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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Milpitas Monster: The Best Low-Budget Horror Flick You've Never Seen

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 11:48 AM

In the mid-1970s, as John Stanley was winding down principal photography on his San Francisco and Oakland-based horror movie Nightmare in Blood, down the 880 another D.I.Y. horror movie was about to be born: The Milpitas Monster.

It started as a fake movie poster idea in the Samuel Ayer High School commercial arts class taught by Robert Burrill, the gag being the monster came from the rapidly expanding landfills south of town. Milpitas was already something of a laughingstock -- including constant teases from Bob Wilkins on Creature Features -- and only became more so as the garbage smell permeated the town. My high school in Fresno (also quite the laughingstock) was downwind from a rendering plant, so I can relate.

See Also:

Homegrown Horror: 1978's Nightmare in Blood Unleashes a Vampire on San Francisco

Retro Nerd Alert No. 3: Bob Wilkins Talks Hardware Wars & More on Creature Features

A Cinematic Turkey on Several Levels: 1972's Blood Freak

The poster inspired a 10-minute short film, and with the cooperation of the whole town -- seemingly every business in Milpitas is thanked at the end -- it was expanded into a $7,000 feature film. Even in 1974-dollars that's not a whole heck of a lot. The Milpitas Monster definitely looks cheaper than the $51,000 Nightmare in Blood, but makes up for it by being much more fun.

That aforementioned cheapness aside, I should mention right off the bat that my particular copy (retitled The Mutant Beast) of the film is really lousy, and the official DVD offers the film in much better quality, and you should buy it.

Narrated by the golden-voiced Paul Frees (the Bay Area filmmaker's best friend, who also went on to narrate Hardware Wars), the film opens with a tongue-in-cheek history of Milpitas.

The monster, who has a thing for garbage cans, appears early and often.

The Milpitas Monster uses every trick in the low-budget monster book, including many simple, in-camera optical effects, like this overturned truck using forced perspective. Fakey? Sure, but even though it's a cut-out, at least there's something there, which beats the nothing of modern CGI. (Also, get off my lawn!)

Man oh man, there's a lot going on in these next two minutes. The monster attacks via a combination of sound effects, editing, close-ups of the monster suit, and stop motion (which bears no resemblance to the suit, only adding to the charm). Also, there's a guy who looks just like Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon, but more important are the antics of the film's true hero: The town drunk, who is clearly a young version of Red Letter Media's Mr. Plinkett.

The monster destroys Kozy Kitchen as Mr. Plinkett heckles him.

Creature Features cameo time: The city fathers try to figure out how to defeat the monster, with help from none other than Bob Wilkins! Here he plays head of the U.S. Pollution Control Board, who of course has a hacking cough from chain-smoking cigars. Wilkins himself was known for his cigars, but the smoking and coughing is no doubt trenchant social commentary. (He also sounds like David Lynch's hard-of-hearing character on Twin Peaks, Gordon Cole.)

Still, as great as Wilkins' coughing is, it just can't hold a lighter to the coughing fit experienced by the chain-smoking narrator of Blood Freak after he lectures us on the dangers of chemicals. And now that I'm thinking about it, I have to watch it.

It's not easy to make a low-budget monster movie without filler -- those 80 minutes aren't going to fill themselves -- and like the A.I.P. movies it emulates, much of The Milpitas Monster is taken up with the adventures of the local teenyboppers, including the Good Girl, the Good Boy, and the Wild Boys. In this scene at a high school dance, itself a time capsule of fashions and the local music scene, the Wild Boys torment Mr. Plinkett. (Lest you think dickish teenage boys being cruel to the less fortunate started with Bumfights.)

In the end, the monster is defeated (or is it?), Mr. Plinkett stumbles off into the sunset, and the very catchy theme song is heard over the credits. And if you didn't believe me about the whole town pitching in, check out the thank you list from 0:56 to 1:32.

This compilation includes the trailer, which gives a better sense of what the film looks like when it's shown properly, as well as the many shout-outs the film received on Creature Feathers Features.

You can read a 2011 interview with director Robert Burrill here and buy the official DVD here. And please don't forget to recycle.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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