Monday, March 4, 2019

“I Don’t Want to Lose You to Some Transvestite” - Monstrosity (1987)

Perhaps Andy Milligan's films are an acquired your universe. Although I find it hard to believe, films such as Blood (1973) and Torture Dungeon (1970) actually have many detractors among your universe's critics. Not so regarding the movie we're discussing today, Monstrosity (1987), one of Mr. Milligan's last films. Wait, I appear to be incorrect and should not have said "not so" earlier. Even at the end of his life--the culmination of his career--Mr. Milligan had his share of detractors.

For example, reviewer BA_Harrison writes, "the direction is terrible, the editing clumsy and the performances amateurish." Reviewer Leofwine_draca writes, "This is bargain basement stuff, embarrassingly poor in all aspects." And reviewer kinojunkie writes, "Monstrosity is a terrible film. Every aspect of it is poorly executed."

Let us continue to correct such wildly ridiculous opinions. Please read on...

The film begins with a shot of the Hollywood sign, announcing Andy Milligan’s move from New York to the West Coast.

An elderly man buys groceries at a corner store and walks through the streets. Unfortunately, he runs into three toughs who are slightly less elderly than he is. They mug him, toss his groceries on the sidewalk, and cut his throat with a serrated knife because he has no money.

Then they perform a carjacking, tossing the female driver onto the sidewalk like a bag of groceries.

Nearby, a mulleted young man who looks like Jeff Conaway escorts his girlfriend Ronnie home. Unfortunately, after the two part company, the gang breaks into her apartment and the gang leader rapes her, resulting in bruises to her forehead and bleeding from the mouth.

Later, her Jeff Conaway boyfriend and another friend speak with a doctor. “They really did a good job on her,” the doctor says, perhaps insensitively.

“Those bastards!” says Mr. Conaway. Then he adds, “Thanks a lot, Dr. Cain, for letting me bring her to your hospital.” (This exchange indicates Mr. Conaway might not understand how hospitals work.)

Ronnie is in a luxurious single hospital room. Mr. Conaway starts kissing her in the hospital bed. (Another indication that he does not understand how hospitals work.)

Later, another couple carries groceries into a small house with a front yard full of weeds. Then they start kissing in the house. This couple is friends with Ronnie and Mr. Conaway, and they spend some time talking about how the justice system is broken.

Still later, two detectives visit Ronnie in her surprisingly homey hospital room. They hand her a nice photo album. “We brought you some pictures,” says a detective. “Tell us if you recognize anyone.”

In a shocking scene, Ronnie is visited by a man wearing a surgical mask and hair net that she thinks is her doctor. He waits for her to flip through the photo album before revealing he is the rapist, not a doctor (and apparently a master criminal now, not just a street thug). Laughing, he punches her and kills her with a scalpel, graphically disemboweling her, as was the custom in the 1980s.

Mr. Conaway then has a meeting with the two detectives—not in a police station but in the back of a VW van. “What do you mean, you can’t do anything? The bastards tore three mugshots out of your police book!”

“That’s not enough to go on,” says one of the detectives. But the other detective gives him a sheet of paper with the names of the people in the missing mugshots.

Back at Mr. Conaway’s friends house, he and the friend (who wears a nice lobster t-shirt) and someone named Carlos (played by Joe Balogh, who would be in Moonstalker two years later) discuss what they can do. Carlos says, “I just got an idea. You guys ever hear of a golem?”

Carlos explains what a golem is, then asks reasonably, “Why not make our own golem?”

Of course, the others are on board immediately. “Wow, what an experiment!”

“And we’re not responsible for what it does.”

“It is not human!”

“It does not exist. Therefore, there’s no legal hassles!”

They decide to get human body parts from Scott’s medical school, but Scott has a friend in the city morgue, so that will work better. They also know a vet, so they can easily get animal parts. (They appear to be mistaking a golem for a frankenstein.)

“We’ll start tonight!”

They jump up and down with joy.

The film cuts to that night, where they have already acquired body parts and are assembling a monster in the shed in the backyard. The sequence shows Mr. Milligan’s most playful side, as the three young men resemble the Three Stooges to some extent as they move around the small shed, one of them even clipping his fingernails with the medical equipment.

Mr. Milligan also inserts a shot of a Care Bears alarm clock to show his playful mood.

They have also acquired a head from medical school, though it is missing one eye.

To round things out, they have an arm and a leg from a gorilla, thanks to their veterinarian friend. “It seems a woman used to do an act with a pet gorilla, and it got run over with a power lawnmower, so she left it with him to be sent to a taxidermist to be stuffed.”

When the gratuitously gory operation is completed, they decide to call their “avenger” Frankie. “After Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”

“I thought Boris Karloff was Frankenstein.”

“Actually, it was just called the monster of Dr. Frankenstein.”

Eventually, they charge Frankie with electricity rather than incantations, but it appears to be a failure. The guys decide to grab dinner, and afterward come back to disassemble their monster and dispose of the parts, after leaving a giant teddy bear in the shed to keep the corpse company.

