Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Low-budget writer-director Nick Millard (aka Nick Philips, the name used on this film, but also many other pseudonyms) is credited by the IMDB with 58 directorial efforts in the 55 years since 1963, when his first film was released, NUDES ON CREDIT, starring Joey Benson, best known from Al Adamson’s PSYCHO A GO-GO. Much of his 60’s and early 70’s output was sex-oriented, but since the 70’s he’s worked in a number of genres, especially horror and slasher, but also crime/action (.357 MAGNUM, which I recently watched) and even an adaptation of Henry James’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW and a documentary on Howard Hughes. He’s probably best-known for his legendary trio of mid 1970’s features, CRIMINALLY INSANE (aka CRAZY FAT ETHEL, which later spawned a sequel in the 1980’s), SATAN’S BLACK WEDDING and .357 MAGNUM.

There’s something inspiring about a person who can make a feature film on a budget of, say, $5000 and get it distributed internationally among the lowest rung of genre-film fanatics. Of course, nowadays, when any seven year old can make a “film” on their phone and when “distribution” consists of posting something online, the nature of low-budget filmmaking has completely changed. In the mid-to-late eighties, with the drive-in market pretty much gone, the new “market” was straight-to-video companies who sold to mom and pop video stores…or if you were lucky, national video store chains. The chances of getting a zero-budgeted feature distributed were best in the horror-gore genre, where no money had to be spent on car chases or explosions, as you’d need in an action film, and a good title and concept could pre-sell the product and excite the fans, no matter what the quality of the actual product. I had the privilege of attending a talk/film screening with micro-budget horror auteur Mark Polonia (SHARKENSTEIN, AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE, REVOLT OF THE EMPIRE OF THE APES, SPLATTER FARM) in Austin a year or two ago, and he screened his first film, the 1986 HALLUCINATIONS, which cost $500 to make. All you need is a filmmaker with imagination and minimal equipment, an interesting story, enthusiastic performers suited to the roles (whether or not they are “actors”), and an audience with willing suspension of disbelief—after all, who sees a play and complains that they are looking at a set that suggests the physical location rather than actually depicting it? Who complains that during a tense scene they are seeing a retractable rubber knife and stage blood and not the real thing? Not viewers with imaginations who truly lose themselves in what they are watching.

Z-grade, made-on-a-shoestring film producers should be heroes to anyone in the arts. They did not sit around whining, or waiting for some kind of arts grant, or blaming others as if the world owed them a living—they went out and DID IT and got a product into the can. If they can do it, so can YOU, my friend, whatever your field within the arts. They certainly inspire me!

Nick Millard’s DOCTOR BLOODBATH is such a micro-budget wonder. Running a little less than an hour, and featuring some footage from earlier Millard productions spliced in to pad the running time (and also featuring a cast list from a previous film, NOT this one!), DOCTOR BLOODBATH should satisfy anyone looking for a cheap thrill. The plot involves a burned-out doctor with an unhappy marriage who performs abortions and then gets back in touch with the women who’ve used his services and tells them he needs to see them to discuss their “test results.” When they let him in, he stabs them to death. He does this multiple times, and a police inspector is on the case but makes no headway. Simultaneously, the doctor’s wife is having an affair with a free-loading Polish poet (!!!) who gets her pregnant, and she too demands an abortion. Things descend from there and fragment, as the doctor gradually loses his touch with reality (depicted via shots from other Millard films, which actually work very well in that they are atmospheric and the effect is quite off-putting), not that anyone who performs abortions with what appears to be a turkey baster (no Michael Jackson jokes, please) and plunges a carving knife into a stage-blood covered plastic babydoll had much of a grasp on reality to begin with.

The doctor is played by Albert Eskinazi, who certainly projects a burned-out and depressed image, with multiple scenes of him coming home in his white Jaguar (in scenes shot in and around what was probably the director’s own home in suburban San Francisco) after a killing and sitting on his couch, hands folded, head bowed and looking both nervous and bored, alternating with shots of him sitting in a church with blurry stained glass windows behind him. His matter-of-fact acting style is not unlike what you’d see in a Jack Webb TV series, and it makes the scenes feel like they are being observed, not performed for an audience. His unfaithful wife is played by Irmgard Millard, the director’s own wife, whose character would drive anyone to drink, but who has an off-kilter seductiveness when she shows up at the poet’s apartment door and starts to gradually lower her top. Again, it seems as though she is being observed rather than performing for the camera, even when the character is being hot-tempered and demanding money for the “Garden Club,” which she then gives to her poet boyfriend, who never thinks of getting a real job.

Writer-director Millard understands that his audience wants both exploitative subject matter----which he delivers with the abortion subject, a subject handled in the most cheap and sensationalistic and throwaway manner and thus sure to outrage people on all sides of that issue----and also brutal and gory killings, which he also delivers in a cheap, unrealistic, matter-of-fact way. He also understands that the inclusion of incorporated footage from other productions and the jerky cuts from one character’s perspective to another’s, caused by turning the video camera off and on again, help to create a woozy, dream-like feel which leads the audience to accept whatever is thrown up on the screen. It does not appear as a lack of continuity (as people used to unimaginative Hollywood productions would no doubt call it), but instead as a collage of images and scenes that are part of a nightmare become real, with all the awkwardness and the cheap, tawdry quality to make such a nightmare feel uncomfortable, not like some stylized Gothic experience.

DOCTOR BLOODBATH is presently available for free on You Tube—just search for that title. The print viewed had a title card that read BUTCHER KNIFE, presumably an alternate title. By the way, the 1973 UK feature HORROR HOSPITAL (starring Michael Gough and Robin Askwith) was later released on VHS under the name DOCTOR BLOODBATH and has nothing to do with the Nick Millard film. You’ll know within 60 seconds if you are watching the correct film.

Like my favorite punk-rock from the 60’s and 70’s, DOCTOR BLOODBATH sets out to offend rather than to present any particular viewpoint—alienating people of ALL viewpoints, like an anarchist tossing a stink-bomb into a meeting of the UN—and has a cheap/throwaway quality which gives a stiff middle finger to traditional standards of professionalism, all the while delivering an edgy and atmospheric product full of attitude and cheap thrills. What more could you want? Remember the single "Hot Pistol" by the late great Fred Cole (released under the band name KING BEE), where there is a 60-cycle electronic hum on the master, heard clearly for a few seconds before and after the song, and a constant presence throughout. It used to put a smile on my face whenever I played that record as I thought about how people who were into squeaky-clean fusion music or ECM-style chamber jazz (sounding like it was recorded in a vacuum) would react if they heard "Hot Pistol". Somehow the greasy fingerprints of the artist’s creation of the artifact, left as a reminder for us, add to the grungy, grimy greatness of that record, and DOCTOR BLOODBATH provides a similar kind of experience.

No comments: