Review Index


JIMMY McDONOUGH (A Cappella Books; 2001)

This book, one of the more fascinating and unorthodox moviemaker bios I’ve read, has already garnered praise from seemingly every media outlet in the universe. I’ll be adding to that praise!

     In THE GHASTLY ONE Jimmy McDonough breaks at least one fundamental biographical rule in the way he blithely forsakes the pretence-of-objectivity standard, admitting up front that he knew and loved Andy Milligan, and actually took care of him in his final years (“Not many biographers get to wipe the ass of their subject,” the author candidly admits, “but I did, more than a few times”). McDonough’s approach may be unorthodox, but it works to the book’s advantage. Andy Milligan, after all, was a sadistic asshole and his films were for the most part dimestore crap fully befitting Stephen King’s oft-quoted dismissal of Milligan’s 1968 opus THE GHASTLY ONES as “the work of morons with cameras,” and I strongly doubt any other writer could come up such an invigorating account of Milligan.

     Yet McDonough’s affection for Milligan and his films doesn’t blind him to the shortcomings of either. A chief virtue of THE GHASTLY ONE is its unblinking depiction of Milligan’s near-psychotic assholery, as well as the beyond-seedy exploitation milieu in which he labored. The picture McDonough paints is not a pretty one by any means, with all the lurid fascination of the maggot-ridden underside of a rotting log.

     Andy Milligan was born in 1929 to an eccentric family in St. Paul, Minnesota--we don’t find out just how eccentric until the book’s final pages--and as a teenager drifted into acting. From there he became a director at New York City’s notorious Café Cino theater (a detailed history of which is included here) in the early 1960s, during which, according to one witness, “Andy offended lots of people” with his sex and violence laden productions. He drifted away from the Cino when hedonism and drug-taking became rampant among its employees, as despite his penchant for sadism and promiscuity Milligan was, surprisingly enough, quite conservative in most respects.

     Milligan’s first film effort was 1965’s VAPORS, which set the tone for what was to come in its threadbare production values, stilted staging and ahead-of-its-time nastiness. It was followed by THE PROMISCUOUS SEX in 1967, which began Milligan’s 20-year association with exploitation movie impresario William Mishkin and his son Lew, a relationship that can safely be described as tortured. It was under the Mishkins’ tutelage that Milligan cranked out craptaculars like THE NAKED WITCH, TORTURE DUNGEON, BLOODSTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS and CARNAGE, all the while pissing off countless people with his abusive behavior--often to the point of violence. As the author makes clear, “Wherever Milligan went, turmoil followed.”

     Milligan’s final years were as sad and tormented as can be imagined. It’s at this point that Jimmy McDonough inserts himself into the narrative, as a production assistant on Milligan’s third-to-last film, the 1987 MONSTROCITY. McDonough didn’t work on Milligan’s remaining film projects THE WEIRDO and SURGIKILL (the latter is described variously as “pathetic” and “utterly painful to sit through”), but did, as previously mentioned, wind up nursing him through his final HIV-afflicted days. It goes without saying that as described here the experience was less than pleasant, yet it makes for a uniquely sordid and depressing, and hence entirely appropriate, capper to the Andy Milligan saga.