Crapfest: The Mutining

It’s a familiar story by now, so let’s skip it. Sudden loss of paying gig, instead embrace life by making each other suffer with a Crapfest. It just turns out that mission statement was a little too literal this time.

Prepping for the evening’s entertainment

In attendance: Myself, Host David, Rick, Paul, Alan and Erik. I also brought my son, Max, who as we know, is establishing his own bona fides in the world of Crap. The beginning of these things is always a fluid matter, as inevitably we wait for one person or another to show up. The filler for this period was episodes of Jason of Star Command, one of Filmation’s wholesomely boring Saturday morning sci-fi offerings after parent groups scoured the mornings of violently entertaining fare like The Herculoids and Space Ghost.

Jason occupies the sweet (?) spot between Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Spun off from the previous year’s Space Academy, it thriftily used that series’ models; the most salient features are Jimmy Doohan as the Commander, and Sid Haig as the cyborg villain Dragos. Jason dresses like a Walmart Han Solo, and has a windup toy robot which has a handy deus ex machina function. There is really not enough Sid Haig, but each episode, sans commercials, was only about 10 minutes, so we kept going on until everybody got there, about four episodes worth.

Before we started in earnest, Dave demanded the flash drives of myself and Erik so he could examine the contents for (harrumph) quality. Of the several flicks on Erik’s drive, he singled out one, and I held that I had never seen it, so that is what we started with. And it would set the sad, horrible tone for the rest of the evening.

Because that movie was The Roller Blade Seven.

There are, in all, five – count them, five – Roller Blade movies. Six, if you count a making-of. They are all (except for the making-of) directed by Donald C. Jackson, likely best known for The Demon Lover or Hell Comes to Frogtown. The first two Roller Blade movies (I am told) are generally fun, cheap, sleazy trash full of gratuitous nudity. With this third one, though, Jackson began a long partnership with Hollywood martial artist Scott Shaw. This was an instance of “zen filmmaking”, which translates into “we make it up as we go along”. Also, gratuitous nudity does not seem to be very zen. In effect, I was somehow tricked into watching the Public Access Cable offering of some early 80s wannabe electro pop band.

In a vaguely post-apocalyptic world, Shaw is Hawk, a guy who roller blades around with a sword. He’s supposed to rescue, um… let’s check the Quotes section in IMDb:

Hawk: You have sent for me, Father Donaldo?

Reverend Donaldo: Hawk, sister Sparrow has been adapted (sic) and taken into our worst nightmare.

Hawk: You mean my sister that has become your sister?

Reverend Donaldo: Yes, our sister sister. You must go now to rescue her!

“Hey, I got this cool armor I made in shop class” “And I got this mail-order camo ninja outfit” “You’re BOTH in the picture!”

Donaldo, incidentally, is played by Jackson himself. Hawk’s rescue mission will somehow involve Frank Stallone, Joe Estevez, William Smith, and Don Stroud, each of whom will get a credit just before their entrance, no matter how far into the story. That’s something I’ve previously only seen in some Hong Kong movies, and it’s not the only strange appropriation, either.

Karen Black shows up as a character named Tarot, who keeps stuffing mushrooms in Hawk’s mouth until he begins tripping balls, and I guarantee that Ms. Black was having some Easy Rider flashbacks of her own while shooting this stuff. There are portions of Roller Blade Seven that feel like Jackson and Shaw had really wished they had made Easy Rider, Performance, Circle of Iron  or any given Jodorowsky flick, and those sections actually approach a sort of brilliance. Then again, that is probably the sheer amount of painkillers I was taking to get through this experience talking.

So now the rollerblade is on the other foot, eh, Rhonda?

Another of the celebrities somehow rooked into appearing in this is Rhonda Shear, late of USA weekend movies. “Ha!” I said. “I have a VHS somewhere of Rhonda dissing Forever Evil.” “And look what you’re doing now,” said Dave behind me. He leaned closer, pointing at my phone. “Do it. Find Rhonda Shear on Twitter and tell her what you’re doing. Do it now.”

