"Filmed In Cranium - Cleaving Color !"
When you watch an Andy Milligan film is not like your entering a different world, you’re pretty much stepping into another dimension. Working out of a ramshackle Victorian mansion on 1960’s Staten Island and along with a semi-regular cast of freaks & weirdos he cranked out low budget sexploitation & horror films (with many of them now considered "lost") and often working on budgets less than $10,000. Staring out with soft-core sex features he turned to horror in the late 60’s when the hard stuff began to creep into the sexploitation market and 1968’s THE GHASTLY ONES was his first foray into horror gore and his first color feature.
As was most of his horror movies this was a period piece, taking place in Victorian times. Milligan said that he liked to shoot period pieces as then it would be harder for the film to become dated as with a contemporary setting. However as with most of his “period” pieces THE GHASTLY ONES seems to exist in some kind of weird Victorian alternate universe where thermostats & and light switches are plainly visible (most times on hideously ugly frocked wallpapered walls) along with modern bathroom fixtures and the men wear BVD underwear & boxer shorts while women parade about in slinky see-thru nighties.
Basically THE GHASTLY ONES is Milligan’s take on the standard “relatives gather to read the will and they start getting bumped off” plot infused with Andy’s usual percent for dysfunctional marriages (with the all women portrayed as backstabbing conniving bitches & men as spineless weasels) along with religious hypocrisy(here in the form of a pervert priest) with everything scored by overwrought library music.
In addition there are his tacky & often ludicrously garish costumes (which Andy made himself) and everything framed by his handheld WWII vintage 16mm Auricon camera (which can often be heard whirring away in the background). Because he filmed in long continuous takes moving about with his camera you end up with many “WTF” close-ups including actors pimply backs and inanimate objects such as bedposts. To add just one more bit of lunacy to the proceedings you can actually hear Andy in several scenes giving directions in the background or prompting actors that had forgotten their lines.
Opening with a man and a woman traipsing thru the woods while carrying an insanely large paper parasol, they are then brutally killed by a knife welding maniac. THE GHASTLY ONES then introduces us to three couples with the three wives being sisters (with husbands including Richard Romanus – later in Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS) who are each shown in some of the most un-erotic love making ever filmed. After being summoned by the straight outa Charles Dickens family lawyer the couples learn that in order to partake of the sister’s late father’s estate they all most spend three days on his secluded island estate. As the father had a rather unhappy marriage he instructs the couples they must fill the house with “sexual harmony and marital love” (?!).
Upon arriving on the “secluded” island (complete with the late 60’s neighborhoods of Staten Island plainly visible in the backgrounds) the couples meet the servants including snaggle tooth imbecile Colin (Milligan regular Hal Borske) and a couple of women one of them being Maggie Rogers, another member of the Milligan stock company. Colin was the first of many simpletons that Borske would play in Andy's epics and Rogers with her very distinctive angular face was probably the best actress in his troupe. As the completed film only about 60 minutes the producers insisted Milligan film the prologue of the two early victims (although by this time Broske had lost the fake teeth that were used throughout the film and there was no money to buy new ones).
The various killings include pitchforks, band saw dismemberment & beheadings (among others) and in which the effects range from barely competent to almost laughably bad, are interspersed with long stretches of meaningless meandering dialogue. Although their bottom of the barrel schlock Milligan's movies are always a fascinating experience to set thru - even more so when you find out more about his background and the story behind his movies (of which there are many).
For anybody interested in the world of Andy Milligan (a homosexual who frequented the NYC S&M scene) its well worth seeking the now OOP book The Ghastly One : The Sex Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan by Jimmy McDonough. A vastly entertaining and interesting read not only about Milligan, but the entire 60's early 70's NYC grindhouse industry along with the earlier underground theatre troupes that helped spawn it. There is fairly compelling evidence that he was involved in a murder at one point and although not a pleasant read (especially toward the end with his death from AIDS in 1991), its still a great book.
THE GHASTLY ONE is available on one of those loaded Something Weird double feature discs (along with Milligan's SEEDS OF SIN). Although loaded with scratches and green emulsion lines they help add to the overall tackiness and seediness of the proceedings. The DVD features a hilarious commentary track by Hal Broske and BASKET CASE director Frank Henenlotter including Broske relating the story behind the dead rabbit scene & other Andy stories. Something Weird also has put out Milligan's weirdly creepy THE BODY BENEATH. Fun stuff and well worth a look !