The next morning, another Care Bears alarm clock (set for 2:02) wakes Scott. He wakes up his roommates, Mr. Conaway and Carlos, and they head out to the shed. Surprisingly, Frankie hasn’t moved, but when they try to cut his head off with a hacksaw, the monster sits up.

Carlos attempts to inspire the clown-wigged Frankie to kill, in a generic sense, by showing him movie posters of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Frankie just wants to hear the story of the three bears.

Meanwhile, the villainous gang confronts a gang of people they call punks in an empty coin-operated car wash. They kill  several, including a middle-aged hippie punk, before Frankie suddenly appears (between the frames of a cut) and uses his strength to toss one of the gang across the hood of a car. Then he chops off one gang member’s hand with a meat cleaver that he took out of his pocket.

Frankie saves one of the punk girls and brings him back to his shed. “You’re no Bruce Springsteen,” she tells him, “but I don’t care. I like you.”

She also tells him her name is Jamie. “Well, Jamie Lee. My mother was a horror film freak. Loves Jamie Lee Curtis.”

They kiss, and Frankie faints.

In a comedic scene that might be described as odd, she tries to explain sex to Frankie, but her face ends up covered in blood that leaks from Frankie’s head wound.

Later, our heroes find out where the rest of the gang is hiding. They train Frankie again. “I think Frankie has a phonographic memory. He repeats everything he hears, and he remembers everything he repeats.”

They drive Frankie to what looks like a warehouse building where some of the gang members live, including one middle-aged gang member named Kyle. Frankie brutally murders Kyle by tearing out his throat and then pounding nails into his head. His roommate Savage, who looks like a cross between Tom Savini and William H. Macy, returns with a bag full of burritos to find Kyle’s dead body. Frankie uses his trusty meat cleaver to chop off Savage’s hand and head.

In a comedic interlude, the boys buy Frankie a blow-up doll (wholesale), but he pops the doll and it flies out the window (offscreen).

Later, nerves and tempers fray when the boys and the (living) girlfriends prepare to go to the art show of the deceased Ronnie’s paintings. In familiar Andy Milligan fashion, the men and women start yelling at each other, nearly engaging in fisticuffs (i.e., a five-person slap fight).

Meanwhile, Frankie’s actual girlfriend Jamie begins to dress him in New Wave fashion, with a Honda headband and a studded leather strap around his neck. “They’re gonna love you on Hollywood Boulevard. I think we’ll stay off the Santa Monica. The boys like leather too. I don’t want to lose you to some transvestite.”

The film moves even further into the realm of classical fantasy when Frankie lies down after being berated by his creators. Smoke invades the shed and various stuffed animals and gloves move of their own accord. This is followed by the appearance of Frankie’s guardian angel Angelo, a man wearing a sleeveless shirt, swim goggles, and an old-fashioned leather football helmet. “I understand you’re having a rough time.”

Angelo tells Frankie he’s made of nothing but goodness, due to the fact that the component people he’s made up of were all good, including the kind-hearted gorilla. Then Angelo disappears.

The power of having a golem/frankenstein to murder people goes to Mr. Conaway’s and Scott’s heads. Carlos is the only one of the friends who remains rational. “Power, man. That’s what it’s all about,” says Scott. Mr. Conaway agrees: “Right on!”

In the emotional climax of the film, Frankie and Jamie are married by Angelo, who pops back into the shed.

After the ceremony, Angelo disappears and Jamie reads a Care Bears coloring book. Frankie leaves the shed and Scott enters. He gives Jamie a syringe with drugs, which she injects directly into her vein. Frankie enters, and Angelo tells him that Scott has poisoned the drugs in order to kill Jamie.

It is unclear what Scott expected or intended, but Frankie breaks into the house and attacks Scott. In the climax, Frankie holds Scott at gunpoint in the shed (from which Jamie’s body seems to have disappeared).

Frankie shoots Scott and Mr. Conaway dead. Then he burns down the shed, along with his stuffed animals and coloring books.

Later, Frankie sits on a bench with an elderly wino named Agnes. He tells her, “I gotta find myself.” He adds, expressing the philosophy of the film, “It’s all out there. You can have anything you want. You can be lonely. You can be sad. You can be happy. You can be poor.”

The camera tilts up to the sky as Frankie says, “You can be anything you want.”

Then, in a charming ending that breaks the fourth wall, we hear someone say, “Cut! That’s a wrap!” The entire cast and crew gathers around Frankie and Agnes.

At the end of the credits, the screen says:


See the return of Frankie
soon in

Alas, Monstrosity II was never made, and filmgoing audiences were deprived forever of the return of Frankie.

As one of Mr. Milligan's final films, Monstrosity is fascinating to watch as it plays with the varied emotional moods of his earlier body of work, from grim gore to slightly tilted frames to campy comedy with classic monsters to, of course, hysterical bickering. Mr. Milligan's relocation from the East Coast to the West Coast appears to have added to the colorfulness and variety of this film without losing the underlying necessity of actors screaming at each other. For this, we can all be grateful.