Two ANDY MILLIGAN monstrosities reviewed, HAL BORSKE interviewed
[Email interview with Andy Milligan regular Hal Borske late 2002; both reviews and interview are previously unpublished]
Andy’s trademark obsessions are on display - a family riddled with incest and fueled by greed, loud obnoxious characters wallowing in their own filth, the innocent freak turned corrupt by a heartless world - and wrapped up in his hurtling off-kilter camera and weird claustrophobic framing. In turn-of-the-century New York three socialite sisters, crazed hetero harpies with sex and money on their fiendish minds, are called to a reading of their father’s will. The contentious estate is to be finalized on one condition - they spend three days with their husbands (assholes, each one of them) in “sexual harmony” on the family island at Crenshaw House with the three servants including the hunchbacked, buck-toothed half-wit Colin, so that the building may experience the “married love” his heartless cold fish of a wife never allowed. To quote Waiting For Guffman: they’re all “bastard people”.
In the film’s opening scene a cavorting young couple dressed to the hilt in their Victorian finery and clutching a ludicrous-looking parasol stumble across the island for a clandestine picnic, and are set upon by the crazed Colin, played with foaming gusto by Hal - picture a bedraggled postman on a rampage, or a post-prison Pee Wee Herman gone to seed. Out comes the meat cleaver, then “thwack”, “thwack”! Eyes pop out, limbs are torn from their sockets, and the camera lingers on the bloodied female corpse being dismembered because, let’s face it, they’re ALL Andy’s mother. When the family’s boat lands on the island, Colin’s there to meet them, chowing down on a rancid bunny (see Hal’s interview for the real story) in front of the suitably horrified party.
The rabbit soon turns up staining the eldest sister’s mattress, and their door is daubed with a bloody “X”. Poor housekeeping, they ponder, or a portend to impending doom? The husbands and soon-to-be-headless middle sister then are dispatched one by one by a hooded assassin, complete with hump (or is it?) before a the family’s dark secret is revealed in a gloriously absurd, over-theatrical Grand Guignol finale. Its pre-MPAA butchery is astonishingly graphic: there’s a memorable death by pitchfork, cleaved skull spraying its fake contents along the stairwell wallpaper, and a trip to the woodshed which ends in getting sawn in half and disemboweled. Camp Grotesque, Milligan style, and for all its blood-red trickery and overwrought skullduggery, my favorite of Andy’s oeuvre.
Hal Borske on The Ghastly Ones: “The Ghastly Ones is a classic example of ‘extensions’. The point of the original is that the retarded Colin is completely innocent. He hasn't, or wouldn’t, kill anybody. Andy's bitch mother is the real culprit (and turns out to be Colin/Andy's mother as well). Someone (Miskin) wanted more blood and sooner - so logic be fucked, Andy had to write and shoot the opening murder of those two. I think the opening murders turned out well (and we got to eat the hard-boiled egg ‘eyes’) - so - what the fuck, it's not Citizen Kane.
“I just remembered (and before I forget) - I couldn't afford makeup, so I smeared my face with Vaseline and threw the contents of a few ashtrays at my face. Don't try that at home, kids - I'm a trained asshole - and my face was covered with blackheads for a week afterwards.
“That's Neil Flanagan (Guru, The Mad Monk), in a nice bit in swell makeup, as Lawyer Cribbs. Neil and I were good friends (he directed my first play) and neighbors. His wife, Jackie (the wonderfully crazy, blood clot licking witch in Guru) found and gave me what would become Claude, the doggie love of my life. Neil was up for several Broadway parts and tossed that great bit off the way a baker would make a special little cake for friends. They moved to California. He died. I miss him.
“I'm reminded of a very deep hurt and disappointment. The big fire scene near the end - (I call them the ‘raisin debt’ scenes) was going to be MY BIG SCENE. The ‘gag’ of the scene is: the half-wit, misunderstood mess (me) - the only decent person in the film - discovers the truth: the bitch is his mother (hello, Gladys) AND the real killer. He runs upstairs to warn the remaining two women. He's stopped on one landing by Mommy, who throws a lit kerosene lamp at him. He catches fire but continues running up to the next landing, where he collapses. Mom pulls out a cleaver and goes up, stepping over Colin's smoking body to finish the blood bath. She raises the cleaver at the two women, but Colin revives for a moment, catches at her dress and the cleaver flies out of her hand to flip and embed in her cranium. Colin and Mom tumble down the stairs together and die - but not before Colin looks at the body and says, ‘Mother.’ Well - what the fuck did you expect? Casablanca?
