Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mondo Millard: THE TERRORISTS (1980?)

Watching movies late at night can be a completely different experience from watching them early on. When I was growing up, I found that the best movies were on late at night anyway. Well, at least “best” in my mind. No television station would ever dream of running their hacked-to-pieces print of BLACK SUNDAY (1960) during any hours when respectable individuals might flip past it and write letters of protest to the station. It seems more appropriate anyway. At night when your mind is more relaxed and ready to accept the unfathomable weirdness of your own mental cinema in sleep, movies about witches, giant mutations and even military investigations seem much more entertaining. Wait, military investigations? Yes, you heard me. Nick Millard’s inscrutable logic, incomprehensible plots and editing that appears to have been done via a rusty chipper-shredder, work much better in the wee hours of the morning. Trust me.

Opening with the line “Morgan has just come on duty” and the shotgunning of a schmoe in what appears to be a park-ranger uniform on a palm-tree filled street, Millard kicks off a plot of international terrorism, as only he can do. Morgan, as it turns out, was an American Army Corporal in Germany (uhhh, that sure looked like San Francisco!), and was the first victim in a strike against American military supplying arms to South American dictators. As we learn, the terrorist “organization” calling themselves Guerra del Pueblo, singled out Cpl Morgan as he was the son of a Congressman back in the states. So basically Millard wanted to make a movie about the, then, hot button issue of South American terrorism, but found himself in Germany, thus the scenario of the Congressman’s son. I am in awe.

Of course the US is up in arms about the whole affair and sends in uber hoden-zerschlagung investigator Captain James Luke (Millard regular Marland Proctor) from the US Army Criminal Investigations division to get to the bottom of the killings. Of course Luke has a bad reputation of leaving a trail of corpses in his wake and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of him, much less the CO of the Berlin base. Luke finds himself teamed up with Berlin’s “best” detective, Inspector Steger (Hans Grabinger), who is co-incidentally also known for leaving a trail of corpses in his wake, which causes his girlfriend to leave him at one point (one of many of Millard’s non-sequitur subplots). Steger is introduced in the act of “investigating” the shooting by going into an apartment building, climbing some stairs and knocking on the door of an elderly lady with coke-bottle glasses and saying “an American soldier was shot yesterday, did you see anything?” and simply walks away after she says no. Clearly the Berlin PD were having a little joke with the US Army, or are in desperate need of good recruits to balance out the stats!

As it turns out Guerra del Pueblo is Professor Karl (Millard himself), who teaches classes on foreign economics at a Berlin university. In his off time, he and his angry girlfriend plan on culminating their attack on America by assassinating the president who is visiting Berlin at the end of the week, and presumably will not identify himself as a German pastry. Actually, there are plenty of fumbling attempts to draw a parallel to that famous “Berliner” of the ‘60s, but Millard’s shotgun approach to scriptwriting ensures that they are never focused into a tangible plotline. Nor are the multitude of oddities that spring up around every corner. After Captain Luke is introduced, in his next scene he is suddenly wearing a black sling on his left arm. To explain this, local reporter Andrea Hueller (Irmgard Millard in another standout performance), who is supposed to be interviewing him about the killing, asks him how he lost the use of his left arm. Luke replies that it was in Seol and there was a large shipment of heroin on it's way to the United States. Just as it seems like we are going to get some deep back story, Hueller switches gears into a new line of questioning. They also quickly throw out the information that Luke "had no part" in Vietnam. Wait, what the hell is that supposed to mean?

Shot on 16mm, it feels like sort of a poor man’s Lindsey Shonteff, except Millard plays everything with deadly gravitas. The terrorist organization is actually just a couple, and no, that’s not a typo it isn’t Guerreros del Pueblo, which would make sense, but Guerra del Pueblo. Of course coming to a Nick Millard film expecting everything to make sense is a losing gambit. At one point Captain Luke and Inspector Steger hit the town to go bar hopping, abruptly the film cuts to a ‘70s stag loop of a girl in front of a curtain doing a strip routine, with no sound except for some sax music, faint sounds of heavy breathing and occasional grunting from the camera operator! The loop goes on for so long (six minutes!), there was a point where I thought I that maybe I fell asleep during that last blink and woke up to stag reel at the end of the movie. The film then cuts back to a shot of a bar and we are left to make the conclusion that Luke and Steger were enjoying a show. Psssshh! Segues are for the weak!

This film in particular showcases Millard’s, uhhhh… “style”. The camera never moves, it’s permanently on close up or mid, and Millard only knows one editing technique, the jump cut. This gives us scenes that cut back and forth between talking heads, more talking heads, and people firing pistols that never run out of bullets until after they’ve already fired twenty rounds. Be it from a six-chamber revolver (that inexplicably is shown loaded with five bullets) or from a double-barrel, side-by-side shotgun, nobody reloads until the end of the firefight. It feels like Millard shot these pick-ups to show that he was paying attention, but then forgot where to insert them during the editing process. In fact Millard is simply using them as a convenient way to end a gun fight when one of the shooters reloads just a bit faster than the other one. Millard is also a fan of the time tested device copped straight out of western where one of the shooters makes a risky move that either pays off or is fatal. This sequence is a shining example of Millard’s style of shoot-out. Will put it best when he said that it reminded him of a sight-gag from an episode of The Naked Gun.

There are more things inane and insane packed into the scant 57 minute running time than most no-budgeters could ever dream of. Your sense of time becomes completely distorted with segments of improperly framed talking heads cutting back and forth that feel like they are going on way too long juxtaposed with his action scenes that hyperactively cut back and forth between people firing guns that feels way too short. This in addition to Millard’s usual leaden acting (Irmgard Millard playing Proctor’s love interest!) and some of his bizarre framing choices really make this verge on a surreal experience.

I actually enjoy Millard’s “action” films more than his horror films. Everybody does no-budget slasher flicks, particularly after the SOV era became a reality. There’s a landfill’s worth of ineptly made, no-budget, back yard serial killer flicks, but not a lot of these budding auteurs try to make action thrillers. Action thrillers with a grand scope and a budget slightly smaller than their last tax rebate after restocking the liquor cabinet. Nick is that visionary.

Nick Millard hates chins

2 Reactions:

All comments are moderated because... you know, the internet.