Monday, February 13, 2012

Mondo Millard: DEATH NURSE (1987) and DEATH NURSE 2 (1988)

Since we just reviewed Nick Millard’s DOCTOR BLOODBATH (1987), it seems only appropriate to tackle his DEATH NURSE series.  Shot around the same time with the same cast and crew, this two film series brought back Priscilla Alden.  Alden is best remembered as Ethel from CRIMINALLY INSANE (aka CRAZY FAT ETHEL), perhaps Millard’s best horror film.  By far the most professional thespian to grace Millard’s cinematic assaults, Alden had returned for CRIMINALLY INSANE 2 (1987) and then went on to this double feature of dreck that can be seen in some ways as a quasi-continuation of the CRIMINALLY INSANE series.

Welcome to Shady Palms Clinic where you’re in good hands with Dr. Gordon Mortley (Albert Eskinazi) and his sister nurse Edith (Alden).  Well, that is if you trust mentally unbalanced individuals to handle your healthcare needs (sounds like US healthcare alright).  You see, our deranged duo has a racquet going on where they kill their patients, feed them to the rats in the basement (stock footage once again), and then bill the insurance companies for extended stays.  Yeah, they put the shady in Shady Palms.  Of course, all this killing isn’t for naught.  Dr. Mortley is just refining his craft on various surgeries.  Don’t pay attention to their fact that he is actually a veterinarian and his sister flunked out of nursing school.  They actually do house a patient they don’t kill in alcoholic Louise (Irmgard Millard), mostly because Dr. Gordon likes her and keeps giving her alcohol even though she is trying to detox.  

The proper way to watch DEATH NURSE
As Burke & Hare demonstrated before, all this killing ain’t easy and it takes a toll on the sadistic siblings.  Gordon is becoming increasingly tired of dragging folks down to the basement and Edith spends a lot of the film sleeping on the couch and having nightmares (of old Millard features, naturally).  More trouble arises when social worker Faith Chandler (Frances Millard, Nick’s mom) drops off a tuberculosis patient, Mr. Davis (Millard himself), and then starts getting all nosy and wanting to see him again after he has been killed.  This requires a WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S (1989) set-up where they have the corpse laying in bed waving.  More trouble arrives when health inspector Mr. Smith shows up about rat problem and says he will have to close them down. That’s a butcher knife in the gut for you, Mr. Smith. Then Mrs. Chandler brings another new patient to the clinic – herself!  Seems she was so impressed with their care that she decides to check in for a few days for no reason.  Yup, that’s a stabbing for you too, Mrs. Chandler.  Louise sees this killing and you know what that gets her?  A stabbing with a big ol’ needle.  Finally, the uncle of one of the victims shows up and he is a cop.  He gets suspicious by the funky smell outside and opens the garage door. The film ends with him pounding on the door, demanding to be let in.  Dramatic cliffhanger!

Well, I won’t leave you in suspense and will jump right into my DEATH NURSE 2 (1988) review.  The cop pounds on the door demanding to be let in after his horrible discovery in the basement (we’re never shown what he saw) and Edith opens it and stabs him with a big butcher knife. Well, this is what happens but Millard does it in his own unique way: the sequel opens with the guy being killed, repeats the footage from part one of him walking down to the basement and then cuts back to him being killed again.  You’ll figure out this was supposed to be a flashback during his death, but Millard can’t be bothered with silly stuff like editing transitions to actually indicate this is something that happened previously. 

Business is picking up once again at Shady Palms as John Sawyer, the replacement of now-dead Mrs. Chandler, calls them up and wants to place homeless bag lady Brownie (Irmgard Millard again!) in their institution. According to Sawyer “the merchants have been complaining to the Mayor” about her.  Ha!  Like San Francisco only has one homeless bag lady walking around and the Mayor personally handles the case.  Anyway, Brownie shows up and proves to be on the same level as her caretakers as she whips out a butcher knife and chases Edith in circles around a coffee table with it.  The nurse subdues Brownie with the promise of some
In this corner: Brownie & the butcher knife!
sherry, but stabs her when she goes for a drink.  Gordon drags her to the basement and all is good.  Well, except Brownie is one hardened hobo and ain’t dead!  She crawls up from the basement and stabs Gordon before Edith finally finishes her off.  This move makes Albert Eskinazi the luckiest “actor” ever as from this point on all he does is lay in bed.