Alas, I was already too inebriated to pursue such a complex series of actions for the cold comfort of revenge, and in the sober light of day, I’m probably better off for it. But it was sorely tempting. (As a slight digression, I experimented with a keyboard case for my Kindle Fire to livetweet the Crapfest, but it was too dark in the Mancave to type on an unfamilar device. I returned to the phone, but toward the end it was taking me what felt like five minutes to tap out a coherent message and I gave up)

Supposedly there were over 24 hours of footage shot for this and its direct sequel, Return of the Roller Blade Seven, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating every action shot and every shot leading up to an action shot three or four times.

Why weren’t five movies made about THIS guy?

My favorite character was a bizarre Nash the Slash lookalike who rollerbladed around playing the banjo. Everybody else hated him, which only made it better. Of course, he gets killed by a Utility Ninja (who gets his own credit). Dave uses the VLC Media Player to project most of our stuff, and would jostle the mouse every now and then to display the progress bar at the bottom. The official running time is 96 minutes, but the first time he did that – when we were pretty sure we’d sat through about an hour – it was less than 30 minutes in. Many and varied were the amounts of invective hurled toward Erik by Dave, who felt that Erik should have warned him better, louder, and more colorfully.

If there was one good thing about this, it allowed me to find the next night’s Episode 12 of the new Twin Peaks, which pissed everybody else off, hilarious. The one bad thing was it gave Dave the excuse he needed to throw in something he had been saving for ages.

First he had to go to his computer to set the movie up. “This is open matte!” he proclaimed, and then pointed to me. “Explain to them what open matte means!” he said, and departed. The surprising thing is, as out of it as I was, I actually managed a concise and clear explanation. Then the thing started.

It was Showgirls. Well, I thought, I still haven’t seen it, I guess this is the time, though I was puzzled by the corner super about “Celebrating 25 years of great American cinema” and the network bug in the corner, which at least explained the open matte, 4×3 picture. Then the pure horror of what Dave had perpetrated became obvious.

This was the basic cable TV version with superimposed digital underwear.

The digital underwear is certainly something to see. It looks like those lobby cards from the more salacious flicks of the 70s that have really obvious underthings painted on, except here the outlines of the fake bras are subtly writhing as the actresses move. Alan, who, like me, had never seen Showgirls, left the room and refused to return, not willing to see a literally bowdlerized version. Paul kept us informed as to what was cut out, until he, too, joined the general exodus from the room a half hour in, and the only occupants were myself, my son, and Dave. I decided it was time to take one for the team.

“Okay, I’m calling it.”


“You’ve made your point. Let’s end this and move on.”

“Does this mean I’ve won?”

“Sure. You’ve won.”

“Mark this day down!”


“I want the full details of this in your write-up!”

“Fine, fine.”


This was also the point I stopped live-tweeting, an event Dave later likened to radio contact being cut off from the reporter at Grover’s Mill.

Yet things did actually get worse from there, and it was my fault. An earlier discussion of late night televangelists caused me to realize that I had Werner Herzog’s God’s Angry Man, a marvelous short documentary about the deranged Reverend Gene Scott, on my flash drive. In my impaired state, this seemed like kismet, guidance from above. It turns out Herzog is not a good antidote for denied boobie fans, however, and there was another general exodus. Severe misjudgment on my part. I relented and put on a classic cartoon about everybody’s favorite serial killer, The Pincushion Man.

And then Dave proceeded to soothe a whole lot of hurt feelings with Au Pair Girls (1972).

In the name of laziness, I will simply place the IMDb’s summary here:

Four sexy young foreign girls come to England as au pairs and quickly become quite intimate with their employers, host families, and just about everyone else they encounter.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. That is the very loose framework employed to get four very pretty young women to take their clothes off as often as possible. One of them is Me Me Lai, and it is pretty refreshing to see her get naked and then not get eaten by cannibals. Another of them is Gabrielle Drake, which means if, like me, you only watched the TV series UFO for the Moonbase girls, this is the luckiest day of your life. All these nude misadventures find them jobless and back at their agency, but fortunately our young faux Scandinavian has caught the eye of a rich Sheikh and apparently they all go off to Araby for a happy life of sex slavery.

