The Video Nasties #2 – Blood Rites (1968, Andy Milligan)

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‘My God, it’s so gloomy out there.’

Blood Rites was one of at least five films made by Staten Island gore auteur Andy Milligan in 1968 alone, and is a period piece in which Milligan falls back on that hoariest of cliches, the reading of the will murder mystery.

Three couples, all of whom look exactly alike and are impossible to tell apart, must spend the night at an old mansion on an abandoned island and live ‘in sexual harmony’ for three days, which sounds like a lot of work. On the last day, their father’s lawyer HH Dobbs (‘HH Dobbs? The HH Dobbs? Hubert Humphrey Dobbs?’ asks one of the characters, trying to extend the film’s running time at any cost) will arrive and read the will. However, a hooded killer begins knocking them off, one by one…

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For all its occasional bursts of gore and frequent nudity, Blood Rites feels apart from most other horror films that were singled out by the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions). For a start, the period setting, however unconvincing, is unusual and highly ambitious. It’s a wonder Milligan even bothered, as the film could quite easily have been set in the modern day with no changes to the script whatsoever. But bother he did, and that pretty much says it all.

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Because one thing Blood Rites has is ambition. And enthusiasm, lots and lots of enthusiasm. The cast are game, a welcome respite from the wooden readings delivered by the Blood Feast mannequins. Of course, the muddy sound recording means that often it’s a struggle to make out what they’re saying, but don’t let that spoil your enjoyment.

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The same can be said of the camerawork. The grainy 16mm film is shot handheld (and in dire need of a wide angle lens), but the shaky cam effect adds a verisimilitude to the proceedings and gives the gore a real impact.

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Take the opening murder, which is unrelenting in it’s savagery. Had the camera been fixed to a tripod and shot on 35mm film, we could see the obvious fakery of the man’s (enormous) eyeball being torn out, or of his stomach being ripped open. Okay, so we do hear Milligan giving offscreen directions to his cast (‘Cutting away, move!’) but so what, man. So fucking what. Seconds later, the man’s female companion is similarly hacked up, and it feels like you’re watching a serial killer’s home movie. Okay, so the killer here is never seen again and this entire opening is totally unrelated to the rest of the film but I don’t care. It’s art, with a strange filthy beauty that colours my opinion of the rest of the movie. After those first five minutes, the film slows as we are introduced to the breasts of the three women and the hairy backs of their husbands.

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People are cut off mid sentence by the haphazard editing, but you won’t care because the dialogue goes like this –

‘Did you see anything?’

‘No, I just came out of my room. I heard something, but I just came out of my room.’

They like to repeat themselves. Also, they like to repeat themselves. People talk. They wander. Someone dies, but I’m not sure who – I’m not even sure if it matters. It turns out it doesn’t. A man is sawed in half. More people die and the killer is revealed as the only person it could have been.

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Blood Rites is a real trip, but not for everyone. If you’re idea of a good film revolves around technical competence, then run screaming, now. Also, I’ve got bad news for you – you’re reading the wrong blog.

If, however, you appreciate a little amateurishness in your movies, then give Andy Milligan a go. He was truly a one of a kind.

Milligan continued to pursue his bizarre single minded vision through films and theatre until his death from AIDS in 1991. Penniless, he was buried in an unmarked grave.

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5 Responses to The Video Nasties #2 – Blood Rites (1968, Andy Milligan)

  1. Not seen that one. There’s a documentary on video nasties called Moral Panic which is quite interesting

    Like

  2. lysette says:

    Ah I love the grittiness of Milligan’s films, the casting of amateur theatre actors, addicts and sex workers, it made his movies beautifully eccentric and complete frenzied messes. Every time I see ‘Raffine’ in the credits the image of Andy hunched over a sewing machine with cheap pink satin warms my heart. A true artist.

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