Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween Havoc: CARNAGE (1984)

It is hard to believe we’ve covered/endured so much Cinemasocism over the last four and a half years, but have barely touched the brutal cinematic world of Andy Milligan.  Outside of a tiny review of BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (1970), we haven’t reviewed them and that is for a good reason – Milligan’s films are more of an endurance test rather than entertainment.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the seize-the-audience nature of his lurid, attention grabbing titles like TORTURE DUNGEON (1970) or THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972). Unfortunately, the fun and creativity seems to end there.  Instead of gruesome exploitation flicks, we get what are basically glorified home movies.  To his credit, Milligan was the film version of a one man band and did everything from costuming to editing to photography.  He was sort of like Ed Wood minus the angora sweater and former A-list actors.

The Minnesota-born Milligan began his film career in earnest with gay-themed, arty shorts like VAPORS (1965) and THE GAY LIFE (1967).  He hit pay dirt in the late ‘60s when distributor William Mishkin appeared in the role of financier/benefactor on THE PROMISCUOUS SEX (1968).  Together the two men made eight films in the sexploitation and horror genres from 1968-1973.  Surprisingly, for such a prolific filmmaker, CARNAGE was Milligan’s first film of the 1980s, when horror was booming again.  There was a five year gap between production of this in 1983 and his previous feature, the deliciously titled LEGACY OF BLOOD (1978).  It seems the success of housebound paranormal films like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) and POLTERGEIST (1982) got Milligan in the director’s chair (folding, no doubt) once more and this time he was working for Lew Mishkin, son of William.  Yes, it may have been a new decade, but Milligan was up to his old Staten Island tricks.

The film opens with a couple dressed in their wedding outfits listening to a Victrola play “Here Comes the Bride.”  Apparently not fans of wedded bliss, the couple dies within the first few minutes as the husband shoots his wife in the head and then kills himself.  Now when this is taking place is totally left up to the viewer. Milligan ain’t got time for stuff like setting, place, or time period.  That is standard for a Milligan production, where the viewer is kind of like a traveler pre-Google Maps. Sure, you might know where you are headed, but you’ll probably get lost along the way and it’s your own damn fault for taking this trip anyway.  An onscreen title of “three years later” brings us up to date and apparently this is contemporary as a modern couple – Jonathan (Michael Chiodo) and Carol Henderson (Leslie Den Dooven) – has purchased the house, unaware of its history.  Strange things start happening right away as cabinets swing open, tea cups move by themselves, and hedge clippers keep scooting around.  Oh, scary!  Worst of all, the Victrola starts playing that stupid record and the stove gas line mysteriously turns on while they are sleeping.  Jeez, these ghosts are jerks.  

This dimwitted couple never thinks the place is haunted and instead blames all these strange occurrences on forgetfulness.  Of course, these might not be worldly folks as evidenced by Dan saying, “I always wanted to take a bubble bath” the first night he and his wife are home.  Ah, yes, the haughty airs of le bubble bath.  Paranormal activity isn’t going to keep them from having their housewarming party though and they hire a cleaning lady to fix the place up. Naturally, she is spooked out of her mind as the ghostly image of a blood splattered bride taunts her in the basement.  This sends here into a comatose state and she later slashes her own throat at home.  In addition to random victims, the housewarming plot allows for some completely superfluous subplot involving Henderson friend Ann, who argues with her mother about Ann’s fiancĂ© Walter.  Prepare thy self for the riveting scene where mother explains marriage to her daughter: “You just have to give your man a lot of rope to wander with in early years of wedded bliss.  Then every year you pull it in without him noticing it and suddenly you won’t need it anymore.”  Oh jeez, can we get back to the slightly shifting candlesticks, please?

Thankfully, Milligan wakes things up a bit as he works in a scene where two thieves (I assume that is what they are as they have no dialogue) break into the basement and are slaughtered by the bride ghost.  In what might be the film’s biggest special effect (and possibly the biggest of Milligan’s career), one guy is pinned to the wall with a pitchfork and then has his guts ripped out in the air. Sure, they look like ropes with no blood on them, but its shoddiness contributes to the overall grossness.  A couple o’ corpses ain’t gonna stop this house warming though and soon Dan and Carol are joined by Ann and Walter and heretofore unmentioned Tony and Margaret.  Those pesky ghosts aren’t going to stand for this and they give house warming a new meaning by electrocuting Walter in the bathtub.  This tragedy finally prompts Carol to look into the history of the house.  She meets an old man at city hall and he tells her the previous occupants were Mark (Chris Georges) and Susan Webb (Deeann Veeder).  They were dead set on restoring this house to its original condition, but got sidetracked by a miscarriage and Susan getting terminal cancer.  They opted out of life, hence the opening suicides.  Carol figures the only way to end this mess is to get a priest involved and soon we have bootleg Max Von Sydow showing up (in a white turtleneck to mimic a priest’s collar).  Can he successfully combat the household items flinging around on monofilament line?  Don’t find out.

Oh lord.  Anytime I finish a movie this bad, I always hear that half-lady zombie from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) screaming, “The paaaaaaaaaaaaaaain.” Despite this being my fifth or sixth Milligan outing, I still get smacked in the face at how stunningly bad his films are with their snail pacing and stilted acting. Milligan’s body may have moved into the ‘80s, but his mind and film aesthetic were still stuck in the same late ‘60s/early ‘70s style that defines his work.  While it is admirable that he tried to cash in on something new, the only thing CARNAGE has in common with those aforementioned haunted house blockbusters is being set in a house with ghosts.  Imagine POLTERGEIST if it was made for $100 and ILM stood for I Love Monofilament.  If you did a drinking game for every time something was pulled by string to simulate ghostly happenings, you’d have alcohol poisoning within the first half hour.  Even worse, Milligan decided the sound of things moving should be a cross between a window being washed and a dog mewling.

The anti-director receives no favors from his writer, who just happens to be some dude named…Andy Milligan!  Seriously, this film has a moment at the end where the bride ghost pleads, “Don’t go” to the Hendersons and says they just want the house to stay as it is.  Wait, why didn’t you say that at the beginning?  Why did you have to get all aggressive and kill a bunch of folks?  I will admit that Milligan does pull off one funny dialogue exchange, but I don’t think it was intentional.  When the priest arrives, he is rather pragmatic in his approach to this haunting.

Priest: “I don’t see any way of resolving the 
problem except, uh, sell the house”
(ghost scream heard off camera)
Jonathan: “Uh.”
Carol: “That’s the same sound we heard the night 
you smashed the wedding march.”
Jonathan: “Look, we love this house.”
Priest: “My brother is a real estate developer. He could give you 
a very nice price on your house. Here’s his card.”

It is a shame this is all so bad as the house used in the film (it was Milligan’s own home) is a cool looking place.  Apparently the house burned down right after the filming of CARNAGE, as if it just couldn’t take being associated with being in a Milligan flick.  You know your movie is bad when the main location commits suicide.  If you still have any desire to see this after my review (and I know you do, you insane horror fans), just check out this trailer and be done with it.  Milligan in a minute is plenty.

1 Reactions:

  1. "main location commits suicide" That's hilarious.

    Great review as always.


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