By Steve D. Stones
From the moment Andy Milligan’s film Torture Dungeon arrived at my doorstep, I knew I had something very special. Not only because the film is so rare but also because I had to sweat blood to find it. Type the words Torture Dungeon into the search engine of any mail-away video and DVD company, and the result that comes up is always the disappointing Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon. Amazon.com even lists Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon as: Torture Dungeon.
If you’re not a careful buyer, you could end up buying the wrong film, which is what happened to me. Finally I was able to find a VHS copy of the film on e-bay issued by Midnight Video, a company no longer in business. This tape is my most cherished video in my collection. I proudly display it on my video shelf as an ancient relic of a bygone era. Because the film is so rare and not listed in most film encyclopedias, I consider it to be “The Holy Grail of Cult Films.”
If you have never seen a Milligan film, I suggest you start with Torture Dungeon. You won’t be disappointed. Norman-Duke of Norwich, played by Gerry Jacuzzo (aka Jeremy Brooks),star of Milligan’s gay bath house short Vapors, is determined to rise to the throne and become king. He will do anything to acquire the throne, including murdering members of his own family to become successor to the crown. An opening sequence shows his half brother being decapitated on a beautiful spring day while admiring a flower. This gives us a clue for the violence that is in store for the rest of the film.
A legal council, headed by Neil Flannigan, star of Milligan’s Fleshpot On 42nd Street and Guru The Mad Monk, decides the rightful heir to the throne should be Albert, played by Hal Borske, a mentally challenged half-wit who picks his nose, talks like a child, eats bugs, and wears a tacky wig. The council is eager to marry Albert so he can provide a new heir.
The council selects a pretty peasant girl named Heather, played by Susan Cassidy, to be his bride. Heather can’t seem to keep her breasts inside her blouse throughout the entire film, which suits this male just fine. The problem with the council’s plan is that Heather is already in love with another local peasant named William. One sequence shows William and Heather running around nude in a pool of water. Milligan is careful not to show too much flesh by disguising parts of their bodies with tree branches and foliage.
Another violent scene in the film shows William being nailed to a barn door in a poorly lit sequence as black hooded executioners drive a pitchfork through his chest. This is a recurring theme seen in many of Milligan’s films, such as: The Ghastly Ones, The Weirdo and Carnage. Some of the film’s strangest dialogue comes from the Norman-Duke of Norwich character. In a scene where his wife enters their bedroom, he says: “I live for pleasure and pleasure alone . . . next to power, of course.” He goes on to say: “I’m not a homosexual. I’m not a heterosexual. I’m not asexual. I’m trisexual. I’ll try anything for pleasure!”
This may be perhaps some of the strangest dialogue ever put on celluloid. Even stranger is Milligan’s trademark swirl camera technique used in the film, particularly during William’s pitchfork murder and at the end of the film when Heather tries to ride off on a horse. The camera seems to swirl around in circles in a close-up of Susan Cassidy’s right thigh as she tries to ride off to avoid Norman.
Milligan also has the uncanny ability to completely disguise the smallness of his interior locations, said to be on Staten Island, by hanging lots of draping fabric over furniture and doors. The actors wear amateurish attire unrealistic to the clothing styles of the Middle Ages. All these characteristics give the film a very unique charm that is typical of so many cult films.
Some critics have suggested that Torture Dungeon is Milligan’s Richard III or Romeo & Juliet. That may be far reaching, but it is an interesting film that will satisfy connoisseurs of underground cult films. You may even want to view it back to back with Milligan’s Bloodthirsty Butchers, its original theatrical double feature.
Bloodthristy Butchers is Milligan’s take on the Sweeney Todd-DemonBarber of Fleet Street story. Neil Flanagan’s transvestite character in Fleshpot On 42nd Street even gives the double feature a plug in the film by saying: “Let’s go see Torture Dungeon playing on a double bill with Bloodthirsty Butchers down at The Waverly.” Don’t miss it! You won’t be disappointed.