Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)
Last night Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn (which is not yet open) hosted a screening at Anthology Film Archives. This is at least the second event they have held in anticipation of their upcoming grand opening. They decided to show Bloodthirsty Butchers, one of the many portrayals of the tale of Sweeney Todd. This particular version was directed by Andy Milligan, a director whose work has to be seen to be believed. Introducing last night's screening was none other than Frank Henenlotter, director of Basket Case and Frankenhooker.
It's hard to describe Andy Milligan, or at least an Andy Milligan movie. The easiest way is to say that an Andy Milligan movie makes an Ed Wood movie look like a Steven Spielberg movie. The budget for this movie was supposedly $18,000, but it looks more like the budget was about $500. Most of his movies were filmed on Staten Island, but this one was mostly filmed in England, though somehow he made England look as drab as Staten Island. The acting is atrocious, the sets are bad, the scripts are filled with line after line of bullshit, and the plot is usually threadbare and messy at best. Let's not forget the shaky camerawork and terrible sound! Frank Henenlotter explained last night that the reason for some of the horribleness of his films had to do with the equipment he was using, which was a 16mm camera that had to record all the sound on the film, not allowing him to fix anything later.
The plot of this version of Sweeney Todd is a bit different than the others I have seen, with some changes to the characters and their motivations, but to be honest, none of that is really that important. For a film like this, the ride is what's important. Although this runs only about 80 minutes, it feels MUCH longer while you are watching it. There are lots of thick, hard to understand British accents, scenes with some terrible acting in it, including a great inconspicuous tailing of one character, and sound effects that do not follow what is going on in the film. But when it is done you feel like you watched something special. Maybe special in how bad it is, or weird, or whatever, but nothing like anything else you have seen.
I think this is the third Milligan film I have seen, and although they are complete travesties, they are also a lot of fun in their insanity. Of course, you have to like completely horrible B movie acting and be able to view this in a completely different light than a movie that would come out nowadays, or even then to be honest. But this is like when you find yourself listening to a singer you know is horrible, but you still like to listen to it.
As far as the Sweeney Todd story goes, this is not the best telling of it by any means, that is and will always be reserved for the Angela Lansbury version, with either Len Cariou or George Hearn, both are great. You can find a DVD version filmed on Broadway for PBS, and also another version filmed from the audience as well on youtube. Now, SOME of you may have seen the actual travesty of this story directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's wife. Now, I know many people are fans of this, but it is literally one of the only times I wanted to walk out of a film it was so horrible. So no version, no matter how bad, could ever get THAT bad.
All in all, considering I had already seen this movie once before, I had a pretty fun time both listening to stories of Andy Milligan from Frank Henenlotter and watching the debacle he directed. Hopefully there will be many more fun nights like this when Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn opens as well!
7 out of 10 stars.
Location : Anthology Film Archives, downstairs theater, NYC
Date and time : Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : 35mm print, very faded
Audience : About 60 people, almost sold out, audience laughed, seemed to have fun