Monday, November 16, 2020

"I Like Pudding" - The Body Beneath (1970) - Film #191

It is time to return to the wonderful world of Andy Milligan. The Body Beneath (1970) is Mr. Milligan's take on a modern update of Dracula, made two years before the Hammer film Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). As always, Mr. Milligan's vision is unique and, it goes without saying, brilliant.

As always (again), some of your universe's critics do not appreciate Mr. Milligan's works. Reviewer thenodradioshow writes, "Nonsensical garbage, cheesy costumes and long meaningless dialog. Seriously sucks." Reviewer nogodnomasters writes, "The acting was terrible as was the plot, make-up, and sound." And reviewer The_Void writes, "No film made with as little enthusiasm as this is ever going to be interesting."

Please read on to read the truth about Andy Milligan's The Body Beneath...

A woman dressed in pink visits a cemetery to lay flowers at a headstone. She walks through the entire cemetery, which includes a big stone staircase, without seeing anybody, but as soon as she lays her flowers down a caretaker strolls by to tell her it’s closing time. As he leaves, she looks up to see three blue zombie women wearing wigs. They say “Hello” and lean down over the woman.

Elsewhere, a man in a stunning white turtleneck sweater answers the doorbell at his house in London.

“Graham Ford,” says the visitor, a minister accompanying a woman.

“I beg your pardon,” the man says, as if he doesn’t understand.

The minister says, “Well, I’m looking for Graham Ford.”

“Yes, that’s me,” the man confirms.

The minister introduces himself as Reverend Alexander Algernon Ford and his companion as his wife Alicia. “We’re related, you know.”

“No, I didn’t know,” says Graham.

“Not closely, but near enough,” says the reverend.

It turns out that Graham Ford is married to Anna, the woman in pink in the cemetery.

Conversation turns back to genealogy. Graham asks the minister, “Your name is Ford?”

“Yes, the same as yours. In a way.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“If my memory serves me right, only your mother was a Ford. Your father was unknown so you took your mother’s name. Am I correct?” Reverend Ford goes on to explain that he and his wife have recently returned to London from Ireland to open All Souls Church, next door to Carfax Abbey, which he has leased—coincidentally, next to Highgate Cemetery, where Graham Ford’s wife was visiting.

The reverend and his wife prepare to leave, after asking Graham and his wife to dinner. As they leave, Anna returns from the cemetery in a shaken state.

The filmmakers cut to a young couple, Paul and Susan (a member of the Ford family), making love, completely nude, on top of a bed. This goes on for some time. Afterward, she reveals she is pregnant.

Paul says, “We can afford it, you know.”

“It’s not an it. It’s a baby.”

“We don’t know what it is yet.”

“It’s either a boy or a girl.”

“All right, which?”

“You know I can’t tell.”

“Then it’s an it.”

The film then follows another set of characters, a fashion designer (yet another Ford, this one named Candace) and her maid. After a man shows up at the door with a delivery of flowers, the maid turns to find a green zombie-vampire woman blocking her way. The vampire enthralls the maid, whispering something to her.

The maid gives the flowers to her mistress, who pricks her finger and bleeds slightly. After Candace leaves, the maid collects some of the blood that has dripped.

Later, Susan Ford visits Carfax Abbey to meet Reverend Ford and ask him to officiate her upcoming wedding ceremony (for free). Of course, as is usual when visiting a minister’s home, she encounters a giggling hunchback who carries a red sack past her. 

Awakened in the middle of the day by their maid, the reverend and his wife get out of bed. “I wish that we didn’t have to face the sunlight, but someone has to do it and it might as well be me,” he says.

When they meet Susan and explain they are related, Susan says, “My father did mention once before he died about there being a minister in the family, but I thought he meant many generations ago.”

They toast to the upcoming wedding and reopening of the church, with Susan drinking Sherry and the others drinking something that looks like tomato juice. The reverend explains, in a subtle nod to Lugosi’s Dracula, “We never drink…wine at this hour. Religious reasons.”

The sherry immediately knocks Susan out, so the hunchbacked servant (named Spool) picks her up and carries her upstairs.

We also see the reverend and his wife getting blood transfusions and injecting themselves with some kind of drug. “To think we have to submit to this daily ordeal in order to survive the damn daylight,” the reverend explains to his wife, for some reason.

When Susan wakes up in a bedroom, she is attended by Spool. The three blue zombie/vampire women enter the room but the reverend interrupts, telling them to leave. He dismisses Spool as well, then explains the situation to Susan. “My wife and I have lived for a number of centuries.” He adds, “Little do you realize that the Fords have, for generation upon generation, been vampires.” He also says Susan is important to the Ford family because she is pregnant, given that the family has been weakened through “intermarriage.” Finally, he says he intends to use Susan as a breeder: “Perfect children for our cause. All of them will be godlike in appearance.”

When she faints, he bites her neck as the scene fades to black.

Back at the Graham Ford household, Anna wears a scarf around her neck and climbs into bed. Graham gets out of the shower and climbs into bed, asking his wife to first dry his back and then scratch his back. Somehow, this causes him to lose consciousness, after which Anna opens the window to allow Reverend Ford and his zombie/vampire wives to enter. “I want him dead. Take every drop of his blood. He’s no good to us. Kill him. Kill him!”

The next day at Carfax Abbey, after she rebuffs Paul by telling him Susan is not there, the maid becomes very talkative to the reverend. “I told him she wasn’t here. You instructed me that if anyone was looking for Miss Ford, she wasn’t here. And I was to say she had gone away. And I did.”

