Orgy of the Dead

B&W, 1968, 81 mins. 23 secs. / 78 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Andy Milligan
Starring Maggie Rogers, Candy Hammond, Robert Service, Lucy Silvay, Neil Flanagan, Gene Connolly, Helena Velos
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Image Entertainment / Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

For Seedsthe growing legion Seedsof exploitation film fanatics who champion the work of outrageous Staten Island wonder Andy Milligan, perhaps no title holds more allure than Seeds. The filmmaker and playwright known for his talky, bloody period horror films shot on 16mm and blown up into 35mm eyesores had an affinity for giving his characters bitchy, often abusive dialogue, and nothing can compare to the outrageous personalities on display in this film. Adapted from one of Milligan's stage works (which is obvious since it's confined almost entirely to one location), Seeds was, in its original form, an astounding piece of work. Paced like a lightning bolt and far more tightly structured than many other Milligan films, it punctuates every single scene with a deranged plot twist or burst of hysteria, barely giving the viewer a chance to catch their breath before the next maniacal development. Unfortunately Milligan's original cut was barely seen in 1968 and, for its reissue on the grindhouse circuit, was drastically reworked into a more traditional sexploitation film under the title Seeds of Sin. Random sex footage with unconvincing body doubles was spliced in, an unrelated orgy scene (complete with some surprising frontal nudity) was tacked onto the beginning, the originally quirky score was replaced with typical "sexy" jazz music, and large swaths of the original film were tossed out, including the final minutes! The result was a confusing mess that still managed to convey some of the original acidic gem from which it sprang, though no one Seedscould really appraise it accurately... until now.

Incestuous Seedsnymphomaniac Carol (Hammond), who enjoys ready muscle-man magazines and taking long baths, infuriates her alcoholic, wheelchair-bound mother, Claris (Rogers), by inviting all of her estranged siblings home for the Christmas holidays. Upon arrival, Claris denounces her spawn as "bad seeds" she created by spoiling them too much (yes, a couple of lines from The Bad Seed get quoted verbatim near the end, too), and the family's spouses aren't much better either. Among the newly arrived family members are Michael (Service, a.k.a. Gutter Trash's Anthony Moscini), who's been having sex with sister Carol since she was 13 and is now stuck in a loveless marriage due to an unplanned pregnancy; vain Margaret (Velos), a vain blonde with a major grudge against Carol and a dimwitted sadist for a boyfriend; Matthew (Flangan), a neurotic priest and fledgling swinger; and Buster (Connolly), a budding fascist, pyromaniac, blackmailer, and attempted murderer who's been thrown out of every military school on the East Coast and was repeatedly molested by Matthew as a child. On top of that, the servants are scheming to bump off Claris (who hasn't made a will yet) as she's being attended to by a quack abortionist doctor who Seedsgives her massive blood transfusions every week. Needless to say, this turns out to be the worst Christmas ever as a killer starts bumping everyone off one by one, even nudging a couple of attempted suicides along the way to completion.

A riveting and wholly unique experience, Seeds is an unholy stew of soap opera, bloody horror film, whodunit, and deeply unhealthy softcore groping. It isn't hard to see how moviegoers in '68 were repulsed by what they thought would be a typical nudie film, instead getting blasted in the face with full-strength Milligan operating on full thrusters. Most of the cast members were part of his usual repertory company (especially Flanagan, Rogers, and Hammond, all amazing), and the script gives everyone a chance to freak out at least once or twice and howl to the rafters. If you know what you're in for, this is a priceless spectacle and exactly the kind of thing Seedsyou hope to stumble across when wading through the vast sea of '60s softcore films as well as a peak demonstration of why Milligan's shaggy cinema continues to exert so much fascination for a small but devoted fan following. It also occupies a unique pace in his filmography as a transition of sorts to the full-blooded color horror films Seedsthat would make his reputation (for better or worse) just after this, as well as showing off Hammond when she and Milligan embarked on a brief and ill-advised attempt at marriage. (For more about the crazy story behind this film, check out Jimmy McDonough's The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan, one of the greatest books ever written about any filmmaker).

The heavily doctored Seeds of Sin as presented by Allen and Rosily Bazzini made its VHS bow in 1998 from Something Weird, followed by a DVD in 2004 from Something Weird via Image Entertainment as a co-feature to Milligan's notorious bloodbath, The Ghastly Ones. The real discovery on that disc was the presentation of two newly discovered reels of Milligan's 16mm Seeds workprint, providing a partial snapshot of how the film played in its original form.

However, Vinegar Syndrome managed to perform what amounts to a major cinematic miracle in 2017 with is dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition of SeedsSeeds, which reconstructs the vastly superior and very different Milligan Seedscut in all its raving glory. The image quality is superb for the most part and quite a revelatory experience for anyone who's seen the film before; some baked-in motion jitter in some shots remains(especially a handful of fairly ambitious hand-held mobile shots), but it's easy to overlook. An opening disclaimer notes that this is a composite of "a variety of 16mm and 35mm pre-print film elements," and apart from one gritty-looking introductory scene with Flanagan, the discrepancies are barely noticeable. The DTS-HD MA English mono track sounds great considering the tinny nature of the original dialogue recording, and thankfully, optional English SDH subtitles have been provided to give you some help during the rougher spots. (Amusingly, it also has a handful of transcription errors like mistaking "itchy" for "edgy" that seem all too appropriate.) The usual sexploitation cut is also included, looking about as good as it could considering it's a patchwork of different film shoots and featuring far more jitter than the main presentation.

Though it's relegated to the special features, this is promoted as a Milligan double bill since it also features what is now usually regarded as his most respected work, Vapors (32m32s). This marks the Blu-ray debut of the 1965 short, previously available in the BFI's Encounters collection and Something Weird's 2002 DVD of Milligan's The Body Beneath after its home video debut on Something Weird's Third Sex Sinema Vol. 1 VHS. SeedsA snapshot of one man's experiences with fellow gay New Yorkers from all walks of life one night at a pre-Stonewall bathhouse, it's still a vital and fascinating film that also works as a precursor of sorts to major works like The Boys Seedsin the Band. As with the other scant surviving copies of the film, the audacious final shot is still partially censored here, which is no surprise. Image quality is quite good considering and likely as pristine as this rough little number will ever look. A video interview with Seeds writer and frequent early Milligan collaborator John Borske (29m9s) about the theatrical and cinematic projects they mounted with amateur performers frequently recruited from the area around the Caffe Cino Theater and often delivering surprisingly intense work. He has some choice words about distributor William Mishkin, too. Next up is a video interview with Vapors star Gerald Jacuzzo (26m21s), another Milligan regular, who charts his journey as an actor from Louisiana to New York where he became part of the theater scene and the "workaholic" Milligan scene, which was far more focused on rehearsal than character motivation. An August 2017 Q&A panel for a Seeds and Vapors screening at New York's Quad Cinema with Jacuzzo, Broske, and actress Patty Dillon (who has a smaller Seeds role and also appeared in Milligan's Torture Dungeon) (26m52s) with moderator Casey Scott is a cornucopia of Milligan anecdotes as they reflect on the director's multi-faceted and sometimes difficult personality and family issues. Also included are the Seeds theatrical trailer (for the original cut, a tantalizing relic up until now) and a gallery (1m18s) of Seeds lobby cards from the Cinema Arcana collection. Absolutely essential.


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Reviewed on December 17, 2017.