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Image Entertainment presents
The Body Beneath (1970)

"We're related, you know"
- Rev. Alexander Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 09, 2000

Stars: Gavin Reed, Jackie Skavellis
Other Stars: Colin Gordon, Cusan Clark, Susan Heard, Emma Jones, Berwick Kaler, RichmondRoss
Director: Andy Milligan

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexual situations, violence and gore, language)
Run Time: 01h:22m:06s
Release Date: October 03, 2000
UPC: 014381973525
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C+B+ C+

DVD Review

I spun up this DVD of notorious filmmaker Andy Milligan's The Body Beneath with a fair amount of trepidation, mixed with an equal amount of curiosity. As this would be the first film I've seen by the zero-budget exploitation director, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by an intriguing and stylish little film with an interesting take on the vampire legend.

The central character is the Rev. Alexander Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed), the undead head of the Ford family. The not-so-good reverend is engaged in a quest to find other members of the Ford family for his own nefarious purposes. It seems that the Fords have been operating a little vampire society in Highgate Cemetery of London for 21 centuries. Over that time, the Ford blood has been thinned by breeding outside the family. The Reverend seeks to locate young members of the family suitable for both breeding purposes and as the source for transfusions. These vampires don't restrict themselves to bites on the neck (though they'll do that when it suits their purposes), but also drink blood from glasses and take transfusions directly.

The three members of the family sought out by the reverend are Graham Ford (Colin Gordon), Candace Ford (Emma Jones) and the hauntingly beautiful Susan Ford (Jackie Skavellis, who is reminiscent of Soledad Miranda of Vampyros Lesbos, also made in 1970). As these three resist the Reverend's plans, with the help of his treacherous staff including the halfwit hunchback Spool (Berwick Kaler), the family gets increasingly restless, culminating in a mad family conference complete with ancestors back to Roman times (including one who appears to be Julius Caesar!).

The familial idea is an interesting one that I've not seen in other vampire films. Though the acting may be a little wooden (Gavin Reed, although usually suitably vile, sometimes appears to be reading cue cards), and the makeup and effects are atrocious, this unassuming little picture does some interesting things with its central theme. Of course, to make the film saleable Milligan had to include a couple gratuitous sex scenes (though they'd probably garner a PG-13 today; they're pretty tame). Though the camera seems to be handheld throughout (Milligan shot his own films on a 16mm camera), he does manage to get in some intriguing compositions. One standout is the shot from the Reverend's perspective, overlooking his betraying maid as she schemes with Susan's boyfriend Paul to attempt Susan's release.

The picture looks like a much higher budget production than it truly is; the sets and costumes all have a substance to them, which seems very real. The areas where the budget's shortcomings show through most clearly are the makeup and the effects. The green-faced Ford sisters look just plain silly, and the Ford family conference is shot through great gobs of vaseline to (ineffectually) hide the poor makeup. However, this contributes to the hallucinatory feeling of the proceedings, echoed by the screeching music on the soundtrack. Whenever an expensive effects shot would be called for, Milligan swings the camera around violently instead, apparently hoping no one will notice that the money shot is missing.

There are also a few humorous in-joke asides to Dracula—the Reverend is holed up in Carfax Abbey, which was also the more famous vampire's home. The Reverend also at one point says, "We never drink...wine in the morning," echoing Lugosi's immortal line. The film ends up with a slightly ambiguous conclusion that neither goes for the obvious nor the clichéd, and is all the stronger for it.

Considering the limitations under which Milligan was working, this turns out to be a much better picture than it has any right to be. The title doesn't make any sense, but don't let that stop you. Fans of Grade Z horror will find a lot to enjoy here.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Overall, the blown-up 16mm image looks incredibly good. Colors are vibrant (especially the red ofthe Reverend's sash, like a bloody slash whenever he appears on the screen) and blacks are solid. Thesource material has three extremely rough spots: in chapter 7, after the Reverend throws Paul out ofthe abbey, there is an extended passage with substantial damage, colored neon red. A similar sectionat the beginning of chapter 10 is colored neon blue. Finally, the end credits are badly scratched anddamaged, and appear to be from another print altogether.

Although the 16mm source material would indicate that 4:3 should be the proper aspect ratio, manyscenes appear to be cropped. Heads are cut in two by the right frame line over and over. It's notclear to me, however, whether this indicates that the picture has been zoomed and cropped, orwhether this is just an indication of Milligan's ineptitude with a camera. The C+ grade is based onthe latter assumption.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Almost all of the dialogue appears to have been recorded live; the few looped lines stand outtremendously. The mono sound isn't very good, which might cause one to raise eyebrows at theaudio grade, but it's quite apparent that this is as good as the sound on this film is ever going to be. The soundtrack as it is quite plainly picks up the whir of the 16mm camera throughout the film. Everything that is there to be heard is transferred quite well. It's just very, very limited sourcematerial.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Vapors, The Vapors, The Ghastly Ones, Guru the Mad Monk, Seeds of Sin
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Andy Milligan short Vapors
  2. Gallery of Exploitation Art
Extras Review: The package includes Andy Milligan's second film, Vapors, a short (32m:31s) episode setin the gay baths of St. Mark's (colloquially known as Our Lady of the Vapors, hence the title). This film treats an encounter between two first-time visitors (Robert Dahdah and Gerald Jaccuzzo),the former of whom has just lost a son. Their dialogue is punctuated by the shouts and catcalls ofthe other denizens of the baths, like an obscene Greek chorus with aggressively swishy manners. Though meant to be a sympathetic and sensitive portrayal (Milligan was himself in the closet), theconclusion feels somewhat by the numbers and forced. This film did make Milligan's reputation, suchas it was, and it makes an interesting extra. A brief bit of full-frontal male nudity is censored by alarge black optical strip across the picture; apparently there is no source material extant without thisstrip.

The second extra, less directly connected to Milligan, is a gallery of exploitation art, set to a numberof exploitation radio spots. There are a couple of Milligan ads included, but the whole thing seemsgeneric enough for Something Weird to put it on all of their discs.

Trailers are included for the feature, as well as the Milligan films Vapors, The GhastlyOnes, Guru the Mad Monk (which was run on a double bill with Body Beneathin the US, in the most violently anticlerical run imaginable) and Seeds of Sin. This brings me to the most highly objectionable part of the package. The trailers all have a "SWV"(Something Weird Video) logo superimposed upon them, as does Vapors throughout itsentire length. Luckily the feature doesn't have this "feature", or I would condemn the disc outright. However, this is a serious mistake on Something Weird's part. No collector interested in seeking outsomething like an Andy Milligan picture will want to have this gratuitous and ugly advertisinginflicted upon him or her. Add to this a lengthy forced trailer for Something Weird's various filmswhich cannot be defeated even by stopping the disc, and you have a callous disregard for the DVDcollector that far outstrips the unnecessary forced trailers on many Disney DVDs; at least Disneyallows you to chapter skip past the forced trailer. Something Weird should learn from this and stopwith the forced trailers and the logos. Just concentrate on giving us the film and whatever extras areavailable and you won't need to worry about self-promotion.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A surprisingly interesting zero-budget exploitation film, given a nice transfer by Something Weird,though there are a few extremely rough spots in the source materials. The gay bath extraVapors will offend many with its frankness and sympathetic viewpoint. Something Weird'spresentation with an undefeatable forced trailer and on-screen logos during the supplement and thetrailers is offensive and inexcusable. Because of this, at most worth a rental.


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