Saturday, June 6, 2009

Blood (1974)

In some not more closely defined part of the past (I'd say it's supposed to be the Victorian or Edwardian era, but who truly knows?) a rather interesting family comes to an even less closely defined town in America (or is it England? I could only divine that it's not continental Europe).

The Orlofskis are a deeply peculiar bunch. Head of the family is Lawrence Orlofski (Allan Berendt), a mad scientist by profession. In truth Lawrence is not called Orlofski, but Talbot, like his father, the original wolfman. He is married to Regina (Hope Stansbury), birth name of Dracula. Besides being the most high-strung vampire this side of a Transylvanian debutante ball, Regina is also the victim of a peculiar illness (possibly a side effect of being undead?) that can only be treated through a serum extracted from the poisonous, blood-sucking monster plant that grows in the Orlofskis' cellar. The plant for its part can't suck people dry willy-nilly, it is instead fed the blood of Carlotta (Pichulina Hempi), whom the Orlofski's once took out of a Rumanian orphanage as a convenient way to get tasty, fresh blood for their plant pet on a regular basis. Poor Carlotta has gone mad from the perpetual blood loss and now acts and looks as exalted as everyone else under her thick layers of theatrical make-up.

Orlofski/Talbot can't take care of all the details connected with his troubled household alone, of course. In fact, he's the sort of wolfman who can't even remember when the night of the Full Moon is. So he employs two very loyal servants, Carrie (Patricia Gaul) and Orlando (Michael Fischetti). Orlando has lost both of his legs through the plant's poison and now rolls around the house on a wheeled board. He's not bitter about it, though, and seems to have a relatively satisfying relationship with Carrie. It's just too bad that Carrie is not so secretly in love with Orlofski and has her own plant-induced leg problems.

All this should be complicated enough to somehow filter sixty minutes of plot from, but the charming quintet needs more problems than mere lycanthropy, vampirism, man-eating plants, mad experiments, madness and soap opera love lives can provide.

So how about adding a nosy realtor (Martin Reymert), a corrupt lawyer (John Wallowitch) who for once steals money from the wrong client, a blackmailing old hag (Eve Crosby), Carrie's brother (David Bevans) and the lawyer's virtuous and beautiful assistant (Pamela Adams) to the mix? That will certainly do the trick.

Until now I have avoid Andy Milligan's films like the plague, but Stephen Thrower's book Nightmare USA convinced me to give the man's work another look. I can't say that I regret it. Apart from a very unpleasant mouse decapitation sequence, Blood delivers quite a singular experience full of all the things I like in my no budget films. The same things will unfortunately also send most people running as far away from Milligan's work as possible, but that comes with the territory.

So, Andy Milligan's strangeness, let me count your ways. There's the weird, stagy acting, completely off and most definitely not like acting is supposed to be, yet at the same time so consistent that it must be done this way on purpose. The actors often reach a weird, melodramatic intensity, especially when their efforts combine with the claustrophobic framing of most scenes, the unnatural (in a nearly Lovecraftian sense) camera angles and the nearly perversely wrong lighting of many scenes. The whole affair feels as far removed from reality as possible, but it is as much removed from movie reality as we know it as well, somehow straining for a different kind of cinema, I hereby (and I'm not even drunk) dub "Anti-Cinema", the cinematic equivalent to Darkseid's "Anti-Life Equation" in Jack Kirby's New Gods.

The feeling of deliberate wrongness is further strengthened by Milligan's script, full of lengthy, semi-coherent rants that seem to have been written by a misanthropic Camus fan and which don't even try to fill in for the film's lack of not only important transitions, but its lack of whole parts of the plot. How much of the latter is the fault of the print I saw (which is definitely shorter than the runtime the IMDB gives), how much of Milligan's lack of money and how much of the auteur's very special vision, I really can't say. I'm not even sure that I want to know.

What I do know is this: if you have any love for people like the ranting madman around your corner (or the ranting madman inside yourself), and always wanted to see what would happen if he would somehow be able (allowed?) to make his own, obsessive, manic movies, you could possibly fall in love with this film.


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