“Everything went great for the shoot. We were all excited, happy to wrap and all that. The wonderful Maggie Rogers (Mother) even volunteered to do the tumble with me - she didn't have to, she WANTED to - a true pro. I was padded and hump-backed and took all the stair hits with no pain at all. We did it once with no rehearsal and it was like a wonderful dance with a loving partner. Even during the fall we were looking at each other and both were thinking, ‘Shit! This is great! This is going to look SENSATIONAL!’
“During the bit about me on fire, they wet my long hair, set up a blanket to put me out and I was to roll down the stairs alone, end up on the landing on my stomach and someone was to put out the fire. This tumble down the stairs was not meant to be seen but would allow me to dash out the flames myself and then go on to the next scene of me at the top of the stairs, still smoking. SWELL! No rehearsal - we all knew the drill - it went beautifully. Except for one thing: no flames. There wasn't enough kerosene on my hump to make anything more than what looked like me running with a candle in my hump. I insisted on the unthinkable: a SECOND take! SWELL!
“By this time my hair had dried and the original kerosene had soaked the hump. They added more kerosene and lit it and FWOOMP! I was REALLY on fire! I smelled my hair and clothes burning, saw the flames light up the walls, and ran like - well - like a fucking person on fire. Also, this time I was REALLY screaming. I got to the top of the stairs (ahead of schedule) and rolled back down, thinking, ‘drop and roll, asshole, drop and roll, wow! - it looked great - but drop and roll or you ain't going out Saturday night!’ I hit the mark for the guy with the blanket to put out the last flames. He was transfixed in terror and couldn't move, so Andy had to come and stomp out the last embers. I lay there thinking, ‘Oh shit, Jesus knows about all those times I jerked off and I'm going to get it now.’ Everybody else stood there in shock (mentally picking out outfits for the trial).
"But, wonder of wonders - no pain, no burns, cuts, bruises . . . just a half-moon of hair burned from the back of my head. A relief for all - and we continued shooting the rest of the ‘gag’.
“I couldn't wait to see this on film. I'm thinking that this will be my audition clip. This is my ticket to - dare I hope - Hollywood! This is my entry into the daredevils club where the big boys play. This is the fucking RENT! You have guessed where this is going - the whole fucking day's shoot was underexposed and all you see on film is some confusion with some yelling. A later insert of broomsticks and trousers on fire was perfectly exposed, of course.
“I'm not really bitter (never was) about this - shit happens. But, oh Cholly - ‘I coulda been a contendah.’”
It almost seems inconceivable in this day and age that someone would attempt the pomp and pageantry of a ye Olde England costume gore epic on a budget LESS than a cross-town ferry ride. And yet Torture Dungeon, the first film for producer William Mishkin’s newly crowned Constitution Films, is filmic proof that Milligan’s audacity knew no bounds. Cue credits, the music – straight from a 40s Gary Cooper western – swells, and a procession of medieval misfits make their way down a deserted Staten Island beach, looking for all the world like a lost borstal passion play, carrying the coffin of the newly-dead king, beheaded in the film’s opening by the prissy yet evil Duke of Norwich (“Jerremy Brooks”/Gerry Jacuzzo). The Duke, last in line to the throne and sterile to boot, hatches a plan to marry off the new king, who would plant the royal seed in the Queen’s fertile soil. Once plowed, the Queen becomes the unwilling property of the Duke, and the remaining heirs are dispatched to their untimely deaths.
Hal Borske plays the new king strictly for cheap laughs: he’s a bumbling half-wit in a blonde pageboy frightwig who eats bugs on all fours and shows more interest in nailing his plate of chicken than his new queen. His on-screen presence is cut short soon after the “conception” scene, and he gets the obligatory stake to the heart. Blood erupts like tomato soup, exit Hal. And in every one of the death scenes from Torture Dungeon, Andy’s camera careers around and plummets to the ground as if it was dropped from a Staten Island ferris wheel. There’s even a script direction for this: “Swirl Camera”. Now stick that one in the text books.
Unlike The Ghastly Ones, where the gore comes thick and fast, Torture Dungeon spaces its bloodshed, which leaves wide open spaces in the script for Andy’s manic exposition. One scene plays like a psychedelic sex hygiene film of the 50s and features a crazed old harridan (a member of Andy’s theatrical troupe?) preparing the new queen for her wifely duties while floating around the room on PCP. The Sadean Duke endlessly waxes lyrical about his personal philosophy, declaring himself “not a heterosexual, not homosexual, not asexual – I’m trisexual. I’ll TRY anything.” An old chestnut, I know, but from the mouths of Milligan’s characters it takes on a new sinister tone. In another memorable scene the depraved duke is caught in bed with a hunchback, unloved and beaten as a child and corrupted by the uncaring world and now the Duke’s assassin and willing love slave. So, he says to his wife with a perverse sneer - ever heard of a menage a trois?
