Thursday, April 17, 2014

In short: Guru, the Mad Monk (1970)

Thanks to the generosity of Vinegar Syndrome, now you too can delight in one of Andy Milligan’s movies in beautiful high definition without having to pay a price, or rather, without having to pay a monetary price, for watching a Milligan movie takes its psychological toll on most of us. In fact, a viewer of any given Milligan movie might never be the same afterwards. Just look at your once mild-mannered blogger who is now, just like Milligan himself, quite hateful of everyone (yes, even you!).

Guru concerns the shenanigans medieval priest Father Guru (Neil Flanagan) gets up to in his position as the head of the Church’s island death camp. Bodysnatching, vampirism, torture and a guy in a particularly horrible hunchback costume ensue. Given the film’s Milligan-typical claustrophobically cramped sets, the school play costumes and the sub school play acting, it should be as easy – if boring – to make fun of this as of any film by the director, but as it is always the case with Milligan films and me, Guru is no laughing matter but a film making me decidedly uncomfortable.

The at times absurdly cramped sets and the even more claustrophobia-inducing blocking Milligan prefers take on oppressive hues, with people not so much standing beside one another but crawling into each other’s faces, often times shouting their decidedly angry dialogue at one another with all the enthusiasm their very basic acting talents can manage. Hardly a scene goes by where someone doesn’t do or say something deeply unpleasant while the camera looks on unmoving and most probably unmoved by human empathy, gleeful in its unwillingness to engage beyond The Swirl.

Milligan, his films convince me again and again, hates me, not just in my function as his audience, but also as a member of the human race, and while he can’t hurt me physically (one hopes, for one does not believe in life after death), he sure as hell can hurl his hate for humanity in my face in film form again and again, which he does quite effectively in Guru.

There’s an unbelievably unpleasant, brutal, undertone to the film – as to Milligan’s whole body of work – the sort of feeling that turns what should be nothing more than MST3K-style fodder for cheap laughs into something quite different, a very personal outburst of loathing.

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