Saturday, May 15, 2010

23rd May 2010: The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

USA 1972 colour

aka The Curse Of The Full Moon

Director/Writer Andy Milligan

Cast Hope Stansbury (Monica Mooney), Jackie Skarvellis (Diana), Noel Collins (Mortimer Mooney), Joan Ogden (Phoebe Mooney)

We finish our season of Seventies' Grindhouse epics tonight with a work of not just a B specialist, but a Z King, and with a title that ranks amongst the most pointlessly protracted in pulp film history since Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feeling So Sad: from 1972 comes The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

Out of all of the personalities on the fringes of the film world, Andy Milligan ranks as one of the most maligned, misunderstood and unappreciated. A failed TV actor, dressmaker to the stars, flamboyant and misanthropic, Milligan cut his teeth on off, Off-Broadway plays in the early Sixties, surrounding himself with an entourage of misfits, genuine eccentrics and sociopaths who would later form his films' repertory company. From his artsy debut Vapors in 1965, set entirely in a gay bath house, his movies quickly degenerated into tawdry sexploitation melodramas and, from 1967's The Ghastly Ones, a career in Grindhouse horrors that only the steeliest of constitutions would stomach. It wasn't just the gore factor, which rates a high on the HG Lewis-ometer, but Andy's insistence on leaden pacing, laborious high-camp dialogue, punctuated with shrieks and squarking from harridan heroines. The effect is a high school pantomime gone horribly wrong, and its performers are pelting the audience with offal and insults. Add his preference for period pieces dripping with makeshift costumes and deliriously anachronistic speeches delivered with vigour and verve and you have an endurance test for some, filmic catnip for others, and I'm sure you can tell which side of the Great Milligan Divide we stand.

The Rats Are Coming... dates from Andy's brief sojourn to England in the late Sixties. Along with three other no-budget shockers, including a truly bent revisioning of the Sweeny Todd story called Bloodthirsty Butchers, Andy returned to New York with a werewolf soap opera “The Curse Of The Full Moon” in the can. 42nd Street distributor William Mishkin gave it the once-over, decided nothing actually happened in it, and ordered Milligan to shoot some extra footage with some painted rodents (apparently Willard was showing down the road). You'll see where one batch of film ends and another – complete with broad Staten Island accents – begins.

London, around a hundred years ago, is the setting for a housebound saga of a family riddled with incest, paranoia and, from the blood-curdling screams issuing from youngest brother Malcolm's room, lycanthropy or werewolfism. The Mooney family (as in “Full Mooney”) has been cursed with a poisoned bloodline which the crazed old patriarch has managed to preserve. Youngest daughter Diana arrives at the Hampstead Heath mansion with her new fiancee who is – horror of horrors! - both a no-tail (musical sting) and a SCOTSMAN! (extended musical sting). Sister Phoebe – the one who's a little TOO close to her dear papa – demands Diana continues her experiments on the family without distractions, while middle sister Monica (Milligan's New York ingenue Hope Stansbury, a real-life Morticia Addams with thick crayon eyebrows) busies herself with her rats, calling them Willard and Ben before nailing one of them to a table (!!!), and by slicing up her meddlesome neighbour with a meat cleaver. By the end of the film, the family secrets aren't just out in the open, but are prowling around the mansion, baying for blood and with a serious need for a hydrobath.

Mishkin's new title is a slight misnomer – the rats are already here, it seems, and the werewolves take a VERY long time coming, but for some you it will be worth the wait. For me, Milligan's an addiction: whether it's the demented costumed drawing room soap opera, the faux literature delivered in volumes by actors ill-equipped to memorize lines or even use cue cards, or the ghost of Andy himself (sadly he died in 1991 from complications from AIDS) in his filmography's one and only cameo, playing a pistol salesman, and milking his pointless exposition as if his life depended on it. But enough: I hear the Rats Are Coming BUT The Werewolves Are Already Here!

1 comment:

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