Monday, July 16, 2018

"What Are You Doing Here in America?" - Blood (1973)

At Senseless Cinema, we have neglected some of the acclaimed masters of horror, so let us start to dive into the filmography of one of the most celebrated and artistic of those masters: Andy Milligan. We will now discuss his 1973 film Blood, one of his most accessible and entertaining films.

Oddly, not all of your universe's critics are enraptured with Blood. For example, on IMDB, reviewer trashgang calls Blood "A low budget movie with almost no acting whatsoever." Reviewer Bezenby, apparently missing the point of the film, writes, "Well, here's my first Andy Milligan film, and I'm feeling fairly indifferent about it, even though I fully knew what to expect....All this leads to, mainly, is people standing around in period costumes, talking endlessly." In a contemporary review in Cinefantastique, John Duvoli writes uncharitably, "This mercifully short horror film is yet another horrid exercise from Andy Milligan....This, as the director's earlier efforts, should be avoided at all costs."

Let us analyze the film to show why it is not as horrid as these "reviewers" claim...

The film begins at a large house with an overgrown yard as an estate agent shows the place to a potential renter. The client explains that his wife is not a gardener: “My wife doesn’t like the daylight hours. Rather, I should say daylight doesn’t agree with her.” Sunlight can, in fact, kill his wife. He adds, “My experiments occupy most of my daylight hours.”

Although the client—Dr. Lawrence Orlofski, who bears more than a little resemblance to Mr. Patrick Warburton—has not previously seen the house, he has already agreed to rent the house and take possession today. Despite the fact that the estate agent has not drawn up the correct papers, he of course allows Dr. Orlofski to take possession of the house anyway, as would any real estate agent.

As soon as the agent leaves, the doctor grows upset, opens the back door, and orders his servants to bring in his wife, Regina. The servants, Orlando, Carrie, and Carlotta, scramble to help the doctor inject his wife with blood.

(This scene displays Andy Milligan’s most celebrated talent, that of having people yell at each other.)

Dr. Orlofski pulls up a veil to show the audience his wife’s monstrous face.

In the next scene, Regina is restored to her original beauty, as she sits on a porch watching the others do some gardening while Carrie holds a colorful beach umbrella over her to deflect the sunlight.

Regina complains about being out in the sun. “Surely if you wanted to you could find a way to reproduce the rays of the sun. And put them in liquid. You could if you wanted.”

In a transition reminiscent of the work of David Lynch, the film cuts from Carrie and Orlando attending the doctor and his wife on the porch to Carrie and Orlando preparing bloody chicken in the kitchen. “Where are they?” asks Carrie.

“On the porch,” replies Orlando, as if the two of them weren’t with them on the porch in the previous shot. This disconcerting transition poses the possibility that the servants exist in two places at once. As if to obliquely confirm this theory, Carrie tells the legless Orlando (who wheels himself around on a skateboard), “Time is a dictator. You must follow him or you’ll be left behind.”

Carrie tries to bless her food with a crucifix, but Regina, being a vampire, yells at her in the Milligan manner. Later, Carrie speaks with Dr. Orlofski, telling him about all the servants need to do tonight. “Get a good night’s sleep,” she tells him. “We’ll face tomorrow tomorrow.”

Upstairs, Dr. and Mrs. Orlofski undress for bed. “Now let’s go to sleep,” says the doctor, blowing out an oil lamp. (Cleverly being disconcerting, the filmmakers have set the film in 1884, though the rented house features prominent electric thermostats.)

In perhaps the film’s most famous dialogue sequence, Regina asks Dr. Orlofski to make love to her, but he says, “I just don’t feel anything like that now.”

“You could if she were here, couldn’t you? You wish it were her breasts instead of mine.”

“Oh, please, Regina,” says the doctor.

Regina comes back with, “You never please Regina anymore.” Then she says, “Oh, go to hell.”

He says, “We’re there already.”

When the Orlofskis are asleep, the servants go to the cellar and unpack plants, which produce treatments for the group. Carrie injects the childlike and witchlike Carlotta with a drug, then they drain blood from her brain, apparently to feed to the plants, which move on their own and attack Orlando.

The next day, Dr. Orlofski, without prior warning, visits the office of Carl Root, the executor of his father’s estate whom the doctor suspects of stealing money. “Orlofski!” Root says, quite naturally. “What are you doing here in America?”

When Orlofski demands to see his papers, Root launches into a long and helpful explanation of the backstory (though one might point out it is not helpful to Orlofski, who presumably knows everything already). Speaking about Orlofski’s father, Root says, “He had a premonition of his death and he prepared accordingly. As you know, his entire holdings, which at that time were considerable, were switched over to the name of Orlofski, which is now name. The name of Talbot, which is now a loathsome name, was soon forgotten in the town of Moravia, where your father died his violent death.”

