News Article

News Article

Andy Milligan: The Forgotten Exploiter

When you first think of exploitation and grindhouse films, what comes to mind? Brutal rape-revenge flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left? The Godfather of Gore, Hershell Gordon Lewis or the Mammary Maestro, Russ Meyer? Nazisploitation, led by Ilsa? Those are all excellent examples of the wonderful garbage you could find on New York's 42nd Street, the Times Square location of what was once the largest red light district in the country.

There was one filmmaker who was one of the most prolific filmmakers on the Deuce, but most people have never heard of him. His name is Andy Milligan, and he was a real son-of-a-bitch.

Milligan was born an Army brat in Minnesota in 1929. His father was a mild-mannered Army captain and his mother was an abusive alcoholic who eventually had a nervous breakdown. Molestation was rampant in the Milligan house. Andy himself allegedly molested a female relative, as did his father. As an adult, Andy's half-brother was convicted pedophile, and though he never outright claimed this, it is believed Andy and his mother were involved in an incestuous relationship. After a four-year stint in the Navy he "settled down" in New York. Though he was married briefly to a female stripper, Andy was an unabashed homosexual and is alleged to have spent his wedding night partying in the gay bathhouses. It is a wonder his marriage lasted almost a year. Performance and the arts had been in Andy's blood since childhood, but his mother considered them "sissy" pursuits. His first showbiz gig was as a puppeteer in a traveling show. After that, he opened a dress shop, selling his own designs, and worked as an actor. He was deeply involved in avant-garde theater in Greenwich Village before settling into film.

In his films, Andy explored the darkest, sleaziest corners of humanity. An unabashed misogynist, the women in Andy's films are almost always the antagonists. He held religion and the family unit in the highest of contempt, hated virtually everyone, and his films gleefully explore incest, beastiality, sadism, and enough gore to make H.G. Lewis weep with pride. Many critics saw Andy as being truly "of" 42nd Street. Spending most of his adult life there, many of his films were about and set in the Deuce. Strangely, those films that weren't set in Times Square were period pieces, mostly set in 1800s London. Among his "best-known" films (and I use that term loosely) are The Ghastly Ones, about three sisters and their husbands who must spend a weekend in a country house in order to earn their inheritance, but they are being killed off one by one; Bloodthirsty Butchers, Andy's take on Sweeney Todd; and Seeds, a thinly-veiled autobiographical fantasy in which a man starts killing his dysfunctional family, starting with his domineering, alcoholic mother.

Andy's films are bad. Really bad. Everything is shot in closeup to cover his lack of production value. The picture is often too dark, blown out, or out of focus. The dialogue is so muddled on occasion you can't always make out what is being said - not like that matters, because the plots are dreadfully simple, loaded with exposition, and generally just there to link together scenes of depravity. No filmmaker of the time had much in the way of budget, but most had a clue. Having spent time with underground film luminaries like Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger, it would have seemed that some of that talent would have rubbed off on him. It did not. 

What Andy lacked in technical skill was made up for with passion. Every film had a bit of himself in it. He was the master of zero-budget, likely because he handled virtually every aspect of the film himself: he wrote, directed, edited, sewed costumes, dressed sets, and even processed negatives. Because of this, his films cost about $700 - $3,000 each. Of course, these numbers are assumed based on what is on the screen; he notoriously inflated his budget in order to get more money from producers - all of which went directly into his pocket to fund his next film.

Andy Milligan died on June 3, 1991, after a long, torturous battle with AIDS. In all, Milligan created 29 films in just over 20 years. Twenty-two of these films were shot in the seven-year span of time between 1967 and 1974. While a few of his films have been released on DVD (mostly by Something Weird, but with no frills and no restoration), it is believed that many of his negatives are lost forever. 

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