Monday, July 23, 2018

"I'll Try Anything for Pleasure" - Torture Dungeon (1970)

After covering Andy Milligan's Blood (1973), let us turn to an earlier work of the maestro, but one that is no less a classic, 1970's Torture Dungeon.

On IMDB, Michael_Elliott writes, "TORTURE DUNGEON lives up to its title with it being "torture" to get through it." Reviewer leofwine_draca writes that "it's a very tame and tawdry affair and there's barely any of the bloodshed suggested by the title." In a review titled "It's Torture All Right," reviewer BA_Harrison writes, "Milligan fails spectacularly on almost every level. The costumes are cheap, the location work is terrible...the gore effects are risible, the dialogue is stilted, and the cast cannot disguise their Noo Yoik roots."

It is necessary to respond to these reviewers by looking at Torture Dungeon in detail. Please read on...

The film’s opening credits are shown in a sophisticated typeface with a lush orchestral score in the background. In an intentionally jarring transition, the credits dissolve to a scene with handheld camerawork in which British attendants behead a nobleman whose only crime is pruning roses to collect in a basket. The nobleman’s hands grasp at the space where his head was formerly attached.

We then watch the funeral procession, in which the murderous attendants and others carry the casket across a beach to the burial site. The guiltiest party, the brother of the victim, says, “What a pity. In the bloom of his manhood, like the roses he so dearly loved, cut down before his time. Oh well. C’est la vie.” His sister spits on him and they argue, as families are wont to do in Andy Milligan films.

Seconds later, the sister, Jane, admits to incestuous activities with her murdered brother, also a recurrent theme in Andy Milligan films—and she is pregnant with her brother’s child. “Revenge will be my constant companion,” Jane says. “Revenge will rise with me. Revenge will sleep with me. From now on, revenge is my lover.”

Later, the murderer, the Duke of Norwich (variously pronounced Nor-witch and Nor-wick), seeks audience with a council of three men all named, humorously, Peter. The four men concoct some sort of plan to rule England, presumably, through their manipulation of the half-witted Albert, the heir to the throne. In order to fulfill their plans, they write the names of potential women to marry Albert using enormous quill pens.

They choose a young woman named Heather MacGregor to wed Albert. Heather is first scene dallying in the nude with a man named William in a muddy, ankle-deep pond. Naturally, Heather is disappointed when she finds out she is betrothed to Albert and cannot marry her lover William.

The evil Duke of Norwich, after an improvised song from his loyal hunchback Ivan, hatches a plan—perhaps the same plan as before—and whispers it to Ivan, who beings laughing uncontrollably.

Meanwhile, Heather decides to elope with William rather than marrying Albert. Nearby, Mr. Milligan indulges in some fantasy, having the hunchback fool Ivan beaten and wrestled to the ground by a shirtless young man with a New York accent and pronounced tan lines—all part of the Duke’s plan.

The plan advances when the shirtless man and another shirtless man attack William, torture him (though not in a dungeon), and kill him with a pitchfork.

Of course, the wedding between Heather and the simple-minded Albert, who is introduced eating bugs and grass, must go on. The engagement luncheon occurs, for reasons known only to Mr. Milligan, in the steel-girdered frame of a greenhouse, but it is interrupted by a snake attack, which the Duke rapidly handles by knifing the victim to drain the poison. The Duke also has a seizure for unspecified reasons right after the snake attack.

Just before the wedding, Jane shows Heather the Duke’s torture dungeon, which is fortunately unguarded.

The torture dungeon contains the Duke’s shackled enemies, one of which has had his legs chopped off (surreally, the camera shows both legs, neither of which is chopped off). Heather faints.

Later, the Duke explains his philosophy to his mistress, after she finds him dallying with Ivan the hunchback. “I live for pleasure, only second to power, of course,” the Duke says. “And I’ll try anything. I’m not a homosexual. I’m not a heterosexual. I’m not asexual. I’m try-sexual. Yes, that’s it. I’ll try anything for pleasure.”

Of course, this makes her fall into his arms.

Mr. Milligan next indulges in a bit of comedy, as Heather is interviewed and counseled by a wacky old woman named Magda who wears a colorful frock with cows, stars, and moons on the front.

The comic scene climaxes as Magda attempts to explain, in a circuitous way, what will happen during the consummation of the marriage—an explanation that is interrupted by the evil Duke, who chases Magda out of the room. The Duke then explains his theory about time: “It cannot be controlled. It dominates us like lice on the back of a mangy dog. We must jump through its hoops like some gypsy beggar traveling in a shoddy carnival. I hate time! Time is evil!” (The regular Milligan viewer will remember that time is also a dictator and a pussycat, according to his 1973 film Blood.)

The royal wedding, which takes approximately one minute, then occurs, followed by the wedding night, in which the evil Duke tells Heather and the simpleton Albert what to do. He forces the newlyweds to disrobe and then whispers into Albert’s ear.

After the consummation of the marriage, and after Ivan has taken Heather away from the wedding changer, a masked executioner murders Albert by pounding a stake through his heart, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of the finale of George Romero’s Martin (1978).

After the murder, Mr. Milligan indulges in a dramatic scene wherein hunchbacked, masochistic Ivan and the Duke’s mistress Rosemary explain their childhoods to each other. Then the Duke forces them to have a ménage a trois together, an activity shown in great detail.

After the ménage a trois, the Duke quickly kills the remaining noblemen in line for the crown. During the frenzy of killing, Ivan is pitchforked in his hunchback while Heather, the last in line before the Duke, escapes on horseback.

In the thrilling finale, Heather is saved and the Duke is speared through the midsection. Also, the true Queen, thought to be a crazy old woman, reveals her identity and dies for no apparent reason, identifying Heather as her true daughter and the new Queen, which works out perfectly, as Heather would have been Queen anyway by marrying Albert.

The End

In my appraisal, Torture Dungeon features less bickering than most Andy Milligan films, though it has its share of hateful characters. It has been compared to Shakespeare's Richard III in that it deals with a scheming villain rising to the throne through treachery. Despite Mr. Milligan's possibly low budget for the film, it presents the epic struggle of a misunderstood man working as hard as he can to climb to the throne of, presumably, England. Thus, it presents the struggle of all of us to deal with a difficult world. (One can only wonder what the film would be like if Mr. Milligan had the budget he deserved. Perhaps there would even be more than one scene set in the torture dungeon.)

Torture Dungeon, like most Milligan films, is full of literary allusions and metaphors. Perhaps its strongest is its flower imagery. The Duke makes clear the essential dialectic between good and evil by establishing a dichotomy between the sunflower and the deadly nightshade. Is the true nature of humanity the bright sunflower or the dark, and deadly, deadly nightshade? If we are to respect the philosophy of Andy Milligan, the answer is clear.

It's deadly nightshade.