Sometime in the early 1900's....
We open with a couple taking a walk on a private island (Director Andy Milligan's much used Statten Island home). Much twirling of their huge umbrella and picking of weeds later they are brutally murdered by a guy in a bad cap sporting a pantomime 'loony' grin.
We now meet three Married couples. The Wives are all Sisters.
They are Vicky (Ann Linden) and Richard (Fib LaBlaque), Veronica (Eileen Hayes) and Bill (Don Williams), plus Elizabeth (Carol Vogel) and Donald (Richard Ramos).
They all meet at their late Fathers Lawyer, Dobbs (Neil Flanagan under make-up that makes him look like a living fossil, wrapped up in a head scarf, whose skin is a rotting green and white colour
he is the scariest thing in the film!).
Dobbs informs them that they must go to their childhood home, Crenshaw House (on the same private island seen in the opening) and there they must stay for three days, filling the house with 'Married love' that it had never known in the strained relationship between their Father and Mother.
After those three days their Father's bequest would be settled.
On arrival they are met by the Housekeepers. They are Martha (Veronica Radburn - who later featured in "Annie Hall" of all things), Hattie (Maggie Rogers) and their backwards, limping, hump backed, snaggle toothed Brother Colin (Hal Borske), who welcomes them by chewing on a rabbit he has just killed!
The remains of the unfortunate bunny end up in the bed of one of the couples with a note attached saying "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit", and this is the start of a series of sinister events that lead to the unearthing of dark Family secrets, mistrust and gruesome murder
Andy Milligan was one of the most infamous characters in the New York 'Grindhouse' movie industry. Infamous for his sometimes-sadistic nature towards his actors and his sadistic kink in his Homosexual sex life, but above all infamous for the crazy, technically prehistoric movies he made.
But it's a legacy that perhaps deserves more credit than it is given.
Almost all of his early, non-Horror, films were lost when the Son of the late and equally infamous Distributor, William Mishkin, could not be bothered to pay the storage fees. They were believed destroyed, probably dumped in some landfill site.
Add to this the fact that many of his films were edited beyond his control, or he was forced to shoot extra footage he did not want (like the disjointed opening in "The Ghastly Ones" that actually makes little sense as far as the rest of the film is concerned) and it's fair to say that, although he certainly was a ragged, amateurish, cheap and haphazard Director, most of what has been seen, and is available, of Milligan's work is not strictly what he would have wanted himself.
You know you are being cradled in the arms of 'Trash' as soon as "The Ghastly Ones" opens. Milligan's ancient camera (really designed for documentary filmmaking) wobbles, shakes and even tilts to one side. The sound is muffled, the acting weak, the dialogue awful.
But despite all this, from the start, the whole thing has a certain charm.
The killer here is, we assume, Colin because the same actor , Hal Borske (Milligan regular and all rounder who typed up many of Milligan's scripts) plays the role.
But he does not have Colin's hump or his snaggle teeth (because by the time of this re-shoot they had lost them!) and is, we later discover, actually playing out of character. It sadly feels as tagged on as it actually was.
In the main body of the film itself Milligan seems to have no idea in how to stage a scene. The shot of the Sisters in a restaurant actually has them cut off at the chin and stuck in the edges of the frame. The main object in the scene actually being a lamp!
The gore on show here though is in keeping with the rest of the film. It's cheap. Cheap and cheesy.
The young man has his eye ripped out and we are treated to the sight of a boiled egg being held up, the girl is hacked up and the killer is obviously chopping away at a stiff manikin leg (Milligan owned a dress shop called 'Raffine' and used his own dummies for effects as well as designing the period costumes).
The murders are also shot almost entirely with no sound except for bombastic library music.
One now legendary sound that does come across during this sequence though is Milligan shouting instructions to the actors!
To add more of opulence to his cheap Horror movies Milligan chose to set a lot of them in historical time periods. He, as mentioned, supplied the costumes okay but there was obviously no money for anything else. Nothing seen in "The Ghastly Ones" goes with the clothes the actors are wearing. As such they look like actors who have finished doing a period play and have not removed their costumes.
And although I am no expert I'm pretty sure that the hairy armpits that Vicky displays are not in keeping with the 1900's!
