Saturday, February 27, 2010

BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS: How do you like your meat pies?

By Steve D. Stones

Bloodthirsty Butchers is director Andy Milligan’s treatment of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The story of Sweeney Todd has been filmed many times, including the 1936 film starring Tod Slaughter, and more recently the 2008 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp in the role of Sweeney Todd.

Bloodthirsty Butchers wastes no time in immediately assaulting the viewer with graphic violence. A young man from Dublin, Ireland comes to London and visits Todd’s barbershop for a shave and haircut. Todd comments on the young man’s valuable ring. He quickly wraps his head in a towel and slits his throat multiple times with a shaving razor. Then, he chops off the young man’s hand with a meat cleaver and removes the ring from his finger. Viewing this scene, I’m reminded of the infamous thumb-chopping scene in Hershell Gordon Lewis’ cult masterpiece Two Thousand Maniacs.

Although the scene is graphically violent, there is also a level of unintentional humor about it. As Todd chops off the hand, the camera shows a close-up, which is obviously a fake rubber hand.

Todd’s wife Becky runs a meat pie shop. Todd and Becky are murdering prostitutes, vagabonds and drunks in London and using their bodies as fresh meat for their meat pie business. A customer comes by the meat shop one day to complain about finding human hair in a meat pie she bought from the shop. This scene is unintentionally humorous because the lock of hair she shows to Becky looks as if it was freshly cut from someone’s head.

Todd also has a sidekick, played by actor Berwick Kaler, who is billed in the opening credits as “The Head Butcher.” His real name in the film is Tobias. Kaler is one of Milligan’s stock actors who appeared in many of his films, including The Man With Two Heads, The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here, and The Body Beneath. Kaler has a very distinctive, unforgettable face that adds to the uniqueness of Milligan’s films.

Although Bloodthirsty Butchers does not use Milligan’s trademark “swirl camera” technique, the film still employs many of Milligan’s distinctive characteristics. He shows the viewer many bizarre, cockeyed camera angels and extreme close-ups of actor’s faces as they exchange dialogue with each other. The film also has a very gritty and grainy appearance to it from being shot as a 16 mm film and blown up to fit larger movie and television screens. I could not imagine a Milligan film without these unique characteristics, even though his 1980s films use none of them. The 80s Milligan films have a bigger budget, so they lack some of the raw, gritty charm of the 60s and 70s films.

A big thank you goes out to Video Kart, Ltd in New York for releasing Bloodthirsty Butchers on DVD in 2003 with The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! Midnight Video had released a VHS tape of both films in the 1980s, but both films were unavailable in the 1990s until Video Kart released them on DVD in 2003. Midnight Video also had a VHS tape of Torture Dungeon in release in the 1980s, but that title is also unavailable. Occasionally copies of it appear for sale on e-bay. I’m happy to report that I own a Midnight Video copy of Torture Dungeon after much hard work in trying to track it down.

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