Monstrosity (1987) -**½
For a filmmaker whose movies have always been difficult to see (difficult to watch, too, but that’s something else again), and whose career has always been shrouded in mystery (much of it self-created), Andy Milligan has become surprisingly well documented in recent years, with quite a bit of information on him available these days if you know the right places to look. It’s just that most of that information is confused, confusing, contradictory, and occasionally downright suspect, especially when it comes to his terminal Los Angeles period. Even something as simple as the release history of Milligan’s LA movies is a source of puzzlement, with little agreement from one source to another as to when, how, or indeed whether most of the films he made after fleeing westward from the moribund Times Square grindhouse scene in 1985 were exhibited to the public. In the case of Monstrosity, for example, the copyright notice in the opening credits reads 1987; the Internet Movie Database claims a January 1989 release date, somewhat unhelpfully clarifying that this refers to Monstrosity’s “video premiere;” yet in 2001, Jimmy McDonough wrote in his biography of Milligan, The Ghastly One, that the film had never seen the light of day even on home video. What we can say for certain about Monstrosity is that until Video Kart finally issued their restored version on DVD (as a double feature with the even more obscure Straw Weisman movie, Grave Robbers), it was among the more enigmatic footnotes to a career studded from beginning to end with enigmatic footnotes. Monstrosity may have earned some sort of mention in almost everything written about Milligan since around 1990, but it generally did so on the basis of little or no actual information. In any event, it’s been plain enough that the authors of works like Down and Dirty and The Sleaze Merchants (both of which contain chapters on Milligan) had not managed to see it. And in at least one respect, the mystery of Monstrosity persists to this day, for even The Ghastly One— despite being written by someone who had worked on the Monstrosity crew— offers no clear answer to the overriding question raised by a viewing of the film: what the shit was Andy Milligan trying to do here, anyway?
At first, it looks like Monstrosity is going to be a basically conventional rape-revenge movie— albeit one of almost unprecedented cheapness and tawdriness. Three guys whose names we won’t be learning for a very long time are rampaging around Los Angeles committing all manner of crimes, seemingly just for the hell of it. Certainly they’re not getting anything out of it materially, since nobody they victimize seems to have any useful quantity of money on them when the criminals strike. Meanwhile, a guy named Mark (David Homb, from Witchcraft II: The Temptress and Alien Species) is walking his girlfriend, Ronnie (Audra Marie Ribeiro), home to her apartment. Mark notices Kyle (Joe Darrel)— one of the three hooligans— loitering outside Ronnie’s building, but he doesn’t think anything of it after a prolonged bit of openly hostile eye contact sends the stranger scampering. Unfortunately, Clay Cole the ringleader (Tommy Voager) is also casing the joint from inside, and he breaks into Ronnie’s flat as soon as she closes the door behind her. We see very little of the ensuing gang-rape (for a guy who got his start in the business as a straight-up pornographer, Andy Milligan became oddly reticent about graphic sex scenes in his old age), but the upshot is that the next time Ronnie and Mark see each other, she’s in the hospital with a concussion, a broken rib, and who knows how many superficial cuts and bruises.
Two detectives, Evans (Alvin Silver) and Robinson (Infinity’s Alan F. Ross), come to visit Ronnie at the hospital, leaving her with a scrapbook of mugshots to go through as soon as she feels up to it. That goes poorly indeed, for no sooner has Ronnie stumbled upon Cole’s entry than the man himself strolls into her room disguised as an orderly. Cole guts Ronnie with a scalpel, then rips both his own page and those of his accomplices out of the scrapbook before sneaking away. Now the latter move might look like an incredibly stupid one on Cole’s part (after all, he’s just all but announced his and his partners’ identities to anyone who has a guide to which mugshots the book contained), but Evans and Robinson curiously claim that the evidence is insufficiently sturdy to support an arrest at this point. Nevertheless, they know as well as Mark does that the men in the excised mugshots have to be Ronnie’s attackers, and one of them surreptitiously arranges for Mark to receive everything the police have on Cole, Kyle, and the aptly named Savage (Alien Private Eye’s Charles Prior, hiding behind the alias “Chuck Price”). Later that very day, Mark gets together with his two closest friends, Scott (Michael Lunsford, of Surgikill) and Carlos (Joe Balogh, from Moonstalker and Black Demons), and broaches the subject of bringing the men who battered, raped, and killed Ronnie to vigilante justice. There’s a bit of discussion over the morality of taking the law into their own hands, but the objections on which Scott and Carlos really harp are the practical ones— getting caught, being outmatched in a confrontation against a pack of psychos, that sort of thing. But then Carlos gets a brilliant idea. What if, instead of avenging Ronnie by going after Cole and his boys themselves, they built a golem, and sent it out to do the dirty work?