The most remarkable thing is that it’s directed by Val Guest, just one more stop in a long and varied career. Here, enjoy the theme music that would haunt us for the rest of the evening:

I finally hit a better stride with Bloody Parrot, a completely bizarre Shaw Brothers movie from 1981. The Bloody Parrot is some sort of supernatural thingie that, if you see it, will grant you three wishes. The first guy who sees it is looking for 13 treasures that were stolen from his lord, and his first wish is to find them – they mysteriously appear, but in some Monkey’s Paw shit, his son is killed. Of course, he wishes for his son back, the coffin starts shaking, everybody panics and starts stabbing each other, and the 13 treasures disappear.

This is the first five minutes of the movie.

For the rest of the running time, our hero Yeh Tin-feng (Jason Paio Pai, looking a lot like Kuan Tai Chen) is looking for the treasures because everybody seems to think he has them for some reason. He keeps running across the Bloody Parrot, though no wishes are offered – people just die mysteriously. He follows the most tenuous of clues to the Parrot Brothel, where he falls in with the remarkable courtesan Xue Nu (Jenny Liang), who’s the movie’s major selling point, I’m sure, as evidenced by the opening credits:

Ms. Liang is certainly fetching, and is introduced in a costume that renders her literally half-naked. That she does the following lengthy scene – including a strenuous bit where she is apparently possessed by the devil – in that outfit is pretty amazing and much appreciated by the male audience. The plot goes fourteen different directions at once, involving witches, vampires, cannibals, strange conspiracies, hunchbacks, acid (the burning kind) and then we get introduced to this lady:

Who likes to use the skin of her victims to make clothes. Her weapon is embroidery needles. She is also on the side of the good guys, which surprised some, since you aren’t usually introduced to good guys with somebody’s face in an embroidery hoop..

This was the third time I had seen Bloody Parrot, and this was the time I almost understood the plot. (Maybe I should try that with Roller Blade Seven, but then again naaaaaah, fuck that noise.) Finally Yeh and Xue are separated in the villains’ hall of mirrors, and Xue hits upon the strategy of marking her trail with the only thing on her, her clothing. Which is either the stupidest plan ever or the most phenomenal stroke of genius, depending on your gender.

Villains are finally revealed, and the explanation for what’s going on is so blazingly simple, you wonder why it was necessary to swim through such murky chaos to get to it, but then Liang shows up in that half-dress again, and everything’s okay.

Nothing short on the Internets, you can’t buy it on Amazon, so here:

Mind you, that was me being nice. Then it was time to be not-nice, as I broke out the last of my Andy Milligan blu-rays, Torture Dungeon. Milligan had not yet appeared at Crapfest, which, if not a miscarriage of justice, is at least a bit of a surprise. We are no strangers to Milligan here at Yes, I Know, so let me see if I can be as succinct and informative as I was about open matte abominations.

Milligan is credited with 29 motion pictures, but is probably most famous for ten horror movies made between 1969 and 1973 for the grindhouse market, infamous for their gore. The gore would be considered pretty tame these days, but these flicks are (for me) most notable for the fact that parsimonious producer William Mishkin would give him only $10,000 to make each movie, and they are almost all period piecesTorture Dungeon, in fact is a medieval movie, and attempting to do such a thing on that budget without a renaissance festival nearby is insane.

And check out that authentic period set dressing!

Milligan is self-taught, and his background is largely theatrical; this is always made particularly obvious by his love for lengthy monologues with no cuts. There are at least five of them in Torture Dungeon, but there is damn little of the title character. Two scenes, enough to justify the expense of dressing the basement and larding the makeup on a couple of guys.

There is some sort of plot here about a villainous Duke (Gerald Jacuzzo) plotting to kill all the heirs in line for the crown of England, and for some brain-damaged reason this involves marrying the pretty peasant Heather (Susan Cassidy) to his half-wit brother (after killing her equally-peasant lover), and then immediately murdering the half-wit. There is a surprising amount of nudity from Ms. Cassidy, which was at least a welcome distraction. In fact, she body doubles for another actress (Patricia Garvey, I believe) whose nude scene we were actively rooting for. As Dave pointed out, “It’s the freckles that give it away.” Well, that and the ham-fisted editing.