With the exception of the garish costumes (an area Andy always excelled at), the production is threadbare at every turn. The torture chamber itself looks like my Brisbane city basement, for chrissakes, and the effect of the evil Duke swinging a chain sounds suspiciously like Andy on a microphone going “Whoosh! Whoosh!” Voices veer wildly from the fruity and over-theatrical Jacuzzo to the flat Noo York drawl from the mouths of some suitably plague-scarred bookies and old Mafia types in Beatles wigs, uttering lines like “the dook of Nor-witch” with deadpan conviction. Local color, but wrong locality. And I think I spotted a Ramone or two in the funeral procession.
Hal on Torture Dungeon: “Torture Dungeon is a ‘classic’ Andy Milligan movie, in that all the elements mentioned in ‘The Ghastly One’ (the Jimmy McDonough book) are in place... The crooked producers - Andy really got fucked on this one. He finally got them to sign a contract for a piece of the action for him. But the contract had a "third-party clause" which allowed the majority owners to sell the film (to themselves), pay off Andy next to nothing, and distribute the film while keeping ALL the profits (PLENTY). That's not bad for a few thousand dollars' investment (pissing and moaning all the way).
“The crappy script - well, all right, I TYPED the script (and others), but was afraid that people might think I had anything to do with the ‘writing’ of that shit. The off-camera talk had more drama, comedy, tragedy, wit and life than any Milligan script (but that's true of most Hollywood scripts as well). The dialogue is Andy's, verbatim, and my real job was to take stage directions like, ‘Business’ or ‘Swirl Camera’ and type out several pages of bullshit (that was never used - Andy knew what he was going to do anyway). I had to dummy-up fifty pages (ninety minutes) of crap to show to the producers for their approval (‘More tits and ass, Andy’). The so-called romantic montages and scenes between the guy and girl was a euphemism for a mere chance to ogle her tits (‘No faggy hands reaching for the tits and ass, Andy, get somebody else's hands in there’). I was paid a dollar per page, and those fifty bucks were more than any of the actors or crew ever got. Ever. All right, I padded my parts. In this one, in a stunning role reversal, I was not the Misunderstood Hunchback Dwarf, but Just Plain Idiot. What an acting challenge! The Misunderstood Hunchback Dwarf was played by the tallest ‘dwarf’ I ever saw, but I still couldn't fit into the costume. It was a nice change for me to be festooned in upholstery fabric instead of burdened with the usual hump, and I highly recommend being festooned now and then.
By the way, that ‘Suck it!’ business in the movie still fills me with wonder. I wonder what the fuck it was all about!
The crew - including my brother, John (I first got John hooked up with Andy for Compass Rose - maybe that's why John hasn't spoken to me in years). Also on crew, Matt Baylor (one of the hapless sacks of humanity, in a sweltering, rubber body suit in the ‘dungeon’). Matt Baylor is a quiet hero of countless films, plays, glitter/glam rock shows, much of the shit put on by the Warhol assholes, and who knows what all. A ‘tell-all’ book by Matt would mean Witness Protection Program for sure.
“The Fresh-Out-Of-Jail Drifter, that Andy ‘found’ God knows where. This guy was the usual HUNK: testosterone practically squirting out of his ears; a strong MAN/GUY, who wouldn't take ‘Ow!’ for an answer, with more than a hint of danger. He was every yuppie queen's and closet case's dream - ‘To hell with 'playing house,' shoot out the lights and FUCK ME!’ This guy knew about horses, so the movie had horses. One of the ‘nellier’ guys was hitting on this wrangler one day and Matt Baylor remarked, ‘Oh, look - Dale Evans meets Lash LaRue!’
“The Innocent Bystanders - those Staten Island neighbors, business owners and friends of friends who traded use of props, property, settings, material, and whatever ‘stuff’ they had, for a small part in what they led themselves into believing was Staten Island Shakespeare. Some of those ‘Brooklynese’ voices belong to really heavy Staten Island ‘muscle’. They got us the horses, the locations and a lot of - um - ‘protection’ from nosy civilians and police who had the audacity to inquire into what the fuck we were doing.