Wait— what?!?! Well, Carlos studied religion at Loyola, and his coursework included instruction in the basics of the Jewish faith— you know, the Covenant, the commandments, how to rearrange the letters of the Divine Name into an incantation for imparting life to an inanimate simulacrum of a man… the basics. Now, none of the boys has the sculpting chops to form a golem out of clay the way Judah Loew supposedly did, but Scott is in med school, so he has easy access to a whole freezer full of cadavers. Why not go the Frankenstein route, and use those dead bodies as raw material for the golem instead? The lads’ labors consume a matter of months (or so we are awkwardly told in conversation between Scott’s and Carlos’s largely irrelevant girlfriends), and some unexpected compromises— like the substitution of gorilla limbs for the golem’s left arm and leg— are necessary along the way, but with dedication and a great deal of trial and error, they do eventually get Frankie (Andy Milligan regular Haal Borske, returning from Torture Dungeon and The Ghastly Ones) up and running. Now it’s just a matter of conditioning his dull and ill-formed mind to seek out and destroy Cole and his gang.
This is where Monstrosity starts to get weird. What’s that? You thought treating golem-construction as if it were the only logical workaround for the hazards of vigilantism was already weird? Okay, I suppose that’s true enough, but the fact remains that what’s coming during the next hour is a great deal stranger even than that. You see, we’ve reached the point— a good third of the way into the movie, I hasten to emphasize— at which Milligan begins dropping hints that maybe Monstrosity is supposed to be a comedy. Because obviously a funny rape-revenge movie is exactly the thing Western culture was most sorely wanting, right? The way it works in practice is even more twisted than that sounds, too. The revenge plot against Cole’s gang continues to play out straight (or as straight, anyway, as it can now that there’s a frigging half-gorilla golem involved), but a new and almost hermetically isolated subplot grows out of Frankie’s first clash with the criminals, and that subplot is absolutely incomprehensible as anything other than deliberate farce. When Frankie kills Cole (who is the first one to go, in defiance of all revenge-movie plotting norms), he catches him in the middle of terrorizing a band of what I can only assume were Milligan’s conception of punk rockers: a balding, 50-ish man with gray dreadlocks and “MOM” tattooed across his forehead; a pink-shirted jock-type named Candy, whose billowy coif clashes most incongruously with his studded leather jewelry; a massively muscled, square-jawed girl who makes Chyna look like Rainbow Brite; and a 40-ish blonde woman with gilded false eyelashes and a nylon tiara in the form of a butterfly, who speaks with the voice of a gin-addled Betty Boop! The latter is named Jamie (Carrie Anita)— Jamie Lee Curtis Wackowski, no less— and she is the only one whom Frankie is able to save after dismembering Cole and chasing off Kyle and Savage. (Incidentally, Jamie explains that she owes her name to her mother’s lifelong obsession with horror movies. In order for that to make any sense at all, Jamie would need to have been born no earlier than 1978, so either Monstrosity is set sometime around 2020, or Jamie, despite all appearances to the contrary, is nine years old!) She’s also Frankie’s love interest for the rest of the picture, and I think the mere fact that Frankie would have a love interest is enough to suggest how thoroughly fucked up Monstrosity becomes after Jamie’s introduction. Even so, there’s a fair amount of loony shit that you’ll never see coming, like the half-assedly cross-dressing guido guardian angel in a leather aviator’s helmet (Joel Weiss, from Congo and CyberTracker) who intervenes to make sure that Frankie and Jamie fully understand how badly God wants them to be together. What we end up with is a nearly scene-by-scene alternation in which the golem’s activities as Ronnie’s avenger are juxtaposed against the exaggeratedly sappy and ever more implausible love affair developing between the patchwork monster and the borderline-retarded junkie. The avenging peters out early, too, for which Milligan futilely attempts to compensate by having Mark and Scott grow drunk on their newfound power, and begin using Frankie to clean up the city by indiscriminately murdering petty criminals of all types. It really is as if Milligan started off with two completely unconnected scripts, became frustrated at his inability to complete either one, and finally “solved” the problem by twining them together into one utterly baffling… well, Monstrosity that would at least possess the virtue of attaining releasable length. Of course, running time was apparently the least of Monstrosity’s problems, since the best available evidence indicates that it wasn’t released until well over a decade after Milligan’s death anyway. Should you ever find yourself in a position to watch it, you will not find that delay even slightly surprising.
This review is part of this year’s bonus B-Masters roundtable, a little exercise in cinematic S&M that we like to call Secret Santa’s Revenge. Click the banner below to see what else my colleagues and I inflicted on each other this holiday season.