There is so much more. The Milligan Spin, after every blood scene. That the storytelling is so haphazard that we didn’t even know the Duke only had one arm until halfway through the picture. Milligan did his own costumes, so the “Upholstery or Tablecloth?” game.  The cheap library music that is obviously, jarringly from 60s industrial films, which simply cut off at the end of a scene. I used to say I could watch only one Andy Milligan movie a year, and now I can’t get enough of him. He’s like crap movie crack. True outsider art.

Thus bludgeoned by the evening, we packed up and left, sadder but no wiser. And on the way home, my son asked if I could track down a copy of Roller Blade Seven for him. The horror. The horror.

I don’t want to leave you on such a hopeless note. Here is a Charley Bowers short I screened earlier in the evening, in happier times. Though it is predictably racist in its portrayal of superstitious butlers, it is even more racist against Scotsmen.

Though We Cannot Possibly Recommend It:

Buy The Roller Blade Seven on Amazon

Buy The Un-Bowdlerized Showgirls on Amazon

Buy Au Pair Girls on Amazon

Buy Torture Dungeon on Amazon

M: The Man With Two Heads (1972)

Hubrisween 4
Hubrisween Central  ♠  Letterboxd Page

the-man-with-two-heads-movie-poster-1972-1020688733In the annals of exploitation film rarely has there ever been such an obvious, and hence delightful, cheat. It is now widely known that, despite the cartoon in the corner of the poster, there is actually no man with two heads in this movie. It is instead an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Andy Milligan, and producer William Mishkin (perhaps the great villain in Milligan’s career) re-titled it to piggyback on a movie that had an actual advertising budget, AIP’s The Thing With Two Heads.

The movie is going to establish its dubious bona fides right off the top when it misspells the author’s name as Stephenson. You know the story by now; Dr. Jekyll is a kind, decent man who is seeking to isolate the source of evil in man and purge it from the world. He has managed to develop a formula that makes the evil section of the brain glow green, but he has run out of animals to experiment upon, so he injects himself with the essence of evil, not realizing his assistant bungled the formula for the antidote.

These are Milligan’s major changes in the story: Jekyll’s version of Ygor, the addition of Jekyll’s medical students to abuse as the formula starts kicking in at inopportune times, and the fact that Mr. Hyde has been rechristened Danny Blood (probably for what Milligan thought would be a very commercial title, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Blood, not reckoning on the unvarnished hucksterism that would devise The Man With Two Heads). The rest of the story is too simple and well-told to change significantly.

This is one of three movies Milligan actually shot in England in ’71 (The Body Beneath and Bloodthirsty Butchers being the other two), and he had some unusually good luck with actors in these. Denis DeMarne is actually pretty damned good as Jekyll/Blood, Julia Stratton as the doomed prostitute April and Jacqueline Lawrence as Carla Jekyll are much better than they need to be, and Berwick Kaler as Ygor Jack is also a standout (He was in all three of the Brit Milligans, for obvious reasons). DeMarne and Kaler survived this and went on healthy careers.

"My makeup - I didn't go too heavy, did I?"

“My makeup – I didn’t go too heavy, did I?”

And therein lies a confusing thing for me: I can usually only make it through one Milligan movie a year – I need the detox time. But God help me if I didn’t find myself sort of liking this plucky off-model Jekyll and Hyde. There is actually a growing sense of competence in Milligan’s filmmaking. This is not a great movie in any sense of that word, But getting through it was not the endurance contest I usually feel with Milligan. The scenes between Blood and April are grueling, for the right reasons for once: the lines seem lifted from a particularly intense dominance & submission scene, and I would actually bet money that they were.

It’s still a Milligan movie, though. Lengthy, talky scenes that would be fine on a stage are done in one take, camera and actors apparently nailed to the floor. No boom mike, so dialogue in many scenes has all the reverb bouncing off the walls and ceiling (I can hear Mishkin saying “ADR? What’s that? Some new drug?”). When he does a close shot on a dialogue scene, you can hear the whirr of the camera motor bouncing off the actor’s faces. Milligan also likes to repeat himself a lot; too much padding is derived from one character telling another what happened in another scene.

"Argh! Those two caterpillars - they're back on my forehead!"

