Friday, February 12, 2016

037. Guru, the Mad Monk and 038. The Nightmare Never Ends

Jump to The Nightmare Never Ends (1980)

037. Guru, the Mad Monk (1970)
Director: Andy Milligan
Writer: Andy Milligan
From: Pure Terror
Watch: Internet Archive

Father Guru runs the church/prison on an island where plague victims were once sent. Now given over to evil, he tries to maintain his cover while selling cadavers and protecting his vampire mistress.

That description makes the movie sound so much more dramatic than it is. It's entirely accurate—there's also a woman trapped in a tower of the church who's lover has promised to help Guru gather bodies for the next three months—but it doesn't play out in a dramatic manner.

I'm less interested in talking about the content of the movie than about it's writer/director, Andy Milligan. He made ultra-low-budget horror films in the 60's and 70's that were very much like this: take a Gothic concept suitable for a Hammer film and shoot it wherever you can with whoever you have. This takes the idea of a corrupt/corrupted monk in the dark ages and shoots it in a local church when no one else is around. I've seen other films of his that were clearly shot in his own house.

The effect is similar to watching a video recording of the dress rehearsal of a play at your community theater. The sets are minimal to non-existent, you have the barest number of cast members, and no one else is there.

And it all works, in its way. This is neither a high-brow art film nor some campy delight, but rather a proof-of-concept. All of Milligan's works are films made with least resources and thus become semi-experimental. How do you tell a medieval Gothic without access to a budget that allows you to build sets? If you're in New York, find a cathedral and shoot on weekdays around sunrise. Dress the attic and basement in your house with cobwebs and keep the shots tightly cropped. The success, and, for me, pleasure of these films is seeing how well he worked within his limitations. My sense is this is a guy who was dying for digital filmmaking to come along.

The movie itself is all right, a little monotonous even though it's just under an hour. The idea for the story is more compelling then the execution of it and it's probably most useful if watched as an instructional guide: here's how to maximize everything you have no matter how small. It's certainly better than films I've seen with much higher budgets.

There's no copyright notice on my print so I've uploaded it to the Internet Archive here.

038. The Nightmare Never Ends aka Cataclysm (1980)
Directors: Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, and Gregg C. Tallas
Writer: Phillip Yordan
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: Troma via YouTube

A demon trying to perpetuate Satan's work on Earth starts interfering in the lives of a detective, a defrocked priest, and an anti-religious zealot. The only person who can stop him is Claire, a devout Catholic whose heart is still pure.

I know that description makes it sound like half-baked Christian propaganda, but this doesn't even rise to the levels of gleeful incompetence that the most enjoyable of those do and it's not really invested in trying to convert people. This wants to be an Exorcist/Omen-style horror/exploitation pic, but it barely rises to the level of incoherence.

I'm not even interested in going through the plot. The best part is that the movie has Cameron Mitchell (may his name be praised) as a police detective whose neighbor is a Nazi hunter. The neighbor insists he's found the Nazi who killed his family 35 years before, only he hasn't aged. Mitchell takes him to the man's house, but does nothing. That night, the hunter returns to the house and has his face torn off by a demon. His last words are, “Look at the wall,” leading Mitchell to obsess over all the newspaper clippings the hunter had tacked to his wall.

Eventually he convinces himself that the hunter was right and tries to find a way to connect the murders that keep occurring to the demon. This constitutes, maybe, a third of the plot. And then Cameron Mitchell gets blown up.

That's the leitmotif of this one, “and then they died.” None of the stories play out, none come to any closure, none have any impact. It's all pointless and all tied together by Claire whose acting is more wooden than the worst moments of Ed Wood's filmography. The movie is relentlessly blah.

And it's directed by three different people. I have no idea why. If it had been an anthology film (and apparently it's been recut to be the last third of one called Night Train to Terror), multiple directors would make sense. This is one film, though, and the stories weave in and out of each other.

I found the movie to be one big pile of “What?” but I know bad movie aficionados could find some real entertainment in it. The “anti-religious zealot” is played by Richard Moll whose hair changes from scene to scene and his arguments against religion are as generic as a fedora-wearing pony boy on Reddit (that he mansplains atheism to his devoutly Catholic wife is just icing on the cake). People get killed by demons that pop out from behind curtains—the aggressive editing fails to mask the cheap, puppety nature of the demons. One person gets drowned by a powerful wind that begins when a demon whips the bottom part of her robe away—yes, I'm suggesting he gets farted into the sea.

With the right perspective and group of friends, this could all be entertainingly bad. I wasn't in that place when watching it, though, and just found it dull.

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