Madness! Murder! Milligan!
When seedy shyster Lawyer Dobbs calls the Crenshaw family to his office to read their deceased dad's long awaited will, the Victorian dressed dollar-holics bustle and spat their way to the reading. The seemingly ancient ambulance chaser informs them, formula style, that they must go to the isolated family manor and spend some quality time with the generally unbalanced staff. The fact that Dobbs looks like a Judy doll crossed with an Italian widow offers no foreboding to these financially minded minions. They immediately beat a path to the mansion where they discover Colin, a retarded hunchback who has the mind of a planter's wart and the taste for free-range rabbit tartar, and Martha and Hattie, two maids with anger management issues. The scene is set for a little old dark house homicide, and as predicted, one by one, the potential estate baiters find themselves meeting up with inheritance's number one fussbudget, death. After a little slicing, dicing, mincing, and rinsing, the remaining rats in this murderous maze think they know from whom the slaughter extols. But paternity makes for strangling bedfellows as a last minute bombshell turns out to be a dud, leaving us to ponder just whom The Ghastly Ones were.
Old crone matron Claris Manning, who redefines the word "crotchety" with every bourbon-fueled blast from her mangled maw, just can't believe that her ditzy daughter Carol has invited the money hungry members of her hated family over for a holiday get together. Seems that the wealthy witch wishes that her offal offspring would simply make like a group of in testate inheritors and drop dead. No sooner do the bequest buffoons show up at the ratty old mansion than one by one they proceed to push up some pretty unpleasant daises. Some are stabbed. Others are electrocuted. And one lucky lass, the sadism loving Susan, gets a one-time sulfuric acid facial (oddly enough, her ape-like man friend takes a tap to the cranium with a piece of floorboard and his head opens like a casaba melon). As our several little idiotic Indians are reduced to an unlikely few, Carol grows more and more craven, trying to restart her past adolescent sex acts with bothered brother Mark. His rejection sends our amiss miss into an infantile rage. And all the while, shots of completely unrelated two-toned hippies making mattresses mudpies are inserted into the narrative to give the film some grindhouse Seeds of Sin.
The Ghastly Ones has a title that should spell suspense and a promised premise of gore ready to draw its blood-drenched hook into even the most misgiving fan of exploitation. But the reality is far more redundant and ridiculous. Andy Milligan's mad movie to murder and millinery is the only horror film where the aspects of the filmmaking are far more frightening than the slayings themselves. The first creepy issue is the costume design. The entire cast walks around in lace collars, crinoline skirts, and numerous petticoats like this supposed slasher flick is Dickens' Bleak House (just call it Fortnight the 13th). Next, there is the pre-credits murder sequence, featuring characters we do not know, a setting we are totally unfamiliar with, and an umbrella so large and tacky that even Tijuana tourists would avoid it as vulgar. While the scene has an unnerving effect, it has more to do with that tasteless parasol and less to do with the eye gouging and leg splitting. And then there is the gore. Aside from one good head spray toward the end, someone forgot the Kayo claret for the rest of the Rue Morgue mania. When a so-called intestinal torture scene has less grue and guts that an episode of The Golden Girls (and is far less frightening, by the way), you sense the no budget restrictions could have been convoluted to provide some human heart fuel. While Milligan's moviemaking is all odd viewpoints and surreal juxtapositions, it just can't save the sanguine-less story here. A good dose of arterial antics would have made this maniac movie manageable.
If The Ghastly Ones is a letdown in promise vs. payoff, Seeds of Sin is a genuinely warped masterwork of misplaced melodrama. So campy that Boy Scouts are seen circling it for merit badges and filled to bursting with ludicrous story twists (incest, blood changing), insane classic dialogue ("I love you so much I could kill you"), and perversely unexplainable subplots (the scheming servants, the slimy abortionist, the psychotic youngest son) this wild B&W workout showcases a filmmaker of rare resplendent outrageousness. The cinematic polar opposite—in both image and imagination—to Ghastly, one can see nearly every John Waters kitchen sink dragfest floating around in Milligan's salacious stew of strange camera swirls, unrealistic close-ups and genuinely awkward framing angles. This is a movie that has to be experienced to be believed, from the muscle magazine masturbation scene to the Kiss of Death inspired finale. Even the inserted skin scuffles, blatant in their other actor aspects, work within the confines of Milligan's misguided vision. These asexual rest stops give us a chance to turn away from the screen and think about the over-the-top tantrums and genuinely tawdry tenants of this dysfunctional family fiesta. In this duo of delirium from the dressmaker turned director, Seeds bitch-smacks Ghastly and shows that Milligan may just have been a wrongly mocked defrocked filmmaker. Seeds of Sin is a strange cinematic sensation.
Along with The Body Beneath, Something Weird Video makes the Milligan masses happy by digging up and rediscovering these faded films. Unfortunately, both of these forgotten finds come in buried treasure troubled transfers. Ghastly Ones has emulsion scratches running through it, solarized colors, and a heinously bad soundtrack. But just when you think matters can't get any worse, along comes the jittery, jumpy Seeds to prove that not all monochrome offerings from SWV are exceptional. Seeds suffers from over and under exposure, moments of earthquake style jittering, even worse sonic shrillness (most conversations are buried in distortion), and those horrible inserted sex scenes (which are blatant in their obtuse black and white clarity). One can forgive the prints since most of Milligan's movies are considered lost, but the catawampus creations provided here will test your DVD dedication.
Thankfully, the bonus material balances out the audio/visual violations quite nicely. Aside from a standard set of Milligan trailers and a film specific gallery of exploitation art, there are several of the miscast kernels from Seeds of Sin's scattered history. First, we get an unfinished coming attraction for the film that packs a few delightful deleted scenes. Then there is forty minutes of Milligan's actual workprint of the film, again containing missing footage and none of the love child carnal cuts. Even fan Christopher William Koening offers a wonderful, in-depth essay in an included insert. But the best bit here is the commentary on Ghastly with director Frank Henenlotter and actor Hal Borske. Starting with their proposition that what you are about to see is the worst piece of junk either have encountered, this is an amicable, hilarious, and anecdote-filled detour into the universe of Andy Milligan movies. Borske is catty and confessional, giving the viewer instant access to what is was like making these far-out films. Occasionally straying from the subject at hand, this is still one of the best alternative narrative tracks Something Weird has put on disc.
The Ghastly Ones / Seeds of Sin may offer two sides of the same stupid slaughter story, but Andy Milligan's miscreant motion pictures are so sordid and surreal that they threaten to undermine your entire cinematic ethos. You'll love them so much that they'll kill you, or at least murder your mainstream sensibilities.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Commentary on Ghastly Ones by Frank Henenlotter and actor Hal Borske
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