“Argh! Those two caterpillars – they’re back on my forehead!”

It is a fun game to play when looking at Milligan’s period costumes: “Tablecloth or Upholstery?” Carla Jekyll appears to be wearing Carol Burnett’s dress from her Gone With the Wind sketch, and April appears at one point in a bizarrely medieval gown that must have been left over from Torture Dungeon. Whenever we have one of Milligan’s trademark gore scenes, you can count on the scene ending by having the camera spin around in a circle.

Still. This is a damned period piece shot on a budget of $20,000. Milligan’s theatrical background allowed him to cut corners on things like costuming (he reportedly made a lot of the costumes himself). It’s those same hidebound theatrical sensibilities that often sabotage him, though.

The scariest thing about this is now I’m actually looking forward to watching another Milligan movie. What the hell.

I watched the CodeRed blu-ray which was quite good; though I can’t find a trailer on YouTube, here is a crap quality clip of DeMarne, some unfortunate eyebrow makeup, and, for some reason, a fog machine:

Three Movies That Don’t Belong Together

100April is shaping up to be a killer month, as in next week (known throughout the land as “@#$!ing Tax Week”) will not only damage me financially but physically, a week of non-stop labor that will (at least) end with a Crapfest, but it’s a Crapfest that largely exists because one of our number passed away recently. More on that later. If I survive.

So at least I watched some movies at Rick’s before this horrible month started. We tend to put together three movies that have some sort of connection, but this time we decided to get all eclectic and see what happened. 1308402322One of the things that this “Watch These 100 Movies” Challenge is doing is, at least, getting me off my ass as far as Charlie Chaplin goes, and it turns out Rick hadn’t really watched any of his stuff either. One I had on hand was Modern Timesso off we went.

The major memory I carry with me from my first feature-length Chaplin, The Gold Rush, is that in the opening shot I was immediately introduced to Charlie Chaplin, Serious Filmmaker. I’m not kidding about that. That proto-Herzog shot involving hundreds of people made me reconsider my opinion of Chaplin instantly. So what, then, are we to make of Modern Times, an almost entirely silent movie released in 1936, almost ten years after The Jazz Singer ushered in the era of talkies?

modern_timesIn the extended riff on Metropolis that opens Modern Times, the only time human speech is heard is through machinery: the head of the steel mill commanding his foreman to speed things up through a TV screen (science fiction in 1936!) and a sales pitch recorded on a Victrola record. Everything else? as if it were filmed fifteen, twenty years earlier: silent, with only the occasional sound effect. It’s hard arguing with the result: a master working within a format with which he is intimately familiar and comfortable.

As the story progresses and the title character (and modern times is a character in this movie) frustrates and blockades the Little Tramp at every turn, in the final sequence, even he must give himself over to synchronized sound, with – just as The Jazz Singer did – a song. Even then, losing the lyrics written on his cuffs, he has to resort to pantomime and nonsense.

Modern Times was made after Chaplin had spent a year and a half traveling the world, and talking with people as diverse as Henry Ford and Mahatma Gandhi. He returned to an America still deeply mired in the Great Depression, probably not a little politicized – and it shows. The opening section in the factory is based on Chaplin’s visit to Henry Ford’s famous assembly line, where young men were abandoning farm work for better money and, after a few years working that line, suffering nervous breakdowns. After the Little Tramp suffers a similar breakdown, he proceeds to drift from one attempted job to another, where any whiff of unionizing is visited by police wielding batons. This movie was Exhibit A when the House Un-American Activities Committee decided Chaplin was a Commie. chaplin-modern-times-1936-granger

A breath of fresh air is Chaplin’s then-lover, Paulette Goddard, as The Gamin, a young lady down on her luck, who manages to escape the juvenile authorities when the rest of her family is packed off to an orphanage. On the waterfront, the Gamin is like Tarzan (right down to wearing what appears to be one of Jane’s tossed-off dresses), and her and the Tramp’s run-ins with the Law leads to a partnership alternately heartbreaking and uplifting (and hilarious, needless to say). Once they finally seem to have found their ideal place, it’s those same forces of the Law that rousts them (all other problems solved, they still want to bust The Gamin for vagrancy), and they find themselves on the road again. That isn’t a new sensation for the Little Tramp, but he has a companion. Again, not new, but this time we have the feeling that companion is an equal, and that’s nice. And if Chaplin had to put a coda to The Little Tramp character, the silent era in general, and a last word (ha!) to an America in distress – “Buck up! Never say die! We’ll get along!” ain’t a bad one, at all.

