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D. Andy Milligan 1972
I've always been reluctant to watch any of Andy Milligan's films. Not out of any sense of artistic dismissal, but because my expectations were always too high, if you can believe that. You see, I come from a social circle that holds Milligan in a higher regard than David Cronenberg or David Lynch -- his praises are sung frequently and fervently throughout the worldwide exploitation army. And I'd read Jimmy McDonagh's excellent book about Milligan, The Ghastly One and was equally impressed with McDonagh's writing as by his depiction of the eccentric Milligan. So I knew I was poised for disappointment if I ever broke down and rented one of Milligan's obscure films. That said, I must have held the video box for The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! in my hand probably 30 times over the last two decades, never once taking it home with me. So when I was faced with the chance to see Rats in 35mm I realized it was finally time to go through with it. And you know what? I fucking loved it. The script was overly wordy and gay and melodramatic and the performances were overwrought and downright fantastic. It was nowhere near as incompetent as I'd convinced myself it would be.
Milligan's werewolf pic (the awkward rat side-plot exists only as a half-baked attempt to cash in on the success of Willard) centers on the Mooneys, a family suffering from genetic lycanthopy (but really a thinly veiled essay on Victorian repression and inbreeding). When the youngest daughter Diana (Jackie Skarvellis) returns from medical school abroad in Scotland with a new, obviously gay husband in tow, the already dysfunctional family becomes even more charged in their innate weirdness. The family patriarch and former scientist, who is on his deathbed is appalled that Diana's gone and married, given their family curse and her strict orders to go to medical school solely as a means of carrying on the old man's research. The surprisingly on-target acting is punctuated by the both the surreal drunkenness of Douglas Phair, who plays Papa, and the strange, ethereal performance of Milligan regular Hope Stansbury, who plays the middle sister, self-ascribed bitch of the family and unrepentant sadist. Although weighted down somewhat by a few sequences that were an obvious attempt to pad out the running time, I enjoyed it immensely. But I was pretty much alone in that sentiment -- of the 200 people in the theatre, only me and my immediate crew were impressed. Sigh. That's the kind of world we live in.