, Mr. Webb spent years restoring the house and even when the wife Susan had a miscarriage, they still had much hope for their future, with Karp stating of the feeling that loving couple’s influence had over the home, “you could feel that house come alive with their love and adoration.” When Mrs. Webb was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, the couple decided to commit suicide on the anniversary of the day they took possession of the house, hence why they haunt the house today.
After realizing their house is hopelessly haunted, the Hendersons decide to have a priest come by the place and he declares that the cursed spirits of the home’s former inhabitants have taken over the spirit of the house itself. In a rather cynical Milligan-esque scenario, the priest receives a butcher knife to the skull just as he walks out of the house. Mr. Henderson’s newly engaged secretary Judy (Ellen Orchid) also literally loses her head after a flying ghost-wielded ax chops it off in one swift blow. Needless to say, the Hendersons finally decide enough is enough, call it quits on their luxury dream home, and decide to leave immediately, but while hubby Jonathan is packing the car with their possessions, Carol is visited by ghost Susan Webb who inexplicably attempts to convince her to stay, stating like a tired toddler with Down syndrome, “Don’t...go. We…will…leave…you…alone…if…you…keep…our…house…just…as…it…is.” When Jonathan eventually goes back into the house to get his wife, he is shocked to see she is holding hands with the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Webb. In a twist ending, the Webbs force the Hendersons to commit suicide in exactly the same fashion that they did some three years before, as if to save them from ever having to suffer the romantic tragedy of their marriage going sour. Carnage closes with a low-angle shot stolen directly from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) of the haunted house, which has a "For Sale" sign in front of it, thus hinting that the vicious cycle of spouse-based suicide pacts has just begun. Luckily, Milligan never opted to direct a sequel.
Andy Milligan must have had a truly accursed sod touch, as the old house where he shot Carnage reportedly burned down shortly after the film completed production. The film is also notable for being the last film Milligan shot on the east coast before moving to a gay neighborhood in L.A. and defecating his last (and arguably worst) three features—Monstrosity (1987), The Weirdo (1988), and the horrendous Hebraic-humored horror-comedy Surgikill (1988). Although Carnage was Milligan’s last east coast film, the filmmaker hooked up with a retired chemical engineer turned would-be playwright named Don Tobey who he convinced to allow him to turn his play into a TV series. A patently political incorrect low-camp sitcom about a pre-Viagra drug that helps old farts get their shriveled up cocks hard featuring old homos in drag, Mafioso vermin, and Arab Sheiks, the six-part series Red Rooster (1984) and its pilot episode Adventures of Red Rooster (1984) were ultimately never bought or released. Unfortunately, Carnage is neither as campy nor misanthropic as Milligan’s more classic works, which is all the more underscored by its promising opening quasi-high-camp murder-suicide scene between the husband and wife, which seems to be the director’s final word on marriage. In respect to Milligan's entire oeuvre, Carnage is probably as important as the darkly comedic 2011 chamber piece of the same name is to Roman Polanski's career. Still, I rather enjoyed the film’s extra venomous twist ending and would rather re-watch Carnage over The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist any day. One thing I found especially notable about the film is that it does not feature a single child and every married couple featured in the work either suffers a miscarriage or is killed off before they can start a nuclear family, which is a sentiment that I can currently relate to in terms of big familial plans falling through like a stake to the heart or a bullet to the brain. In that sense, the film is autobiographical as, although rampant sadomasochistic homo Milligan married his screen diva Candy Hammond (the true star of the director’s 1968 anti-family melodrama Seeds aka Seeds of Sin), she inevitably left him and the gutter auteur died in the summer of 1991 of AIDS without producing an heir. Indeed, Carnage practically bleeds of resentment and hatred for happy married heterosexual couples, hence its slight air of fleeting authenticity in comparison to other bullshit haunted house films, which seem to be geared towards phony bourgeois families who go to church every single Sunday. Personally, I would not mind living in a haunted house, especially one haunted by the cute blonde ghost bride of Milligan's Carnage.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 6:27 PM
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