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A tribute to the sex and violence of filmmaker Andy Milligan

Wednesday, Dec 12 2001
The golden age of exploitation, from the '60s through the '80s, was one of cinema's richest, if also most brackish, backwaters. Conventional wisdom portrays its creators as uniformly lecherous, quasi-literate miscreants who never bathed and made films in order to get laid, but there are enough exceptions to reconsider the rule. Gore pioneer Herschel Gordon Lewis, of Blood Feast fame, has a Ph.D. in English lit. Doris Wishman, an 80-year-old granny straight out of Norman Rockwell, was a master of the "roughie" subgenre of trash cinema. But the late gay auteur Andy Milligan, who directed 29 grind-house flicks between 1965 and 1988, both contradicts and confirms the cliché.

This gutter Renaissance man, whose filmography includes such titles as The Bloodthirsty Butchers and Fleshpot on 42nd Street, was a misogynist, a racist, and a sadist whose films reflect an unhinged but apparently charismatic personality. He was also a noted dress designer and an innovator of gritty realism in off-off-Broadway plays. His productions, which included Genet's The Maids, became notorious for introducing actual sex and violence onto the stage, a strategy that also filigrees his films. The Milligan mantra? "Show the world your scars ... and for God's sake, charge admission!"

This weekend, Milligan, who died of AIDS in 1991, is celebrated in "The Ghastly One: Andy Milligan Remembered." Torture Dungeon (1970) is oddly compelling dime-store Shakespeare, a tale of royal treachery shot on the beaches of Staten Island with Milligan's much-abused stock company and some Italian locals. Disturbing touches include a beheading in close range, a pitchfork in the chest, a horny hunchback, and such typical medieval patois as "dese, dem, and dose." The 32-minute Vapors (1965) is a Warhol-esque, pre-Stonewall look at New York's gay bathhouse scene, censored for a too-daring close-up of a penis. Milligan's friend Jimmy McDonough, whose The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan brilliantly limns every gruesome facet of an appalling life and career, will be on hand to answer questions and sign books.

About The Author

Gary Morris


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