Somewhere in a medieval kingdom that looks a lot like Staten Island, a wicked, one-armed, epileptic young duke has his eye on the throne. With the assistance of his hunchbacked servant/lover, he is more than willing to kill off his entire royal family to get it. That’s not an especially difficult task, since the total population of the kingdom seems to be around 20 people, most of whom are blood relations. Fortunately, that necessitates some long pauses between sadistic killings, which in turn gives us ample opportunity to watch various people get naked and screw and/or whip each other.
So yeah, this is an Andy Milligan movie. I’ve written at length about my relationship with Mr. Milligan before, so here’s the capsule version for those unfamiliar with his work: Andy Milligan made ugly, hate-filled movies filled with florid dialogue, awful gore effects and beyond-wooden acting. His films are deeply unpleasant viewing experiences, not so much because of their content – the tour of the titular torture dungeon here, for instance, is intended to be disturbing but is so badly executed that it’s just kind of boring – but more because they’re so personal. There are plenty of shock and schlock filmmakers out there with an unmistakable personal style, but your Herschel Gordon Lewises and Fred Olen Rays direct like they’re making movies. Andy Milligan directed like he was splattering the screen with globs of his very soul.
Torture Dungeon is the seventh Milligan film I’ve subjected myself to in the past several months, and it may be the best. I think that’s because it feels like the most honest. The awkward monster movie trappings of Blood and The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! are eschewed in favor of straight-up torture porn. I don’t use that phrase in its modern, post-Hostel parlance. Rather, I mean that the scenes of torture, murder and dismemberment are filmed so lasciviously that it’s pretty evident that the filmmaker gets off on that sort of thing.
That intimacy also shines through in the lead character. Milligan himself was a sexually omnivorous sadist, and it’s hard not to read some autobiography into Jeremy Brooks’ campy, flamboyant turn as the gleefully decadent Duke. Brooks, a regular Milligan player who also wrote a couple of early screenplays for the director, gives probably the best performance I’ve seen in a Milligan film. (That’s a pretty low bar, although I’d argue that Milligan was actually quite good at directing actors – the performances in his films are almost uniformly awful, but they’re all awful in a very specific way that perfectly fits his singular style). Brooks embraces the role of a murderous, “try-sexual” (as in he’ll try anything for pleasure) lunatic with reckless abandon, flouncing about madly in a black Prince Valiant wig apparently designed for someone with a head three times as big. He leers, sneers and gobbles scenery as a Caligula writ small. In an odd way, he may be the most admirable character in the Milligan lexicon, a character of pure id who is at least capable of pleasure, if not love.
Torture Dungeon isn’t a good film. There’s no such animal in the Andy Milligan oeuvre. But it is a damn sight more disturbing than a lot of what passes for horror. Granted, it’s disturbing for different reasons than most horror, but that just makes it all the more memorable.