|Rating: Liked it
Director: Andy Milligan
Release Year: 1970
Starring: Gavin Reed, Jackie Skarvellis, Berwick Kaler
Reverend Alexander Algernon Ford: Are you questioning my authority, you repugnant little slut?
The Body Beneath is - on it's face - a movie about a vampire clan's struggle to save itself from extinction caused by decades of inbreeding. The leader of the clan - Reverend Alexander Algernon Ford - plans to rejuvinate the family by kidnapping a pregnant woman named Susan Ford and using her to sire a new generation of vampires. Susan's fiance - a bland lump of a man named Paul - throws his own safety to the wind and crashes the Reverend's lair in an attempt to save her. What prevents the film from being a run-of-the-mill vampire flick is it's director, Andy Milligan... one of exploitation cinema's most notorious directors.
Words to fear or praise
Milligan was, by all accounts, an incredibly unhappy, unlikeable, miserable, and masochistic man. His movies were generally no-budget affairs marked by non-stop bickering and arguing. Milligan particuarly seemed to relish depicting unhappy marriages. Michael Weldon, author of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film, famously wrote "If you're an Andy Milligan fan, there's no hope for you." But unlike many of Milligan's films, The Body Beneath actually features one couple - Susan and Paul - who seem to enjoy being together. Of course, everyone else in the movie despises each other. And that's a good thing, because one of the charms of watching a Milligan film is revelling in the bitterness.
The production values here are good for a Milligan film... but "good for a Milligan film" means at times you'll have the feeling that if the camera panned just a bit to the left, you'd quickly run out of set. But when viewed in the right frame of mind, The Body Beneath can be very effective. Highlights include the Reverend's wife stabbing a maid in the eyes with knitting needles and a final-reel soft-focus all-vampire counsel. Disenchfranchised Americans will love one vampire's anti-U.S. rant: "What is America? What is it made of? Pimp, prostitutes, religious fanatics thrown out of England just a few short centuries ago! They are the scum of the Earth!"
WTF is going on here?
The film's greatest strength is Gavin Reed's performance as the Reverend Ford. Although he looks like he'd be more comfortable playing a prissy butler than a vampire lord, Reed delivers his lines with such sincerity and conviction that I quickly found myself squarely in his corner... screw the pregnant woman and her worried fiance! In one scene Reed half-heartedly apologizes to his hunchback servant for nailing him to a tree, noting "It's strange... I have no soul yet I feel compassion. It doesn't make sense... does it?"
That'll teach 'em, Reed.
In the film's best scene, Reed describes his master plan - Bond-Villain-style - to a victim. But for no good reason, he numbers each of his sentences. Example: "One: We are directly related to a long line of Fords." The speech goes on for several minutes before he suddenly - and quite excitedly - points at the victim and yells "And Seven... you're it!"
The Body Beneath can be picked up on DVD from Something Weird. Austin-based Reel Distraction readers can also catch the film on January 10, 2007 at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of the weekly Weird Wednesday series. It is arguably the most accessible Milligan film, and is a great starting point for anyone interested in this unique director.