Tag Archives: underground cinema

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

The Rats are Coming the Werewolves are Here
The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

Director: Andy Milligan

Writer: Andy Milligan

Cast: Hope Stansbury, Jackie Skarvellis, Noel Collins

USA 1971

91 mins

While he was in England in 1969 turning out a clutch of very cheap Gothic horror movies (and the artier Nightbirds), the Staten Island auteur Andy Milligan threw together something called The Curse of the Full Moon, which set out to do for werewolves what his The Body Beneath did for vampires.

Set in 1899, it features a typically Milliganesque hate-ridden, incestuous, corrupt and doomed family, the Mooneys, who fester in their old dark house as a horrific disease (lycanthropy) runs through their bloodline. Dialogue runs on and on, full of non sequiturs like ‘because of my age and my health, I decided to send you to medical school in Scotland’ delivered with authentic British accents by oddballs the director happened across in Soho.

Milligan, a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, was torn by self-loathing and inscribed his personal concerns in the lowliest throwaway project. Even if you can’t follow the plot or care about the people or raise a shudder at the amateur monster make-up, you can sense the ghastly conviction with which Milligan has his characters tear into each other verbally and physically. The depiction of werewolfery as a syphilis-like taint even resonates with his own later death from AIDS, though that was in the unimaginable future when this was being shot.

I’ve tentatively become a convert to Milligan as more and more of his films have become available, though he remains a hard sell to the uninitiated, and this is an entry in his filmography that even his most devoted fans don’t take a shine to. Jimmy McDonough, whose Milligan biography The Ghastly One is among the best books ever devoted to a marginal filmmaker, describes it as ‘by far the weakest effort from Milligan’s English sojourn’, though he notes the director’s presence in his only appearance in one of his own films as ‘a rather effete gun salesman’. Tame by the director’s standards, the film went unreleased until 1972 and it wins its place in this special issue against the director’s wishes since it was the distributor, William Mishkin, who insisted on a) padding out the under-length film with footage of rats, because Willard had been a big horror hit and put rats on the fright film map; and b) changing the title to The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!. The title is a master-stroke – it seems almost like a mantra, and conjures up a weird menace and desperation that no film could really live up to.

Kim Newman

Watch the trailer:

Funeral Parade of Roses

Funeral Parade of Roses

Format: Cinema

Screening dates: 14 + 18 August 2011

Venue: BFI Southbank

Director: Toshio Matsumoto

Writer: Toshio Matsumoto

Original title: Bara no sôretsu

Cast: Pîtâ, Osamu Ogasawara, Toyosaburo Uchiyama

Japan 1969

107 mins

High-concept is an Orwellian phrase when it comes to cinema, usually meaning one concept, as in one idea, which can be pitched, tag-lined and sold. And most high-concept films have a job getting that one idea off the ground. So we should celebrate this month’s screening of Funeral Parade of Roses, a film crammed with ideas, from soup to nuts. Released in 1969 and shot in black and white, the film has the temperament and daring of an underground art film, but without any of the drawbacks. The acting is uniformly excellent, from the young transsexual Eddie, played in his debut role by Pîtâ, with more than a passing resemblance to Edie Sedgwick, to a series of well-established Japanese stars (one of the samurai from The Seven Samurai no less) and TV personalities, who both play roles and appear in the film as themselves.

The story takes on the arc of an Oedipal tragedy, which sees the young Eddie quietly but tenaciously rising through the gay scene to become a madam of his own gay bar, only to subsequently suffer a horrifying downfall. There are flashbacks of a childhood trauma, but also a film within a film as a documentary is being made about the gay scene, with lots of interviews about what it means to be a queen. The tone shifts radically from breathless gay erotica to Chaplinesque knockabout comedy, Godardian reflexivity to Hitchcockian suspense. Marnie (1964) seems to have been particularly in mind, but also Psycho (1960). The speeded-up sections and the use of flash imagery and ironic music are testament to the film’s impact on Kubrick, who cited it as a direct influence on A Clockwork Orange (1971). The rush of the film makes it slippery and difficult to pin down. The attitude to homosexuality is likewise playful and evasive. On one hand, it offers a sympathetic platform for the film’s interviewees and an affectionate, if not glamorous, portrait of a scene, while on the other, it follows a tragic trajectory that sees homosexuality born of violence and trauma - the ‘death to the vagina’ murder of the mother is particularly disturbing - and heads towards an inevitably tragic dénouement. But even this cannot be safely summed up. After a particularly gruesome murder, there is a frame-breaking interview with the actor, who says he likes being in the film as ‘Gay life is portrayed beautifully’. Defying expectations at every turn, Matsumoto constantly wrong-foots his audience, starting with the opening sex scene, shot beautifully in a gleaming white image. Melodrama is undercut with irony, the detachment of the documentarian is relieved by the madcap ‘happenings’, with the camera crew apparently flinging themselves into the action with abandon. Even the tragic conclusion is not immune. Ultimately, this is a film to watch and watch again. Genuinely high-concept.

Funeral Parade of Roses is available on DVD from Eureka Entertainment.

John Bleasdale