I just finished reading Jimmy McDonough’s The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan. To say it surpassed my expectations would be an understatement. To make a rather bold statement: it’s the best biography I’ve ever read — filmmaker or otherwise. I expected to be entertained by the book, sure. I expected a few laughs and some interesting behind the scenes tidbits. I did not expect to read a perfectly rendered portrait of a one-of-kind maniac — a book that paints Milligan’s universe so vividly. At times McDonough’s writing had me in hysterics, other times shocked into open-mouthed stupefaction. And I certainly did not expect the deeply personal and raw connection McDonough brought to the story. The book’s final chapters reduced me to tears. Yes, a book about Andy Milligan, director of Torture Dungeon (1970) and Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973), made me cry a bit.
Even before reading this book and learning about the details of Milligan’s amazing and sadistic existence, I knew there was something special about his films. There’s a hatred seething and bubbling in films like Seeds of Sin (1968) and The Ghastly Ones (1968). Milligan puts his issues with motherhood, family, and sexuality out for all to see, only they’re veiled behind erratic editing, sleazy cinematography, stock music, and inept violence. With McDonough’s biography fresh in my mind, his films take on an even darker and more fascinating meaning.
GURU, THE MAD MONK
USA, 1970, Andy Milligan
Guru is quick to murder when questions are raised about his dodgy management of his prison and church. When out-of-luck drifters show up looking for the Lord’s help, Guru and Olga swiftly relieve them of their lives after offering a bit of false hope. Yep, Guru is a sick bastard, but I couldn’t help but kind of like him. Guru is played by Neil Flanagan. Flanagan gives a decent performance, but he is a pretty harmless and gentle looking guy.
There are aspects to Guru’s personality that give him a few more layers than your average mad monk. Guru really loves his prison, and his relationship with Olga is fascinating. He genuinely sees himself as a force for good, and when he stabs a drifter to death (in an admittedly hilariously fake scene) he shows a sad remorse.
Best of all is his relationship with Igor (Jack Spencer), the obligatory church hunchback. His treatment of the hunchback is perversely manipulative. But, sadism aside, he needs Igor, and he knows it. Guru lectures the sweetly innocent Igor in a beautifully mad moment: “I can say anything to you, you ignorant bastard, and you just smile… maybe God knew how desolate and forsaken this place was when he gave you to me to talk to… to keep me from going out of my mind. What a beautiful smile, it’s all you really have, isn’t it?” His words are cruel and made me feel rather ill, but there is something oddly touching about the scene. It’s stuff like this that makes Milligan’s films far more interesting that your average exploitation picture.
Guru is shot and cut in the chaotic matter you would expect from Andy Milligan. The camera wobbles around all over the place. The edits are abrupt and without any acknowledgement of continuity. Actors jump between different parts of the set as the shot moves to the next. While not as exhilarating as Milligan’s best, there is an energy in Guru that is undeniable.
Though the poster screams that Guru is “A GORY TALE OF TERROR!” shot in “BLOODDRIPPING COLOR”, it is very tame. The film ends in a bluster of poorly executed violence, but other than its manic conclusion there is little bloodletting. There is, however, one extended scene of torture spliced in out of nowhere that is fantastic in its ineptitude. Mannequin hands go flying, ping-pong ball eyes are stabbed, and a head is awkwardly decapitated. It’s great.
Guru, the Mad Monk is not the best starting point for those new to the demented world of Andy Milligan. However, those already well-versed in his sadistic stylings will lap it up. It features the requisite mean-spirited dialogue, entertaining performances, sick and silly acts of depravity (mild though they may be in comparison to his better known works), and a loving relationship between a mad monk and his hunchback.
The kind folks at Vinegar Syndrome have been nice enough to make available a high quality download of Guru. It is free, though tips are appreciated. Thanks, Vinegar Syndrome — true distribution heroes!