Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guru, the Mad Monk (1970)

... aka: Andy Milligan's Guru the Mad Monk
... aka: Garu, the Mad Monk

Directed by:
Andy Milligan

My secret love affair with Andy Milligan (psst, don't tell anyone; I'm so ashamed!) continues with this hilariously overstuffed and ridiculous little zero budget wonder. Indicative of the director's usual style, there's enough plot for numerous movies crammed into just 56 minutes, some of the chintziest production values this side of an elementary school play, costumes and set dressings fashioned from fabrics typically reserved for the linen closet, a complete and utter disregard for the technical aspects of cinema and a cast of (mostly) amateurs trying and failing miserably to convince us that this takes place in Merry Ole England. As the film opens, we meet our poor heroine Nadja (Judith Israel) as she's being dragged through the streets and is then tossed into a cell. Months earlier, on her way to meet up with her boyfriend, Nadja had been kidnapped by a bunch of gypsies, who made her beg, steal and commit other crimes for them. She ended up pregnant by the main gypsy and, after giving birth to their stillborn infant, was abandoned. Guards found her attempting to bury the baby, accused her of killing it and now she's in prison awaiting her execution. Fortunately, her doofy boyfriend Carl (Paul Lieber), conveniently working as a guard where Nadja's being held, is around and promises to anything to free her. Unfortunately, he goes to the wrong place for help...

Carl immediately goes to the Church of Mortavia to consult monk Father Guru (the amusingly flamboyant Neil Flanagan), who also works overseeing the torture and execution of various criminals and peasants. After slapping him across the face for denouncing God, Guru tells Carl of a way they can rescue Nadja from her grim fate: by using a special potion that can make her appear dead until an antidote is administered to revive her. However, Guru's help doesn't come without a price. Strapped for money, the monk wants Carl to procure corpses for him so he can sell them to a medical school for fast cash as part of their agreement. Now not only indebted to the mad monk, Carl also finds himself having to help out witch Olga (Jaqueline Webb) in exchange for the death powder. She's Guru's former mistress and wants "blood, lots of blood..." for her vague "experiments." The plot goes off as planned; Nadja "dies" of a heart attack and is revived with the antidote. Guru has his mumbling, retarded, one-eyed hunchback assistant Igor (Jack Spencer) put her in the tower of the church until Carl can fulfill his obligations, which will entail three long months of body snatching.

Guru calls Igor "an ugly mass of flesh" and, when the hunchback begins to develop a crush on Nadja, he whips out his Miss Priss card; "God never intended for you to be loved by anyone! You were made to serve me and only me!" After dinner ("I hope you like horse. It's all we have."), Nadja tells Igor she'd like to be his friend. He gets flustered, screams and runs downstairs and starts furiously sweeping the floor with a broom. Not only a greedy hypocrite, Guru is also a serial murderer who slaughters innocent people who come into his church for no reason whatsoever. He suffers from schizophrenia, has two distinct personalities (virtuous and evil) and, during one hilarious and jaw-dropping scene, has an argument with himself in front of a mirror while clutching a bouquet of flowers. Now I'm starting to get a little impatient waiting to see Milligan's Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973) to see Flanagan portray the role he was destined to play: a sassy drag queen.

To add more crazy hijinks, Guru's gal pal Olga the witch turns out to actually be a vampire named "Noferatu" and crawls around on the floor licking up blood after each murder. In a torture chamber, mannequin hands and heads are chopped off and ping pong ball eyes are gouged out. Other victims include a sailor, a pregnant teenage runaway, an archbishop (Frank Echols) sent to check in on things and Father Polanski (Gerald Jacuzzo), a possible successor of Guru. There's a crucifixion, a tongue cut out with scissors, a hanging, a truly chaotic and rushed ending and clothing, props and numerous other things that completely betray the period setting. The editing and pacing are both terrible and continuity is almost nonexistent. In other words, your usual Milligan extravaganza. It was filmed at Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan on a budget of just 11,000 dollars.

Originally issued on VHS by Sinister Cinema, this is now apparently in the public domain and has been issued by numerous el cheapo outfits. The Retromedia DVD comes with a trailer and a 12-minute interview with later Milligan collaborator Tony Vozza.


