Blood Rites (AKA The Ghastly One’s)
Directed by: Andy Milligan
First released: 1969
Current UK status: Still banned in the UK, available uncut on Region 1
Claimed as being the ‘work of morons with cameras’ in Stephen Kings ‘Danse Macabre’ book, the Ghastly Ones (as it is better known) fell foul of the Video Nasty era in 1984. The film was released on VHS by Scorpio in March 1983, and then in August 1984, it was removed thanks to the Video Nasty panic. The film has never been released in the UK since. So, is the reason it is still banned because of its graphic violence and sickening images? I doubt it, in all honestly, this is probably still banned for the simple reason that no company felt it was good enough to even attempt the bother of tying to get it released. Bit harsh maybe, but for the life of me I cannot think of any other reason this film is still banned. Considering the graphic violence you see in films these days, The Ghastly One’s would have no trouble at all getting a release. However, for its time I can see, eventually (!) what all the fuss was about. There are one or two scenes in this film that, considering when it was made, would probably have upset a fair amount of people not yet educated in how violence can be presented on screen.
Director Andy Milligan was a bit of a strange case, starting off in the Army he left to pursue a career in filmmaking. He started off by making a few short films but once he had enough money he bought his own mansion in Staten Island, walking distance from his house, and it was here that he filmed the majority of his work on tiny budgets. He would build his own sets there, created costumes for his movies, wrote and directed. He was, quite literally, a one man army. The Ghastly One’s was his biggest movie, and supposedly his first horror film (although the titles of his earlier short films would suggest otherwise). The entire film was shot in his mansion, with the costumes designed and made by Andy himself. Making a name for himself, Andy went on to direct a number of horrors after this, including Torture Dungeon (1970), The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! (1972), The Body Beneath (1970) and these continued into the 80’s with films like Carnage (1984) and The Weirdo (1989). Sadly though, Milligan was heavily into S&M and supposedly caught the AIDS virus off one of his boyfriends. After the boyfriend died, Andy became a recluse, with no money or insurance, he died of the disease on June 3rd 1991. It would seem that he will forever be remembered for The Ghastly One’s, so is that a worthwhile legacy to leave behind?
Sadly, no it isn’t. Ghastly is a more appropriate word for the actual film rather than the content. What we have here is the most basic of plots and after a rather fantastic opening murder,we get a whole lot of nothing for about an hour, followed by about two minutes of violence come the end! OK, so that may be exaggerating just a tad, but thats how it felt God damn it! So, the plot is based on three sisters who all come togther to hear the reading of their recently deceased Father’s will. Their Father left them when they were little and would visit from time to time, but was not much of a role model. It would seem that in death he wants to make up for it but offering his girls a gold chest, supposedly full of riches, but on one condition. They must stay at his massive mansion for three nights and share love and passion with their husbands, something their Father never really experienced with anyone. The will is read to the girls and their partners by some old bat who looks like she’s about to cop it herself. Clearly Milligan saved his pennies on actors here! Anyway, thats pretty much it, there is a small amount of family feuds thrown in but they never amount to much and the whole thing plods along as the couples head to the mansion to live like Kings and Queens being waited on by the maids and groundskeeper. Things take a nasty turn come the end as people begin to get killed off one by one, and it is up to the viewer to try and figure out who it is, if you’re still awake!
Now, the film isn’t all bad, it does offer up some light comedy which (hopefully) was intentional. The play on words of “we are not going” met with a scene of them actually going is done to great effect as one husband tells his wife “we are not going” but then he says “no, no , no, no..” over and over which is actually quite funny, and his words echo in the background as they “go”. The groundskeeper, Colin, a character you are instantly forced to believe is the killer, will just make you laugh. With his funny looking hunchback, bad teeth, bizarre hair and sweaty face he’s too stupid to be killer, or is he? A dead animal is left in a bed of one of the guests which leads everyone to point the finger at Colin: “Oh, it must be my fault” says Colin’s sister (herself a maid) “I shouldn’t beat him so much!” Nice, great way to look after you’re handicapped brother! With the worry that Colin ‘got out’ she is asked by the head maid “was he tied up?” “Yes, with chains” she answers. Yes, we have a great, normal family living here! Take away the ‘accidental’ comedy, I reckon you’d end up slitting your wrists watching this bore fest, and the worst part is I actually had to buy the damn thing to review it! It just goes on and on and on with nothing really happening. Fair the film has never had much of a release, but my God the picture is dreadful and the sound even worse. The acting is abysmal too. The only thing that saves it is the small number of murders, so its best you watch the opening scene and the final two minutes, all the crap inbetween can be ignored.
Now, the opening murder is cool, if badly dated and a bit ropey. Two lovers walking in the grounds of the mansion are attacked by a hidden character, although certain scenes again try to lead you to believe it is the groundskeeper. The man is attacked, followed by the girl and it is in violence where Milligan’s skills really show. Cleverly, but also very irritatingly, he spins the camera around like a drunk person in order to hide the potential bad effects, but to be fair what you can see is rather good. An arms is lopped off, and in a very odd bit of editing, one minute the guy is stepping away from the killer, and the next instant he is on the floor with the killer holding his eyeballs in his hands. It is obvious that Milligan just doesn’t quite have the skills to pull off the quality needed to deliver these murders without hiding his downfalls, but blimey does he try. However the slicing of the womans leg is actually quite sickening, and the skill Milligan uses with camera trickery does work, and I can imagine for its time this would have upset just about everyone as the killer slices into the poor girls leg like there’s no tomorrow. Now, as ever, this is all spruced up with some terrible music that reminds you that you are watching a Video Nasty, as the majority of them seemed to use this style of music that tries to be scary, but is not.
While on the subject of the violence, it all kicks off again come the end as Richard is murdered and blind panic follows, which is made all the more ‘terrifying’ as the blasted lights go out. Why do the lights always manage to break at the most ridiculous times? Anyway, there are a few quick short blasts of violence come the end which, along with the opening murder, are clearly why the film ended up banned. Even by todays standards, the quick editing shows some scenes that are quite vicious, it’s just they’re over in a flash, it really is a case of blink and you’ll miss it. There is a truly mind blowing scene where a victim is sawn in half and back in those days where no one would have seen anything like this before, they would have been uproar about it. Its cleverly executed to give maximum effect, and it works. Sadly, once the violence finishes and the killer is revealed, you end up feeling like sleeping again as the killer does this whole speech at the end which takes up a good quarter of the film. It goes on and on and the killer just waffles about nothing really and the big reveal (yeh, like you didn’t see it coming) is let down by an over exaggerated scene of desperation to get the audience gasping. We do get to see a bizarre axe to the head which has to be seen to be believed as the editing is SO bad here it just doesn’t make sense, and then we get a final pondering from one of the characters who may, or may not say two key words to round up the story. Problem is, with the bad quality, I couldn’t understand either of those words! And speaking of words, I must share this terrible interaction between husband and wife which sums up the stupidity and also the fragile times the film was made in, delivered to audiences not yet educated in violence and nasty images and words on screen. Husband: “I wish we hadn’t come to this damn place!!” Wife: “Swearing isn’t going to help!” Ha, swearing!!!
So, did Blood Rites (AKA The Ghastly Ones) deserve to be on the Video Nasty list? For its clever violence, oh yes!!!
Does is deserve to still be banned today?: Not a chance, althoguh if it were released, I doubt anyone would really care.
[pt-filmtitle]The Ghastly Ones[/pt-filmtitle]