Color, 1989, 91 mins. 1 secs.
Directed by Andy Milligan
Steve Burington, Jessica Straus, Naomi Sherwood, Lynne Angus, John Rand, Patrick Thomas, Janet Roberts Garagehouse Pictures (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
Following what could be the goofiest film of his career, Monstrosity, former Staten Island horror impresario Andy Milligan shifted gears again for a story of tortured youth aimed for the home video market under the title The Weirdo. Originally just titled Weirdo and strangely branded on the actual film as Weirdo: The Beginning, it actually doesn't play like a horror film for much of its running time -- at least until the severed heads and impalings start turning up.
On the outskirts of L.A., the mentally challenged but well-meaning Donnie (Burington) is the frequent target of abuse from neighborhood bullies (who make some very non-California fashion choices). He tries to live a peaceful existence alone in a shed owned by his de facto guardian, Miss Martins (Sherwood), and when he starts volunteering at the nearby church run by Reverend Cummings (Rand) and his wife (Roberts), he even finds a potential romance with wayward youth Jenny (video game voice artist Straus). However, society just won't let him be as Donnie's life of mistreatment soon reaches a deadly boiling point and the population dramatically turns at what it feels is a monster in its midst.
Surprisingly streamlined and even respectable at times for a Milligan film, this could almost pass for a message-oriented drama if you took out a couple of gorier moments. Milligan's trademark misanthropy is still very much in evidence here right down to the pointed aggression against its domineering mother figure, but the dialogue is a bit more natural and less spiteful than his earlier work with a very different roster of actors resulting in a somewhat atypical, sympathetic tone in the end. Exactly who the target audience is remains in question since this feels like Fire with Fire getting partially hijacked by H.G. Lewis, but that's also why it still exerts a strange fascination today.
The Weirdo completely bypassed the heyday of DVD and was virtually impossible to see if you couldn't track down the scarce VHS edition from the infamous and astounding label Raedon Video. The Garagehouse Pictures Blu-ray from 2018 is a very welcome development in Milligan history, finally bringing the film back into circulation in a form that does justice to its 35mm origins. The original negative has been kept in good shape, with only some minor damage barely visible in a few shots. Fine detail is impressive throughout, and in a nice surprise, the audio is also a big upgrade with the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track representing the film's basic but still surprising stereo mix.
An audio commentary with executive producer Paul Maslak, producer Neva Friedenn, makeup effects artist Rodd Matsui, and actor Patrick Thomas, who start off deriding the "hubris" of the on-screen title with expectations of a sequel. From there they go into the origins as a script spun off from a lost Milligan short, the largely aborted distribution attempts, Straus's nervousness about a key scene, Sage Stallone's affection for the film, and more. A second commentary with Keith Crocker in conversation with George Reis covers the therapeutic aspects of Milligan's cinema, notes about the cast including some ties to the adult industry, the presence of priest actor "John Rand" (actually mainstream actor John Miranda, who got his start in Milligan's Bloodthirsty Butchers), the Mishkins (and a side anecdote about Richard Gordon), and speculation about the handiwork of Matsui and the total lack of information about one-shot actor Burington. "Matsui’s Monstrosities: An Interview with a Make-Up Man, Part 2" (8m36s) picks up where his earlier Monstrosity chat left off as he talks about tackling this film with "incidental" violence versus the earlier one, resulting in a more basic assignment (with a $1,000 budget!) in Topanga Canyon and Marina Del Rey as his other commitments were racking up and paving the way for a notable Hollywood career. Also included are a restoration comparison (2m33s), a Milligan trailer reel (Monstrosity, The Body Beneath and Guru the Mad Monk, The Man with Two Heads, and The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!), plus bonus trailers for Ninja Busters, The Intruder, The Dismembered, The Satanist, Trailer Trauma, and Trailer Trauma 2. Again the cover art is designed by Stephen Romano, with a 1,000-unit limited edition featuring slip sleeve art by Justin Miller.