By Steve Stones
Since Easter Sunday is upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a religious themed film. In case you haven’t noticed by now, the bloggers here at Plan Nine Crunch are huge fans of director Andy Milligan. Until we were finally able to track down a VHS copy of Milligan’s Torture Dungeon, Guru The Mad Monk was our favorite Milligan film. It remains a particular favorite of ours.
Any film that is critical of organized religion and religious fanatics has got my immediate attention. Actor Neil Flanagan plays the evil father Guru, who presides over the Church of Lost Souls. Guru is perhaps Flanagan’s greatest and most convincing role of any Milligan film he appeared in. I can’t help but feel great contempt for Guru as he tortures and executes his victims, all in the name of religion and power.
Like Victor Hugo’s classic Quasimodo character from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Guru has a disfigured, hunchback sidekick named Igor, played by Jack Spencer.
The opening credits of Guru The Mad Monk are some of Milligan’s best work. Production credits are revealed in calligraphic letters in an old book from the Middle Ages. This is in keeping with the medieval theme of the film. The mood is then shattered as the opening credits cut to the sound of passing cars in the background as Nadja, played by Judith Israel, is forcefully taken from the Church of Lost Souls and thrown into a jail cell. Although she is innocent, Nadja is accused of murdering her infant child.
Carl, played by Paul Lieber, is madly in love with Nadja, and is able to persuade father Guru to set her free on the condition that he provide Guru with fresh dead bodies to sell to help fund the bankrupt church. Guru knows of a potion that will induce the illusion of appearing to be dead, which he suggests Carl administer to Nadja.
Guru sends Carl to his evil mistress Olga to obtain the potion. Olga is dressed in an awful 1960s flower-power meets Renaissance dress. In order to obtain the potion, Carl must agree to leave the execution block in the execution chamber uncleaned of the blood of recent victims so that Olga may collect the blood and use it in her strange experiments. Olga laps up the blood with plastic fangs attached to her teeth. Perhaps these are the same dime store fangs Milligan used in Blood and The Rats Are Coming, The Werewolves Are Here!
Although Guru The Mad Monk runs just under an hour in length, the film had a budget of $20,000, which was considerably larger than any of his previous films. This was also Milligan’s first horror film to be shot in 35mm. I recommend the DVD print put out by Retromedia. It is a much sharper and cleaner print than the one put out by Sinister Cinema that looks as if it was dunked in red punch and has many deep scratches on it. Fans of Neil Flanagan cannot afford to miss Guru The Mad Monk or his next effort with Andy Milligan – Fleshpot On 42nd Street.