He fires her because she isn’t comfortable lying, after (in a very Andy Milligan tirade) calling her a little slut. 

Later, Paul confronts Reverend Ford about Susan’s disappearance. However, in a convoluted series of events involving the reverend moving a candlestick directly behind Paul’s mirror-adorned cigarette case, Paul realizes the reverend does not cast a reflection. (The events begin when the reverend says, a propos of absolutely nothing, “I wish that we could leave my church candlestick in the hallway,” referring to a candlestick sitting on a shelf.) The reverend pushes Paul out of the abbey, aware that Paul knows he is a vampire.

Paul tries to break back into the abbey, but he is unsuccessful. The recently fired maid, who has been hanging around the abbey’s grounds, finds Paul and tells him Susan is probably in the upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately for them, however, they are being observed by the reverend from an upstairs window, allowing Milligan to create a wonderfully framed (though poorly focused) close-up of the reverend’s face.

The maid sneaks Paul into the house. They make their way to the bedroom where Susan is held captive, but they are subdued by Spool. This results in perhaps the film’s most shocking scene, in which the reverend’s wife Alicia stabs the maid with the knitting needles she has been using to knit some kind of garment.
Later, in a sequence scored for some reason with Dixieland jazz, Candace Ford is confronted by the zombie/vampire brides, who tell her “Hello” before subduing her with chloroform (like all good vampires) and kidnapping her.

Back at the abbey, Paul frees himself from bondage by smashing a glass and using it to cut through his ropes, though he gets a bit bloody in the process. Meanwhile, the reverend explains his plan to use the kidnapped Candace as a blood donor for the pregnant Susan. His wife appears with a needle, a tube, and a bottle and she stabs the needle through Candace’s sleeve to begin extracting the blood.

Upstairs, Paul finds Susan in a fancy bedroom, but they soon find they are locked into the room. Paul recites the classic movie line “We’ve got to get out of here.” Then they embrace and kiss each other for a long time.

Elsewhere, the reverend takes another treatment for vampirism: leeches to lower his blood pressure.

“Tonight is the yearly meeting,” he explains to the zombie/vampire brides. “We must have the sacrifice. You know what you must do.” The women walk backwards out of the room.

In Candace’s room, Spool brings some food, though she doesn’t want any. He replies, “You’ll get hungry later. It’s very good. I had some in the kitchen. It’s very good. If you want some more pudding, I’ll get you more. I had more. I had two. I like pudding.”

When she asks him a question, Spool replies, “I’m not supposed to talk to you.” However, she coaxes out of him the story of how he became a hunchback, which involves a cruel step-brother pushing him in front of a bus and breaking his back. She tries to get Spool to help her but when he agrees, the brides find out and the reverend has him nailed to a wall outside.

At night, Carfax Abbey is the site of a congregation of vampires who rise from the cemetery. They eat a buffet of what appears to be cream pie and white meat chicken, though the reverend implies to a guest that they are actually eating Candace Ford.

At the vampire meeting, a woman named Elizabeth argues against the reverend’s plan to move away from England and go to America. “What is America?” she exhorts. “What is it made of? Pimps, prostitutes, religious fanatics thrown out of England but a few small centuries ago. They’re the scum of the earth!”

The reverend argues against Elizabeth, telling everyone he is the elected monarch of the clan and scolding a member of the vampire family who is apparently named Caesar Ford by saying, “Et tu, Caesar?” He also announces his abandonment of his plan to breed using Susan Ford (the main narrative of the film), preferring to give everything up and move to America on a chartered boat leaving at two in the morning.

After the reverend cruelly allows the vampires to kill Spool, he continues announcing his plan. “We shall around North America through the canal and land at California. We shall entomb ourselves at Forest Lawn, which is very lovely I’ve heard, almost as lovely as Highgate used to be at one time.”

Outside, the Ford family kills Susan and Paul, but in the morning Susan revives, revealing herself to be a vampire. In the twist finale, she feeds on her fiancĂ© Paul, which turns him into a vampire even though he is dead. “Have they gone?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says. “This is all ours.”

The End

The Body Beneath is unusual for an Andy Milligan film in some respects. For example, one might be slightly disappointing that there is not a sufficient amount of yelling, though Reverend Alexander Algernon Ford is quite capable of dressing down maids, victims, and fellow vampire family members. Additionally, the title might not be considered as lurid as some of his films (e.g., The Ghastly Ones, Torture Dungeon, and especially Bloodthirsty Butchers, not to mention The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!). The title is also somewhat confusing, as the film involves very few bodies. The Body Beneath most likely refers to Susan Ford's baby, though it is only technically accurate when Susan is in a horizontal orientation (admittedly, this is the case through most of the film).

The film is a good example of Mr. Milligan's art in other ways, for example. His characters are not simple stereotypes. Reverend Ford is an example of one of his most well rounded characters, and Liverpudlian actor Gavin Reed plays him with great skill and even greater gusto. Even the curiously blue zombie/vampire women are given some personality, if only because they tend to say "hello" when appearing and biting their victims. As always, Mr. Milligan stuffs his film with many ideas--vampires using leeches to reduce their blood pressure, blood transfusions, and candlestick placement in the hallway, for example--and this creativity makes The Body Beneath an excellent example of Gothic cinema in the early 1970s. It is truly one of the finest films in Mr. Milligan's "body" of work.