M: The Man With Two Heads (1972)

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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!