There are giants in the history of shitty cinema. Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Lloyd Kaufman, Ray Dennis Steckler, amongst many others. Then there are filmmakers like Andy Milligan. Milligan was a worker, with dozens of films in his oeuvre. But he sure did make some trash. Most shitty filmmakers would make something like Guru, the Mad Monk, and then have to call it quits. Having a film this bad in one’s CV is kryptonite to investors, but Milligan managed to make shitty films for another two decades after Guru’s release. That’s dedication.
Released in 1970, Guru, the Mad Monk has very little to recommend it, to even the most diehard of shitty movie fans. Mercifully short at just 56 minutes, Milligan, who wrote as well as directed, displayed a profound lack of skill as a storyteller and filmmaker.
He sets the bar low early on. Filmed entirely in a Manhattan church, Milligan made just about no effort to conceal the fact his location was in a bustling city, and not on some fictional, medieval island in Eastern Europe, where the story takes place.
In the opening scene, prison guards drag the film’s damsel in distress, Nadja (Judith Israel), along the side of the church, and Milligan couldn’t be bothered to sweep up the 20th century litter. Nor could he bothered to take down the modern notice board at the church gate. Nor, in a later scene, could he be bothered to turn his cameras away from the modern building next door to the church, where one can just about make out someone’s office. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that contains so many anachronisms. It’s either the result of total incompetence, or total negligence.
Anyway, Nadja is taken prisoner because she supposedly killed her infant child. It’s a plot point that isn’t explored beyond its casual mention. It turns out, though, that one of her jailers is a former boyfriend, Carl (Paul Lieber). Carl makes a plea to the titular Guru (Neil Flanagan), who runs the church/prison, to spare Nadja’s life. He agrees, for some reason. The film then shifts focus to Guru, and we see that he is, indeed, a mad monk. He’s an insane killer with something of a split personality, and, as if that were not enough, he allows a vampire, Olga (Jaqueline Webb), to shelter at the church.
Why is all this evil shit going on? As best I can tell, Guru is mad at the church in Rome for underfunding his little institution. After all, he’s been taking in the dregs of Europe and executing them so all the other parishes can keep their hands clean, and he has little to show for it.
That plot is a handful, and Milligan had nowhere near the touch needed. In fact, no one involved in this film seemed to know what they were doing. Most of the cast had very short careers in film, and those that managed to scrape out a living, notably Lieber and Flanagan, were dreadful, as well.
The blame has to be laid at Milligan’s feet. His film has almost none of the charm that makes shitty cinema worthwhile. It doesn’t even evoke schadenfreude. It’s just bad, bad, bad.
Guru, the Mad Monk is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It falls into the blackest pit of the Watchability Index, displacing Spice World at #304. If one is into hopeless films, this is a winner. For everyone else, stay far, far away.