Three different authors believed there was enough room in this world for their books on Herschell Gordon Lewis, so it was only a matter of time before someone ventured down the few remaining rungs of the exploitation ladder to shed light on the cinema of Staten Island’s Andy Milligan. Luckily, that someone turned out to be Jimmy McDonough, onetime co-editor of the film fanzine Sleazoid Express, who befriended Milligan in the mid-1980s, worked on his unreleased 1987 turkey MONSTROSITY, and was one of only a handful of friends who stuck with the difficult filmmaker until the bitter end (Milligan died of AIDS in 1990). Since there aren’t too many people on the planet capable of sitting through a Milligan movie, let alone writing a book about his festering oeuvre, McDonough clearly has the market cornered with The Ghastly One.
It’s not surprising to learn that Milligan was even more unsavory than the films he made; a racist, misogynistic, violent homosexual with a weakness for S&M and a deep-rooted hatred of mommy, he spewed his dark obsessions all over every project he touched. What is surprising is the important role he played in the development of off-Broadway theatre in the early 1960s, and the portion of the book dedicated to his stage productions at the legendary Caffe Cino and Café La Mama coffee houses in Greenwich Village is fascinating. Milligan turned to filmmaking in 1965 with VAPORS, an underground short about the gay bathhouse scene that should’ve launched him as an experimental film powerhouse à la Kenneth Anger, but got him a one-way ticket to 42nd Street instead, where schlock movie mini-mogul William Mishkin hired him to make softcore sex shockers (THE FILTHY FIVE, TRICKS OF THE TRADE). When hardcore porn hit Times Square and put the “softies” out of business, Milligan switched gears and cranked out a dozen no-budget horror movies like BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS and THE BODY BENEATH.
McDonough maintains an objective stance when it comes to Milligan’s movies, but occasionally resorts to gutless snobbery when dealing with those of us who don’t share his enthusiasm for the subject; without mentioning names, he refers to Fangoria as “a nerdy, forgettable horror film mag” (it isn’t) and Psychotronic Video editor Michael Weldon as a “haughty critic” (he’s not). Despite that and a few other quibbles, The Ghastly One is an exciting, absolutely essential book on an unexplored corner of movie history.