Root continues, “We, meaning you and I, have managed to keep your real name a secret to this very day.” (Cleverly, the filmmakers trust the audience to fill in the blanks, deducing that the doctor’s real name is an infamous one: Lawrence Talbot.)

Back at the rented house, it is time to introduce a new character. Johnny arrives in the house, exciting Carrie. It turns out he is Carrie’s younger brother, a sailor who resembles Steven Weber and wears a thick white turtleneck. Carrie sits on his lap and they hold hands. He kisses her and says, “As one grows older, time becomes a pussycat.”

Carrie explains her situation, and that of Regina, to her brother. “There is an abnormal distribution of tissue and blood cells which makes up her physical structure. These plants which Dr. Orlofski and I have found are the only things that will bring a normal balance.” She adds, “These plants are very dangerous.”

Carrie convinces Johnny to leave the house before their clearly incestuous desires are consummated, but before he can actually leave the house he is intercepted by Regina, who takes him to her room and talks to him for approximately ten minutes, after which she buries a meat cleaver in his head.

Then she destroys the body with acid.

Moments later, the servants kill the real estate agent with a shovel, at which point Regina smells blood and goes downstairs. Disturbingly, however, she does not feed vampirically on the real estate agent, but on a tiny, real mouse nosing around a mousetrap, which she cuts in half, for real, and devours in a single shot.

Meanwhile, Dr. Orlofski begins an affair with the secretary of the evil Carl Root in a cemetery, which is guarded by a heavily made up old woman named Petra, who calls herself “Petra, Keeper of Graves.”

Petra also carries a lantern through the graveyard despite the fact that it is broad daylight.

Dr. Orlofski returns to the rented house, promptly turns into a werewolf, and attacks the servants. Carrie takes care of him with an injection in the shoulder.

Carrie also shows Orlofski what they have done with the real estate agents body. Of course, they are feeding his blood to the man-eating plants.

As if mouse murder, lycanthropy, and plant violence weren’t enough, Carrie’s leg must be operated on with a steak knife—and by “operated on,” of course, I mean Orlofski stabs at the leg with the knife, causing green pus to spurt out.

More secrets are revealed when Petra, Keeper of Graves visits Regina to tell her that Orlofski is cheating on her, that she knows Orlofski is a werewolf, that Petra was Orlofski/Talbot’s father’s mistress, and to blackmail her.

“What can I do?” Regina asks innocently.

“Don’t play the innocent one with me, my dear,” Petra says. “I’m a much better actress at that game than you are.”

Of course, Regina has no choice but to entice Petra to kneel down in front of a chest containing jewels for blackmail payment purposes, and to chop off Petra’s hands with the lid of the chest before biting her throat. Incidentally, Regina also confesses to her victim that her father was Count Dracula.

The film ends with the climax the audience has been praying for: Dracula’s daughter and the wolfman‘s son strangle each other while their house is set on fire on purpose to destroy the carnivorous plants. (For reasons known only to the filmmakers, however, the innovative sound effects in this climactic battle sound like rubbery squeaks from balloons being rubbed together.)

In a clever and humorous twist, the film cuts to a new couple looking into renting the house, after restorations are made, of course. The couple signs the rental papers and the new real estate agent comments, “Baron Von Frankenstein? Really?”

While generally thought of simply as Andy Milligan's film in which Dracula's daughter and the Wolf Man's son get married and experiment with carnivorous plants to cure their respective curses, there is more to Blood than this simple plot would suggest. For example, it presents a crystal-clear depiction of one of Mr. Milligan's theories: that traditional families are unnatural, hateful, and self-destructive. The central man and woman in Blood are married as the result of a pact--whose specifics are never made completely clear--between the families of Dracula and Larry Talbot. As a result of the pact, all parties involved are resentful and bitter. Further, Carrie, presented as the most traditionally "normal" of the group, is shown later to have what can only be described as an incestuous relationship with her younger brother. Additionally, Mr. Milligan gives us little reason for hope in terms of the meaning and usefulness of the traditional family, as he portrays both vampirism and lycanthropy as inherited characteristics. Only destruction of the entire family line can resolve the unhappiness of traditional family life, Mr. Milligan seems to say; if we take this as his message, ironically, the film has what might be described as a happy ending. Only time will tell, however, if the Frankenstein family will be as problematic as the Dracula-Talbot family.

Finally, is time a dictator or a pussycat? We may never know the answer, but we all struggle constantly with the age-old question.