Directed by Andy Milligan / Retromedia / SS-SL NTSC
4:3 / DD Mono / Rel. 3-19-2002 / MSRP $14.95
Father Guru (Neil Flanagan) is a mad mad monk. Suffering from some kind of strange illness which resembles a cross between demonic possession and multiple-personality disorder, Guru runs a small prison church on the quiet Island of Mortavia along with his quasimodo-ish servant Igor and his old bag of a lover/witch/vampire Olga. Guru is pissed off at his skimpy paycheck from the church and supplements it by selling the bodies of some of the prisoners to medical schools. When the head of prison’s true love (Judith Israel) gets locked up and sentenced to death, Guru helps her escape in return for the guy assisting the father in his fiendish plans. Guru continues to knock-off any wayward visitor to his church, Olga continues to flash her fake teeth and hypnotize people with her shiny necklace and lots of other stupid things happen as people wander about Tensions flare and jump-cuts run rampant, leading up to a surreal, choppy finale.
This being an Milligan production, it obviously comes with the requisite baggage of high school-level production values combined with third-grade acting talent mixed together in a potent solution and topped with his usual absurd period look and feel.
But please, don’t let these dimissive comments lead you to the conclusion that this movie isn’t worth seeing; on the contrary, it’s probably one of the best recent dvd releases, and at this price it can’t be beat (then again the first shot of heroin is usually cheap as well). Once you’ve been exposed to the warped mind of Andy Milligan you will never be the same. Most of Milligan’s films are period because he supposedly thought that this would make them age less and remain playable for many years, and I guess he was right in his own demented way; his movies still as compelling otherworldly as the moment they first left the discount film lab.
The first few seconds of Retromedia’s dvd release are not very encouraging as the entire sceen bursts into a storm of white scratches during the opening credits. Even though the scratches drop off after the first scene they show up at random places within the film. Colors are incredibly vibrant for the most part, with only the scratches and inconsistant black levels marring what is really an excellent transfer given the source material. The film is presented full-frame and at times the composition looks a bit off, but I’d blame that more on the expert camerawork of Mr. Millgian than anything else. The audio is at times a tinny and distorted but still adequate. Let’s face it, I doubt we’re ever going to find any Andy Milligan film in pristine condition so this is probably as good as it gets.
As well as a swell transfer, Retromedia has also included a rusty-old theatrcal trailer as well as an informative interview with John Vozza, the still photographer on some of Milligan’s final films who tells some wild stories about the land of Milligania.
2020 Update: in the years since the release of Retromedia’s DVDs, Guru has been released in many digital forms. Film Detective released a no-extras DVD. Vinegar Syndrome distributed a 720p transfer as a free download on their website for a brief time. The film was also planned as the second feature on the cancelled AGFA blu-ray of Fleshpot on 42nd Street.
More Screenshots from the Vinegar Syndrome download: