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.
Watch the trailer: