Not only was Guru, the Mad Monk (1970) a first-time watch for me, but it was also the first Andy Milligan film I’ve seen. The writer-director-producer-costume designer-and so on has at least some fans, I assume, due to the existence of a deluxe box set of his movies from Severin Films. One of those fans would have to tell me, though, how this one compares to the others.
On its own, I see techniques demonstrated that are supposedly common in his films. For example, there are close shots that don’t reveal much of the characters’ surroundings. The stationary camera focuses on two people talking from about chest-up. Rarely, there’s a crude cut that briefly shows the scene from a different angle.
Guru, the Mad Monk is DYI filmmaking at its… best? It’s crudely made on what must have been a shoestring budget. However, there’s something about it that prevents it from being completely unwatchable. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s the story. Probably more realistically, though, it may its running time of just over an hour. Short and simple…
Father Guru (Neil Flanagan) presides over a forgotten 15th-century prison/church on a remote island. When his jailkeeper, Carl (Paul Lieber) begs him to help save Nadja (Judith Israel), who was falsely accused of killing her baby, Guru requires him to make a promise in return. He… uh, the church… needs money and can get it by selling the bodies of the prisoners he executes.
Carl pays a visit to Olga (Jaqueline Webb) for a potion that will temporarily make Nadja appear dead so that she can later be revived. Olga requires a promise, also. She needs blood for her “experiments.” Talk about serendipity! Within their ecosystem of evil, Guru can execute prisoners, Olga can take their blood, and Carl can sell the bodies.
All is well and good except that Guru wants to keep Nadja locked in the tower for three months, then they’ll take another look at her situation. He explains to Carl, “She’s safe where she is… what could be safer than the house of God?” She starts causing issues for Guru, though, when she keeps watching people enter the church, but not exiting.
The fact that (SPOILER ALERT) Olga is a vampire didn’t cross my mind until she talked about her collection methods and later got down on her hands and knees to drink the blood of a recently deceased man. With a sadistic priest, rape, murder, blackmail, magic potions, etc., why not throw in a vampire! Guru, the Mad Monk has an “anything can happen” vibe to it.
I’d also place the film in the “so bad it’s (almost) good” category. When Carl tells Guru that he loves Nadja with his body and soul, Guru slaps him and says, “Your soul belongs to God.” It’s unexpected, it’s funny, and it’s raw. Yeah, that’s how I could describe Guru, the Mad Monk. Raw… unfiltered… Its appeal lies within the deep, instinctual parts of its viewers.
Written by Andy Milligan
Directed by Andy Milligan
Starring Neil Flanagan, Jaqueline Webb, Judith Israel, Jack Spencer
RT 62 min.
Released Sept. 29, 1970
Recorded on Oct. 31, 2020 (TCM)
Rating 4 Possessed Children (out of 10
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