Monstrosity (1987) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: December 12, 2018
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director: Andy Milligan
The brain of a child. The body of a giant. The power of an ape. All programmed to kill! After his girlfriend is viciously beaten and murdered by a group of savage L.A. street goons, a med student and his two pals create a modern day ‘Golem’ from human and animal cadavers, and revive it to take revenge. But they get more than they bargained for when Frankie, their half-human, half-witted creature, meets Jamie, a goofy street girl, and falls in love. Soon, Frankie is forced to put his killer training to the test as he goes on a Schwarzenegger/Stallone-inspired rampage against the city’s criminals armed with a machine gun and a headband. (From Garagehouse’s official synopsis)
The following Blu-ray was sent to me back when DVDActive.com was still live and I neglected to review it. So, I guess this isn't so much a "new" review as a "fresh" review.
Beyond the dirty uncle charms of Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, the hucksterism of William Castle, the brutal honesty of Herschell Gordon Lewis, and the genuine strangeness of Ed Wood, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more compelling character in the annals of cult film figures than Andy Milligan. Like many more famous bad movie makers, Milligan’s films are terrible in a unique fashion that you don’t need to be an ardent fan to recognize. Once you’ve seen two or three of them, you get a feel for his particular obsessions and directorial quirks, though his three decade-long career did go through changes, depending on the money available, technology, talent, and his own emotional state. Those of us that are more fascinated by his tragic life, over-the-top personality, and patently queer content are most likely to enjoy the middle point of his career, when he tried to enter the post H.G. Lewis splatter movie scene with early gore epics. This included his most popular movies, 1968’s The Ghastly Ones (aka: Blood Rites – a film that somehow ended up on the British Board of Film Classification’s [BBFC] list of banned movies, colloquially known as the Video Nasties), 1970’s Sweeney Todd adaptation The Bloodthirsty Butchers, 1970’s Guru the Mad Monk (probably the closest he ever got to disguising his quirks and making a ‘real’ movie), and the epically titled The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972). Milligan followers often champion his even campier sexploitation movies, but it takes a real devotee to appreciate his late-in-the-game attempts at horror.
Having found myself largely alienated by the specific lunacy of Milligan’s long career, I’m going to guess that Monstrosity (shot in 1987, released 1988) is the closest he ever got to to matching the normalcy of his more professional or at least more successful contemporaries. It moves along at a reasonable pace, the photography is colorful, the cast is having fun, some jokes actually land, and the gore effects are plentiful, if not all that convincing. Most surprising, however, is not the relative competence of the production, but Monstrosity’s lack of contempt for its characters, as well as its audience. In his book, Gutter Auteur: The Films of Andy Milligan (2012, McFarland & Company), Rob Craig notes that the often misanthropic director softened a bit at this late point in his career. Monstrosity and Weirdo were shot back to back shortly after Milligan, suffering from the effects of AIDS, had left the ‘safety’ of his Staten Island home and arrived in Hollywood. Perhaps he was trying to find a redemptive spark in humanity, given his deteriorating health, or perhaps he was trying to make the types of movies he thought people wanted to see, in hopes of being able to pay off his increasing medical debt.
This new (maybe not improved) Milligan managed to make a movie that feels closer to Troma Entertainment’s grimy, goofball bad-taste festivals than his own impossibly insular work. Monstrosity has plenty of ironic energy and, once the initial cruelty is out of the way, an uncanny sweet streak that would be at home in a Toxic Avenger movie. Moreover, the titular character – a combination of Frankenstein’s monster (or Golem, since the Jewish myth inspires the protagonists) and a mid-’80s muscle man heroe-type (named Frankie) – is not unlike Toxie in looks, personality, and love interest. His creators Scott (Michael Lunsford), Carlos (Joe Balogh), and Mark (David Homb), on the other hand, have less in common with Dr. Frankenstein than they do the lovesick dorks of John Hughes’ Weird Science (1985) and the emotionally stunted punk rockers of Alex Cox’ Repo Man (1984). All in all, it’s a pretty unique combination of what probably should be disparate elements. While Monstrosity was something different for Milligan, it still fits his basic modus operandi, which makes it a unique and unpredictable experience. That said, it’s more interesting to explore its connections to his other movies and the ways his personal life influenced its creation than it is to actually sit down and watch.
Monstrosity is presented in 1080p video and its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This is the weaker of the two new transfers and there was no mention of restoration in the press release/advertising materials, which leads me to believe that Garagehouse either had an HD scan handy or made one as quickly as possible. That said, the image quality is still satisfactory, especially given the film’s lack of availability, low budget, and Milligan’s typically slapdash photography (as per usual, he acted as his own cinematographer). The overall softness, which effects grain patterns (the film was shot 35mm), and moderate dynamic range mostly matches expectations due to the dim, haphazard lighting (the grain effect looks more natural and lively in motion, aside from occasional insert shots that seem to have come from a non-film source). Even at its fuzziest, the image doesn’t struggle with too many signs of compression, save perhaps minor blocking in deep set details and occasional hot spots. I do wish that the colors had been more vibrant, given the fact that disgustingly ‘80s pastels and neons seem to have been important elements to Milligan’s dopey compositions.
The original mono sound is presented in uncompressed 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio and the results really aren’t too bad. Well, aren’t too bad, given how badly the sound is incorporated. Between the half-assed ADR/foley, the flatness of the on-set sound, and the volume discrepancies between dialogue and music, the odds were against this one. But, for what it is, the track is clear and a good representation of what Milligan created. The electronic score was written and likely performed by Larry Wilkins, who was apparently a guitar virtuoso and who only has one other credit to his name (a 30-minute TV short called Missing Parents, 1994). Wilkins’ music is fascinating in that parts of the compositions – the synth melody, the bass melody, and the drum machine beat – are fine, but, when combined, they’re manic and confusing. It’s also incessant, sometimes in a good way, like the repeating clock and analog buzzes that drone over a montage of Frankie’s creation.
Audio commentary with Milligan biographer Jimmy McDonough and actor, production coordinator, and assistant editor Charlie Beesley – McDonough, the author of The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan (2003, Chicago Review Press), lets Beesley take control for much of this retrospective discussion, chiming in occasionally to keep the discussion on track.
Audio commentary with Andrew Repasky McElhinney, Greg Giovanni & Dan Buskirk – McElhinny (a theater/film producer/writer/director, programmer, and critic), Giovanni (a noh theater director), and Buskirk poke the appropriate amount of fun at the picture, but, between laughs, they take their jobs as cultural critics seriously as they explore the intricacies of what makes an Andy Milligan movie.
Matsui’s Monstrosities: An Interview with a Make-up Man (15:29, HD) – Special make-up effects artist Brad Matsui discusses his career and work on Monstrosity.
Outtakes with optional commentary from Jimmy McDonough or McElhinney, Giovanni & Buskirk (1:44:38, HD) – A whole lot of B-roll footage and raw outtakes with no production audio. McDonough’s track is a nice catch-all discussion about Milligan’s career.
Andy Milligan trailers (Monstrosity, The Body Beneath, The Man with Two Heads, The Rats are Coming the Werewolves are Here)
Deleted scenes (6:01, HD)
Garagehouse Pictures trailers
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