I don’t give out five-star ratings easily. Modern Times got one instantly, and without a second thought. bloodthirsty

We had decided to place a “palette cleanser” in the second position, acting like a raspberry sorbet between courses of a meal. No sorbet this, however, what we had was a blu-ray of Andy Milligan’s Bloodthirsty Butchers. (Andy Milligan on blu. This is an age of wonders.)

Bloodthirsty Butchers is Milligan’s screen version of “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, a piece of penny dreadful literature that dates back to 1846. Lots of folks have taken a crack at the story, including Tod Slaughter – there’s even a ballet, for pete’s sake. This is one of two movies Milligan actually shot in England in 1970. (The other one, The Body Beneath, gets my vote as the almost watchable of his films), instead of trying to make Staten Island look like period Europe. Tim Lucas put it best: Andy Milligan’s movies play out like filmed community theater productions. There are one or two good actors, many mediocre ones, and some oy-god-get-off-the-stage actors. And somebody’s mom (in this case, Milligan himself) sewed the costumes out of whatever was available.

The heartbreak of nailess Milligan hand.

The heartbreak of nailess Milligan hand.

The most fun was finding modern devices in the background, and how every room has the curtains drawn to avoid the 1970 neighborhoods outside; the modern hairstyles and makeup. And yelling “WHO ARE YOU??” every time a new character suddenly cropped up. (Actually, the most fun I had was fantasizing a 40-ish Stephen Sondheim, chilling out from the intense workshopping of Company and catching this crap at a 42nd St. theater. Thinking, “Hey, I bet I could get a musical out of this!”)

Watching Milligan movies is perversely fascinating, but draining. I really can only manage one a year. And I still have these other two blu-rays…

This part, at least, did have us screaming in horror.

This part, at least, did have us screaming in horror.

How was the blu, you might ask? Well, it’s quite clear, but so obviously a 16mm print that was blown up to 35mm the grain should get a screen credit. That’s not the fault of Code Red, who put out the blu – that was standard operating procedure for Milligan and William Mishkin. How else do you think he made movies for only $12,000? Milligan always had his framing too tight, so if you’re watching this on a modern 16:9 TV, reset your aspect ratio to 4:3. Andy had enough shortcomings on his own without adding to them by cropping off what little frame he had.

And I couldn’t find a trailer online. Lucky you. IF

So what were we cleansing our palettes between? Well, Rick has been having a bit of a problem with the entertainment he enjoyed as a youth. Most recently, a few months ago, we watched an episode of Space 1999 which murdered that particular sector of his childhood (the episode had an implied-nude Sarah Douglas, and endless scenes of a slow-motion bouncing ball). Then, a month or so ago, he watched an old cable favorite, Foxes ,with terrible results. So his next attempt to capture the cable glory of his childhood was approached with not a little fear. The movie was Thief, and as I put it, “This is a Criterion blu-ray. How bad can it be?”

Thief was Michael Mann’s first theatrical feature, after a very well-received TV movie, The Jericho Mile, gave him enough clout to convince James Caan to take the title role. Caan plays Frank, who is, you might guess, a thief, and an awfully good one. His two-man crew (one of which is Jim Belushi) and he plan and perform heists that specialize only in cash or diamonds locked inside seemingly invulnerable vaults. This eventually garners the attention of Leo (Robert Prosky, a TV actor also making the jump to movies), a godfather type who wants Frank to work for him exclusively.

caan weldFrank carries in his wallet a photo collage of the ideal life he wants: house, kids, wife. He convinces a waitress he’s attracted to, Jessie (Tuesday Weld) to be the wife and mother in the collage, and once she agrees, Frank also agrees to Leo deal: a couple of big jobs to sweeten his retirement pot, and then he will retire to his carefully-managed secret identity as the owner of a car lot. And that, as they say, is when the trouble starts.

