"Filmed in the Graveyards of England"
In 1968 at the behest of British producer Leslie Elloitt, Milligan packed up his 16 mm Auricon camera and headed off to London, where he would be seemingly free of his nemesis and could indulge in his love of Gothic settings. After rounding up the usual gang of misfits and disparate actors somewhat bizarrely Andy's first feature for Elloitt was the non-horror NIGHTBIRDS, a very strange & downbeat story of a twisted love relationship between a pair of London street waifs. Only shown commercially once, it became a lost film until a print was recently discovered and released on blu-ray by BFI.
Reed plays the Reverend Algernon Ford, who newly arrived in London, sets up residence at Carfax Abby (one of many nods to Bram Stoker & Lugosi's DRACULA peppered about) and looks to revive the All Souls Church. Along with his constantly knitting wife Alicia (played with an unnerving creepy silence by Susan Heard) he pays a visit on Graham Ford (Colin Gordon) who the Rev. claims to be a distant relative of. He invites Graham and wife Anna (Susan Clark) to dinner, while Anna has just had an unnerving experience in a local cemetery where she was accosted by three pasty blue faced blond haired women. Later the Rev. meets a young couple Susan's & Paul (Jackie Skarvellis & Richmond Ross) with who he also claims to be a relative of Susan and offers to officiate at their upcoming wedding.
Assisting the Ford's is sympathetic hunchback Spool (Berwick Kaler from NIGHTBIRDS) who after attempting to help the captives is crucified in an ornate garden with the blue faced harpies dancing about and the Rev. Ford pontificating in one of the more bizarre & surreal moments in Andy's cannon. Also hanging about is the Ford's maid, who while also showing some sympathies for the captives gets a pair of knitting needles shoved in her eyeballs for her trouble.
The film ends in a delirious sequence with the vampires holding a meeting that allows Andy to unleash his fondness for outrageous costumes (with many looking to be made from shower curtains) and outlandish head wear for the ladies. Rev. Ford decides to move the clan to America which prompts one the vampire ladies to unleash this classic piece of Milligan dialogue - "Go to America ? Never ! What is America ? What it it made of ? Pimps, prostitutes, religious fanatics ? Thrown out of England but a few short centuries ago. They're the scum of the Earth !" - which most likely is a peek into Andy's psych and his feeling for his native country's "establishment".
Much of the film was shot at Sarum Chase, a Tudor style mansion in West Hampstead that served as the setting for numerous film and photo shoots including the inner gate fold of The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet album. Andy would later shoot much of CURSE OF THE FULL MOON here - later re-titled THE RATS ARE COMING, THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE !".
Sadly, THE BODY BENEATH would be the end of Andy's British sojourn as he had the to be expected falling out with his British producers. THE BODY BENEATH was never released in England but did play throughout the 70's on 42nd St. where it was co-billed with Andy's GURU THE MAD MONK. He stayed in England for awhile and ending making three movies there for the hated Mishkin - his take on Sweeney Todd with the THE BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, Jekyll & Hyde in THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS and the above mentioned CURSE OF THE FULL MOON.