Mr. Sawyer brings more business Shady Palms’ way when he drops off political powder keg Mischa (played by the guy who was the Polish poet in DOCTOR BLOODBATH). “He thinks taxes should be totally abolished. Thinks the whole country is headed toward socialism,” Sawyer warns.  Holy crap!  Did I just enter some kind of Fox News time warp?  Anyway, his blathering about “capitalism is good” will only get him one thing in San Francisco.  That’s right – a meat cleaver
to the throat.
And in this corner: Edith & the meat cleaver!
Damn, Edith is sure feeding the rats well.  Of course, Edith gets a big surprise when there is a knock on door and she opens it to see Mrs. Faith Chandler stand there alive and well.  Cue non-transition to Faith being killed in part one.  But this isn’t Faith, it is her twin sister Charity Chandler (Frances Millard again) who is looking for her missing sister.  This old lady is so worried about her sister that she visits Sgt. Gallagher (Nick Millard again!) and even does her own old lady stakeout.  When she breaks into the house, she discovers her dead sister in the basement and you know what that gets her?  A stabbing!  Around the same time, Gallagher shows up with a search warrant because rats have dragged human remains onto the street. Edith knows the game is up and she plops down on the couch while Gordon lies in bed upstairs.  The end!

Edith or Ethel? You can have both!
I honestly had no intention of watching or reviewing both of these.  But after viewing one Nick Millard film, you can feel his influence seep into your body, grab your brainstem and not let go until you acquiesce and watch another film of his.  He truly has that kind of power.  To tell the truth, these two 1-hour features probably add up to about an 80 minute movie if you remove all of the scenes of Edith laying on the couch and having nightmares.  Millard once again tries to get as much mileage out of his old film footage and recycles the major death scenes from CRIMNALLY INSANE in both of these films. This creates an interesting scenario for the viewer because – if they are so inclined – they can see these films as a continuation of Ethel’s exploits.  For the less Millard inclined (aka smart people), CRIMINALLY INSANE 2 ended with Ethel taking over the Bartholomew halfway house (again played by Millard's pink San Francisco abode).  Who’s to say she didn’t change her name, pretend to be a nurse, recruit her crazy brother and then open the clinic here.  I’m going to go with that theory because, frankly, that is all these films have in order to be interesting.                 

Can you believe this house is in San Francisco?
Like all of Millard’s shot-on-video efforts from the 1980s, these are both an assault on the senses.  The editing is a mess and, as mentioned earlier, you have to figure out on your own when they are going back to flashbacks.  The video-matography is horrid and Millard becomes addicted to the zoom like Jess Franco (tip: if the camera zooms in on Edith’s face, someone’s gonna die).   Once again, the Millard household is the setting for a majority of the production.  I’m pretty sure I have the layout of this house down.  The Millard band of players is also all on hand and it is hilarious watching these back-to-back to see the people killed in part one show up in part two in new roles.  No joke, that is what my friend and I used to do as kids when we made movies – put on a hat and boom, you’re a new character!  Alden, who passed away in 2007, is actually way too good an actress to be stuck in stuff like this.  She has the maniacal laugh down perfect and it is a shame it was never used in more professional productions.  I guess Millard must be a heckuva nice guy in order to get her for these new movies, cuz I know he ain’t paying scale.  Perhaps the most terrifying thing about these films is the scene where Millard has his own mother - who produced these films (and later became a pornstar at age 83, no joke) - wandering around in a nightie.

Mama Millard reacts in horror to, uh, herself:

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