Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blood – review

vhsDirected by: Andy Milligan

Release Date: 1974

Contains spoilers

When I last looked at an Andy Milligan film, The Body Beneath, I stated that “it had something, it isn’t a good film by all the standards of cinema but there is that indefatigable earnestness, which in itself can make something worthwhile.” That statement stands as well for this, which had the largest budget Milligan ever worked with - $20K. The film is almost lost – you’ll have to find a ropey bootleg I’m afraid – and I don’t know how much has been cut. Certainly there were bad edits in the version I saw and the running time was only some 57 minutes (Imdb suggests that it was 74 minutes long but other sources suggest 57 minutes is right).

The film is a period piece and yet it feels all wrong for being so. The costumes of the principles look Victorian (and were likely made by Milligan himself) but the locations do not feel period and so it makes an awkward juxtaposition. Similarly the language has a faux-Victorian formality, which feeds into the dialogue feeling stagy at best, yet occasionally falls into a more modern cadence. Yet within the 57 minutes, despite the poor effects glaring out of the scratched celluloid, you get such an avalanche of concepts that you just can’t be bored.

vampire before serumIt begins with gardens, the sound of birds and bells, of the wind whistling. It is 1886 and a realtor, Mr Markham (Martin Reymert), is showing a house to one Doctor Lawrence Orlovsky (Allan Berendt) newly returned from Europe. He explains that the gardens have gone to weed, but if he or his wife were of a gardening persuasion… He is too busy, the Doctor gruffly explains, and his wife suffers a skin condition, exposure to the sun would kill her. He only looks at one room and takes the house, kicking the realtor out with short shrift. His servants/assistants, Carrie (Patricia Gaul), Orlando (Michael Fischetti) and Carlotta (Pichulina Hempi) carry his wife, Regina (Hope Stansbury), in. Uncovering her to give her a shot of her serum, we see she is a (badly created) decaying vampire. The syringe is broken and they have to cut her flesh to get the serum into her system.

carniverous plantsLet us look at the Doctor's help for a moment, for they underline the sadistic streak that Milligan seems to have (and brings out in respect of characters). Carrie has a gammy leg and, when the Doctor looks at it, he says it is getting worse but they’ll sort it. Like he promised (and failed to do for) Orlando, who has lost both his legs the same way. How? They have been bitten by the carnivorous plants that they are extracting the vampire’s serum from. Once bitten, the wound is infected almost immediately and contagious – Orlando’s arm is bitten later and they have to cauterise it with a lamp in order to save it, in a scene reminiscent of dealing with vampire bites in Hammer’s Kiss of the Vampire. They feed the plants blood, which they take from Carlotta, an orphan they picked up in Budapest who was a bright girl until the taking of too much blood starved her brain of oxygen and caused brain damage. Carlotta is blamed whenever anything goes wrong.

Johnny meets with a cleaverWe see that Regina is a petty woman, jealous of Carrie – though in truth Carrie is with Orlando. That said Laurence isn’t particularly loving or, for that matter, sexual towards her – we discover later that theirs was an arranged marriage. She is also homicidal. Johnny (David Bevans), Carrie’s brother, comes around and (after a heavily cut scene that had enough footage left to suggest incest between the siblings) Regina gets him alone. She buries a cleaver in his skull and disposes of him with acid.

John Wallowitch as RootMeanwhile Laurence has gone to see his father’s solicitor, Carl Root (John Wallowitch), whom Laurence suspects has been cheating the estate whilst in his role of executor (something we discover to be true later). Whilst there he meets and falls in love with Root’s assistant Prudence Towers (Pamela Adams). I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Root’s look was based on Knock from Nosferatu. Root does not take kindly to Laurance's presence or intimations and reminds him that he knows his real familial name… Talbot… hmmm… Laurence, or Larry, Talbot… I think you know where this is going.

sedating the werewolfLaurence gets Prudence to go to the cemetery where she tells him what Root has been up to. She wants to deny her feelings but they end up kissing when a woman approaches with a lantern. She is Petra, the hag (Eve Crosby) and when she realises that Laurence is Talbot’s son she encourages him to leave – it is the night of a full moon. She keeps Prudence with her. Laurence does transform into a wolfman but Carrie manages to sedate him.

attacking PetraUnfortunately Petra tries to blackmail the Orlovsky’s, speaking to Regina. During the conversation she actually tells her that she saw Lawrence and Prudence kissing. Of course Petra ends up as vampire chow for her trouble but it also means that Prudence is on Regina's radar. A transformed Laurence kills Root and it all leads to the inevitable battle between werewolf and vampire. To keep the full monster mash feel going we even get a brief appearance by Baron von Frankenstein (Lawrence Seelars).

Hope Stansbury as ReginaVampire wise we see Regina react to a religious artefact, she cannot stand sunlight and she has no reflection. She is actually Dracula’s daughter – why, given their normal relationship, Dracula and the Wolfman would arrange for the marriage of their children is beyond me, but it doesn’t matter really. There is some talk flying around about rabid bats being in a cut section of this but, as they did appear at all, there is no indication of the scene existing in what remains.

Prudence and LaurenceOkay, it isn’t good cinema but there is something absolutely compelling about this film. It is probably for the best that it is under an hour in length. The performances are good in terms of this level of film but bad in the grand scheme of things and awfully like a community play. What can I tell you? Just like the Body Beneath this is wrong and yet necessary; like a sadistic version of Ed Wood. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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