Les yeux sans visage (1960)

... aka: De bestialiska (The Bestial Ones)
... aka: Eyes Without a Face
... aka: Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, The
... aka: House of Dr. Rasanoff
... aka: Das Schreckenshaus des Dr. Rasanoff (The House of Horrors of Dr. Rasanoff)
... aka: Occhi senza volto (Faceless Eyes)

Directed by:
Georges Franju

After giving a lecture on his favorite subject - skin and organ transplants - esteemed Parisian plastic surgeon Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) receives a call from the police. They've found a naked female corpse wearing only a man's coat floating in the Seine River which may be his missing daughter Christiane. The doctor and Christiane had recently been involves in a terrible car accident which destroyed her entire once-beautiful face. Afterward, she was placed in a clinic, became depressed and withdrawn and then vanished without a trace. The body found in the river matches Christiane's description perfectly: its entire face is also horribly disfigured; missing entirely with only the eyeballs still intact. Génessier shows up at the morgue, makes a positive identification of the corpse and then holds a funeral. He and his loyal "secretary" / assistant Louise (Alida Valli) then retreat to his huge gated mansion, where we learn all of the events that have just transpired aren't really what's going on at all.

Falsely identifying the corpse as being his daughter's was just Génessier's way of drawing suspicion away from him, his home and what he's actually been up to. Christiane (Edith Scob) isn't dead. She's very much alive, living in the home, pining for her former boyfriend Jacques (François Guérin), a colleague of her father's, and bitterly clinging to the hope that she'll back to normal one day. The doctor, guilt-stricken over causing the accident that disfigured her, is dead-set on restoring her face and has promised her so much. So what if it takes a few innocent young ladies dying for it to happen? Louise is also loyal to the cause since Génessier has already restored her face after a similar accident. 

The victim fished out of the Seine was actually one of their earlier victims. Her face had been removed and transplanted onto Christiane's but the operation didn't take and now they're in need of another unwilling donor. Louise is sent into town, befriends young, poor Swiss college student Edna Grüber (Juliette Mayniel) and then lures her to the secluded mansion with the promise of an affordable room to rent. Instead, she's knocked out with chloroform, taken through a separate passageway to a hidden wing of the home and has her entire face removed and transplanted onto Christiane. Soon after, Edna, face wrapped in bandages, falls from a balcony while trying to escape and her body is hidden in the locked Génessier family crypt.

Christiane's new face doesn't hold up as her body rejects the skin graft in just a few short weeks. Losing the will to live and starting to go crazy, she begs Louise to kill her. Christiane first makes a phone call to Jacques, softly uttering just his name. It's enough to make Jacques suspicious. He immediately goes to Inspector Parot (Alexandre Rignault) and the two devise a plan involving using a decoy to entrap the doctor. Shoplifter Paulette Mérodon (Béatrice Altariba) is given the option between prison or helping the police out. She chooses the latter; dyes her hair blonde to match the other victims and checks herself into a clinic complaining of a migraine. Will it be enough to entice Génessier into selecting her as the next donor?

There are too many mad doctor / "transplant" movies from the 30s and 40s to even mention here, so plot-wise (even for 1959 when this was filmed) Eyes isn't really anything all that different from the norm. However, this is a clear case where the execution of the material makes all the difference. Rightfully widely acclaimed for its haunting, poetic feel, its gorgeous cinematography, fantastic art direction / set design and a unique score (part eerie and otherworldly and part almost playful and carnival-esque) contributed by Maurice Jarre, Eyes remains a captivating, intriguing genre film. 

Though it starts to lose some of its power in the final half hour when the police work becomes more front and center (which is silly and very poorly thought out), there's still a lot to celebrate here; including several extremely eerie sequences (my favorite being the scene where Christiane's face is only vaguely revealed in a extremely blurry shot; which shows just enough but not too much). Brasseur and Valli are both excellent in their roles, but Scob, who has to convey much through her eyes, voice and body movements alone as her face is covered by a creepy, expressionless white mask most of the time, is downright brilliant in hers.

Eyes is also noteworthy for a very long (nearly five minutes!), grueling, surprisingly graphic facial removal scene shown in its entirety, which was one of the goriest moments ever seen on the screen up to this time. It was so shocking that it had to be excised from many prints of the film, including the initial 1962 U.S. theatrical release (dubbed and under the unfortunate title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus on an even more unfortunate double-bill with The Manster). It was based on a novel by Jean Gebon, and adapted by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who also wrote the classic French suspense film Les diaboliques (1955) as well as Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958).

Criterion has provided the definitive DVD release for this title and their disc comes with lots of notable extras, including an illuminating interview with the director.

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