DIRECTED BY: Andy Milligan
FEATURING: Neil Flanagan, Paul Lieber, Judith Israel, Jaqueline Webb
PLOT: A prison colony priest abuses his power and threatens the love of a young couple.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: No comprehensive survey of weird movies would be complete without a passing mention of Andy Milligan, but no such list would be credible if they honored Andy with more than a footnote.
COMMENTS: Michael J. Weldon once said, “If you’re an Andy Milligan fan, there’s no help for you.” I’m not sure Andy Milligan movies have fans, any more than car crashes do. There are only helpless, stunned onlookers.
That said, Guru the Mad Monk is considered one of the trash auteur’s best efforts. It’s helped along by a brisk run time (under an hour, with no fluff) and a berserk plot that incorporates grave robbing, blackmail, torture, a schizophrenic priest with a bowl haircut, a hunchback, and a vampire. At the same time, it has legitimate ambitions towards being a historical Gothic horror indicting hypocrisy in the clergy—although the presence of a vampire kind of undercuts that serious intent. Neil Flanagan, as the corrupt Guru (Guru??), is about as fine an actor as you’ll find in a Milligan movie. He’s got crazy eyes and Shakespearean diction: he slaps his lackey for saying he doesn’t believe in God, tenderly insults his own hunchback, and argues with the demonic spirit possessing him while looking into a mirror and clutching a bouquet of posies. He is one of those competent actors you are sometimes lucky to find reciting ridiculous dialogue while drawing a paycheck in crappy films. (Flanagan later landed guest spots on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Jeffersons”). It’s no master class in acting, but with a less confidently hammy villain, this cheapie would be absolute torture.
Speaking of torture, the horrifically poor gore effects are one of the trashy pleasures on display here. As a priest/inquisitor, Guru’s duties include branding reprobates and overseeing the lopping off of hands and the placing nails in eyeballs. If push comes to shove, he’s not above crucifying a henchman. Perhaps sensing this—not to mention the fact that Guru is publicly consorting with a vampire mistress—-the Catholic Church understandably wants to install a less mad monk in the position. All of this is shot, not on location in the Greek isles, but in a church in Manhattan (traffic noise sometimes intrudes on the scene, and at one point a motorbike is visible in the background). It’s all quite terrible, but rather amazing at the same time. It never lets up long enough to get dull (thus avoiding the beware rating that it might earn if judged solely on its technical merits). In a different time, this thing—essentially a home movie with community theater production values—played in actual movie houses!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…beneath the tangly plot veneer, this is just a delightfully deranged exploitation movie… If you’re looking for an entry point into the wild, weird world of Milligan, this is as good as any.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)