The One-Shot Actors - there's the pouty dumpling with big tits. We know about Candy from The Ghastly One, but I wonder what happened to the others. Now and then I'll see a house (in a housedress), herding around some piglets and a ‘fuck this shit’ husband - like at Disney World, and wonder, ‘Is that whatsername?’ Then there's the hapless Male Lead who always seems startled at what the hell he's doing in this ‘thing,’ with the "they never told me about this shit in acting school" look and demeanor. Maybe they went back home, married ‘Debbie’ and became decent, productive members of society.
“Then there's the highly irregular Milligan ‘regulars’. Neil Flanagan, in a really freaky hat that was to be an audience scare for Guru, The Mad Monk, and an eye patch (‘Does my eye deceive me?’). Neil's wife, Jackie Webb, who would play the blood clot licking witch, and delightful nightmare in Guru. My brother's now ex wife, Patty Dillon (Lady Jane), who often incurred Andy's wrath by pulling logic and common sense on him. Patty was startled (and pissed off) to find ‘herself’ with gigantic tits, playing a ‘soft-core sex’ scene in another Milligan movie. It was actually Candy's body and a guy's body that belonged to someone Andy had yanked off the street (‘Excuse me, do you want to get laid?’).
“Jeremy Brooks (Gerry Jacuzzo), whose roles always reminded me of a priest gone rotten (or rottener). Andy had a particular hatred for religious hierarchy hypocrisy and had written a dangerous ‘turns-out-to-be-true’ script that NOBODY would touch. Gerry had a wonderful dry wit and unflappable personality. When Andy had his obligatory "one-per-production" tantrum, Gerry simply walked away - and got away with it!
“Our beloved Maggie Rogers. I SWEAR that her ‘hatchet face’ was reserved only for the screen. Her ‘real’ face was very sweet. Everyone adored her, and her highly professional advice and tips were generous and loving.
“Others Too Numerous (Or Embarrassed) To Mention. Plenty of people came and went, but if you were called for another Milligan film, there was ‘something’ there. If I ever find out what that was, I will let you know.
“Me, Me, Me. There was no use complaining about that too tight, female Go-Go dancer's wig (Betty Page of Staten Island), so I had as much fun as I could get away with. I regret the camera didn't linger long enough to see - during the funeral cortege scene - I'm the Idiot Prince Albert, heir to the throne, helping to carry my father's coffin. You see me picking my nose, but you don't see me rolling the booger and sticking it to the bottom of the casket.”
Vapors (1965) Hal Borske: actor
The Promiscuous Sex (aka Liz; lost, 1967) HB: actor
The Naked Witch (aka The Naked Temptress; lost, 1967) HB: actor
Depraved! (lost, 1967) HB: cameo
The Degenerates (lost, 1967) HB: cameo
Compass Rose (unfinished, 1967) HB: actor
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me! (lost, 1968) HB: cameo
Tricks Of The Trade (lost, 1968) HB: actor “I'm seen rolling around on the floor with a drag queen and then a quick cut to me, being "discovered" by the hostess, giving a priest a blowjob in her toilet. Ahhh. Can Anthony Hopkins say that???”
The Filthy Five (1968) HB: actor
Seeds (aka Seeds Of Evil, 1968) HB: cameo
Gutter Trash (lost, 1969) HB: cameo
The Bitch (unfinished, 1969)
The Weirdo (unfinished, 1969) “I did a little local yokel bit in The Weirdo, but I know it was cut.
The Body Beneath (1970)
Guru The Mad Monk (1970)
The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)
The Man With Two Heads (1972)
Fleshpot On 42nd St (aka Girls Of 42nd St, 1972) “In Fleshpot... I only did some voiceovers. I remember the recording session and the ‘no sound’ or bad sound dubbing had to be adjusted.
Supercool (unfinished, 1973) “If Supercool is aka The Pelvis (among other names - Lew Mishkin's asshole project) then I was in the toga party scene (extension) and bit player wrangler. If not, not. I did do the above in something.
Dragula (lost, c.1973) HB: actor
Jungle Bust (unreleased, c. 1973) “In Jungle Bust (a Walter Kent production), I only did editing and negative matching (Riiiippp!) with Andy. After seven straight hours (the entire film) I was supposed to have a bite to eat and come back for a cameo (nitwit picking nose and ‘masturbating’). I had a show that evening and couldn't do the bit - Andy (king of the nose pickers) did the bit himself.
Legacy Of Blood (aka Legacy Of Horror, 1978) HB: cameo
House Of Seven Belles (unfinished, 1979) HB: actor
Monstrosity (unfinished but released in Italy on video, 1987) HB: actor
The Weirdo (1988)