After the gory but cheesy opening we have to wait quite a while for any of the killings to start and most of the murders are badly shot (with the killer blocking the entire gore effect at one point) and feature poor effects that are the very definition of bargain basement (though a later shot of a head spurting blood is effective and fun).
For a classic example of just how badly the film is set up watch out for the scene where one of the victims (with an 'X' on the back of his pyjamas!) is stalked by the killer.
Despite the stalker being literally right behind the victim (and is even in their sight as they turn the corner down the steps) and despite crouching right in front of him as he hears a noise and turn around, they are never discovered!
The whole thing plays like a "Scary Movie" style surreal comedy sequence!
But the real enjoyment in this film is not these clumsy deaths
it's the acting, dialogue and crazy plot shifts.
The 'Sexploitation' heritage of Milligan's earlier films, as well as his own sense of the depraved, are in evidence during the clumsy (topless only) sex scenes where the camera slowly pans (and goes out of focus) over clinging, naked bodies.
But more telling are the wonderfully extreme 'sub plots' that actually have nothing to do with the main plot of the film. This is Milligan slipping in his own kinks and playing sexually cheeky games.
The highlight of these is the sub plot concerning Richard's Brother, Walter (played by the Producer Hal Sherman) who they must borrow the money from to travel to Lawyer Dobbs.
What Milligan gives us is not just a simple, minor Brother character. Oh no! Walter it turns out is a creepy Homosexual Priest who has incest on his mind when it comes to Richard!
So what should be a throwaway sequence of Richard borrowing some money from his older Brother actually ends up a major sleazy highlight that has Richard cowering as his Brother (in a gaudy Bishop's costume) makes a pass at him! Nothing to do with any other part of the film at all. But what a perfect example of 'Grindhouse' non-conformity.
Another event that explodes from nowhere is when Bill suddenly reveals to us that he is in fact a Marital rapist! For no reason. Other than it adds a bit of sleaze and violence, Bill beats Veronica and rips her (very modern looking) night-gown and forces himself on her. Something it seems Veronica has had to endure before. There was no hint of any of this before and it never comes up again later!
Acting wise the couples are pretty non-descript. It's in the Housekeeping roles where the fun lies.
Borske does a wonderful job at essaying the tantrum prone Colin. The shot of him shouting at and kicking the luggage chest he's pulling, while waving his arms in the air like a violent child, is a trash joy. And those teeth are just divine!
Radburn has fun as the strict Cook Martha who, after the first body is found (the strung up corpse of one of the Husband's), is more bothered that it's thrown her dinner schedule out!
Maggie Rogers is more subdued as Hattie but comes into her own during the scenes where she has to beat poor old Colin over the head with a broom to calm him down! These actions lead to a great bit of dialogue when she is discussing Colin's mental problems with Martha; "Perhaps it's my fault. If only I didn't beat him so much". Well, it probably doesn't do him any favours!
Another great line is comes while talking about the rabbit corpse found in the bed "It reeked of death"! Probably because it was dead dear.
So what we have is a 'bad' film.
A film filled with out of place, for the time it's set, furnishings (check out the awful black and white chequered wallpaper!), lingerie and above all dialogue and attitudes. Dreadful camera work and set ups, obvious library music score, ultra cheap special effects (although this did not stop the film, under it's "Blood Rites" title, being put on the 'Nasties' list in the UK!), ear straining sound mix, hyper active acting and a plot that swings all over the place.
So, given all that, why is "The Ghastly Ones" still a fun romp? It's certainly got that 'So bad it's good' thing going for it, but it also has 'character'. Crazy, deranged, jaw droppingly bizarre
'character'. A wild charm that is unique to these 'Grindhouse' treats.
Movies like "The Ghastly Ones" played in smelly, dirty 42nd Street cinemas inhabited by the weirdo's, the depraved, the warped and the crazies who dwelt on societies outer most fringes.
And those lucky 'Trash' fans that braved these skuzzy temples of the bizarre would have seen that films like "The Ghastly Ones" fitted in just fine.
And those unique and bizarre aspects of such productions still shine through even when projected on fancy TV's from little shiny discs in the safety of your own home.
And you know what? They just don't make 'em like that anymore.