Thursday, May 19, 2011

In short: Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)

Victorian era barber Sweeney Todd (John Miranda) likes to kill his customers for fun and profit. He has been able to kill a few hundred people by now without the police getting wise to it, for he has an excellent way to get rid of his victims' bodies. Todd is partnered with bakery owner Maggie Lovett (Jane Hilary) and her employee Tobias Ragg (Berwick Kaler) who bake his victims into not quite delicious meat pies.

All goes well for the dastardly fiends until they start killing off people a little more closely connected to them. Eventually, it is only a question of time 'til somebody - perhaps even Lovett's other employee Johanna (Annabella Wood) - will find out what's going on in the barber shop and the bakery.

Given how obsessed mad exploitation director Andy Milligan was with ill-advised period settings, especially a Victorian England that has somehow been transported to modern Staten Island, it comes as not much of a surprise he just had to do his own version of Victorian England's favourite fictional serial killer, Sweeney Todd.

The film turned out exactly as you'd expect from a Milligan movie. Horrible, yet uncomfortably intense, actors dressed in "period" clothing below the level most high school plays would accept are doing just plain horrible British accents. The shot composition is so claustrophobically cramped the actors never seem to talk each other like people in the real world do, but push their faces into each other, so that only hate-filled ranting, physical violence, or the face rubbing that goes for sex here can result. And in fact (again, this isn't exactly a surprise in a Milligan film), most of the film's dialogue consists of hateful, long, breathless rants, as if the characters (with the ridiculously angelic Johanna as the big exception) had never had a nasty thought they didn't throw into someone's face. It's impossible to watch this, or any other of Milligan's movies I've seen, and not come to the conclusion that you're not actually watching characters ranting at each other, but Andy Milligan ranting at you, his audience. Milligan, if you haven't realized it by now, hates you. And your mother, your sister, even your pet hamster (though Bloodthirsty Butchers counterintuitively and thankfully is not one of the Milligan movies with real animal violence).

It's this wave of hardly suppressed hatred and anger that underlies every static shot, every boring useless scene of unpleasant people talking and talking and shouting, every cramped, motionless (Milligan would prefer clubbing you to death with it instead of moving it, I suspect) camera set-up, and even the seizure-inducing camera swirling that goes for an action sequence in Milligan's films; even the happy end seems to mock the audience.

If you're sensitive to Milligan's style (quite a few people will just be bored by his films), watching one of his movies can be a truly unpleasant, disquieting experience. Once you've seen enough of his films, they all start to turn into one big mass of ranting, shouting, dismemberment and bad accents that hates you and wants you to die.


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