Mann insisted on authenticity, not only from his actors (and the diner scene between Jessie and Frank is still taught in method acting classes), but from his story: there are several actual high-profile thieves in the cast, who were consultants, and lent the movie their tools of the trade (like that huge drill Caan uses in the opening scene). Apparently Caan learned so much under their tutelage he actually cracked a safe in his sister’s house when the mechanism fouled up. burn bar

Rick was gratified: the movie was actually better than he remembered it. For my part, I had owned the soundtrack for something like mumble mumble years, oh, all right, I bought it when it came out in 81. This was only Tangerine Dream’s second American theatrical score, but I had been buying their albums since about 77 or so. So it was nice to finally see the images that inspired some of the music.

But how did I like the movie? Thief is very good, primarily for the reason Rick put forth: its balance between character and technique, Frank’s life and his trade, is almost perfect. Mann is stretching visual muscles here that are eventually going to coalesce into Miami Vice and shape fashion and entertainment for a good portion of the 80s. And the choice of Tangerine Dream is perfect for the neon-lit vistas and brutal technology Frank employs – sometimes the score is almost indistinguishable from the  roar of the drill.

It’s also fun to see other members of the Mann Repertory Company crop up – William Peterson as a bouncer in a bar, Dennis Farina as a gunsel. Good stuff.

Now I need to finish this up, post it, and gird my loins for the next two weeks. I may get to slide in a movie or two, but I won’t get to write about them, until the latter part of the month. Enjoy what’s left of your Easter baskets, kiddies, and be excellent to each other. I should be back.

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)

My greatest weakness as a writer, I have found, is that I’m just not very good at titles. I take cold comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one. How many movies are there titled Boiling PointManiacIsland of (fill in the blank)? So I get really excited – far too excited, really – when I know I absolutely must see a movie based on the title alone. Such a title – and I’ve been meaning to watch it for years – is The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

There is no way I can not watch a movie titled that. It has, admittedly, taken me forty years to do so. I remember back in the dawn of the VHS boom, I saw a copy of it for rent, but I grabbed something else entirely. Maybe The Fantastic Animation Festival. Never regretted that. And now I know why.

Because, of course, the entertainment value of the movie is in inverse proportion to that incredible name.

That title is credited to producer William Mishkin, while the movie is the work of Andy Milligan. Milligan had a strange, troubled life; he entered the world of low-budget movies through his involvement in the off-off Broadway theatrical scene. His first movie was Vapors, a 30 minute gay movie set in a bathhouse. This got Mishkin’s attention, and Milligan was soon making low-budget sexploitation movies for Mishkin’s 42nd street theater connections. He knew where to find actors who’d work cheap and, thanks to his theater experience, knew how to build sets and make costumes.

So, really, I kind of sigh when I consider Milligan; His movies cannot be considered good, but it’s easy to see the aspirations at work. Given more than a few thousand bucks to work with and some support personnel, he might have been pretty good. But even his best work – something like The Body Beneath, say – still bears all the telling shortfalls of a creator wearing too many hats with too few tools at his disposal. Single mike recordings of dialogue, limited lighting, needle-drop music cues that cut off suddenly at scene changes…

But dammit, you see him trying. You see the actors trying. Milligan actually has some pretty good actors working for him… but they are betrayed by their material – almost always, written by Milligan. It is almost always stuff that would be ripe but tolerable on a stage, but on a movie screen, too often the kiss of ennui.

The Rats Are Comingconcerns itself with the Mooney family, in what we are eventually told is 1899 England. The period is a bit slippery here – Milligan’s costumes are serviceable for the period (if not entirely accurate – I’m particularly

Quick now – 1899? or 1972?

skeptical of one of Monica’s hats), but two of his younger actresses are quite obviously wearing 1972 hairstyles and make-up. Not that I mind. 1972 was a good year for me.

The Mooneys are a dreadfully dysfunctional family, something with which Milligan, sadly, had a lot of experience. The aged father of the clan is given to “attacks” whenever his temper is roused, and must be given increasingly frequent injections. The eldest daughter, Phoebe, is running family matters as best she can, aided by eldest brother, Mortimer. Next oldest daughter is Monica, psychotically jealous (or just plain psychotic), and another brother, Malcolm, is best described as “animal-like”. The youngest daughter, Diana, returns to the Mooney estate with a new husband in tow, much to the disdain of Pa. He sent Diana off to medical school so she could help him with his “experiments”. Dian’s husband, Gerald, starts noticing odd things, like dismembered chickens showing up in the halls and Monica jumping out of wardrobes with a knife.

Oh screw it, they’re werewolves, okay? The Mooneys are a bunch of freaking werewolves! It’s right there in the title, for God’s sake. Pa isn’t trying to cure the lycanthropy, though, he’s working on life extension – he, himself is 199 years old! Then everything goes to hell in the last ten minutes due to really bad timing, and the estate becomes werewolf central.

Now, this was the basis for Milligan’s original movie, which was called The Curse of the Full Moon, and ran only 72 minutes. “Not long enough!” yelled Mishkin, and to pad the movie out, they have a subplot where Monica goes into town to buy a new pet from Mr. McHarbor (that’s actually a pretty clever name), who sells her some rats that ate off his left arm and half his face one night when he had too much to drink. Why is there this subplot? Willard was making money at the time. And Mishkin came up with that delicious title.

The title still gets it wrong anyway, because the rats last maybe five minutes at the Mooney household, until Monica is bitten by a rubber rat (what part of “flesh-eating” didn’t you get?) and she returns them to McHarbor, demands her money back, and then sets him on fire. At least I think that’s what happens. The scene is badly lit, and Milligan’s handheld camera tends to go into Swirl-A-Vision during murder scenes. But The Rats Have Come And Gone! The Werewolves Will Be Here Eventually! just doesn’t have the same panache.

And this is what happens when you rely on “ends” for your film stock.

It turns out Monica has a friend, another girl-woman named Rebecca, who is basically a Cockney Monica. Introduced at roughly the one hour mark, the only reason Rebecca exists, besides to give the tooth-grindingly annoying Monica more screen time, is to mention that she’s seen things at the estate that ensure that Monica will hack her up bloodily.

Except. I have the Video Kart DVD of this, paired with Bloodthirsty Butchers, and the scene is scissored into incomprehension, apparently for TV. Good grief, this sort of thing drives me mad. I’ve run into this twice – while writing reviews for Shriek of the Mutilated and I Drink Your Blood – where the available tapes/discs were TV edits. Those movies – and Milligan’s horror movies – are infamous for their gore. This renders judging them on any sort of reasonable basis moot. How am I supposed to judge such an incomplete product? It’s like trying to review a G-rated version of Deep Throat. Uncut versions of the two linked movies above have surfaced on DVD, but I somehow doubt an uncut version of The Rats Are Coming is ever going to appear.

Then again, I should probably count my blessings – according to Wikipedia, the DVD currently resting on my desk does not exist.

At one point in the movie, Diana goes into town to buy a pistol. This leads to a very long scene with a comical old gunsmith who sells her a suspiciously modern-looking automatic pistol and is sweet-talked into melting down a silver crucifix for bullets. Even as you wonder why the hell this scene is taking so long (outside of padding the running time) you find yourself liking the gunsmith, he’s one of the better actors. Then you later find out the gunsmith was Andy Milligan.

Milligan the writer has a problem with circular scripts; in Rats it’s characters that keep almost saying something significant, then saying, “I’ll tell you when the time is right.” But I’ve got to say the one thread running through the movie, and whereby we finally find out what the hell is going on with the Mooneys is very well handled, if somewhat drawn out over a lot of territory; but then, I’ve never run across a truly gothic piece of fiction that I didn’t feel the same about.

At any rate, there’s a reason, I re-discover, that I measure the time between Milligan movies in years, rather than months. I find them interesting to hash out afterwards, but the actual watching… ho, boy, that can be a chore. But why take my word for it? You can download it from The Internet Archive! Not that I necessarily feel you should.

(And dear God, I love that the comments all think this is a British movie, not something shot down the street from the Staten Island Ferry! Good on you, Andy!)

And hey, here’s a trailer that gives away what is supposed to be the final Twilight Zone twist! Now you don’t have to see it!