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Legacy of Satan is a 1974 horror film written and directed by Gerard Damiano. It stars John Francis, Lisa Christian, Paul Barry, Deborah Horlen and Sandra Peabody, who respectively portray Dr. Muldavo, Maya, George, the High Priestess, and a cult member. Set in New York, the film revolves around Maya (Christian), a young woman who is chosen to be the queen of a satanic cult, and her descent into madness when her normal life is hindered by a series of evocative dreams. Originally written as a hardcore film, Damiano ultimately decided to rewrite it as a psychological horror film.

Damiano shot the film on a shoestring budget and featured a cast of relatively unknown actors. The film is notable for being the debut film of Christa Helm, an aspiring actress who was murdered three years after the release of this film.[2] Filmed in 1972, the film subsequently had a limited theatrical release in 1973 and became a part of the grindhouse circuit as a double feature to both Tobe Hooper‘s landmark horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Andy Milligan‘s Blood (1973) from 1974 to 1976. It has been met to generally negative reviews with the score of the film being heavily criticized by critics.


Blood 1973

It is a shame that Andy Milligan’s 1974 fantasy-horror outing, Blood, is not more well-known, for it is one of the filmmaker’s most unusual works, with much to recommend it. Gathering a group of traditional horror film icons (vampire, werewolf, hunchback, carnivorous plant, etc.) to form an archetypal dysfunctional family, Milligan then uses this surreal social unit to fashion a striking satire of one of his favorite muses – the late-era Victorian family in upheaval. Blood takes place in 1884, resting squarely in the middle of the late Victorian era, and takes great care to touch upon several prevalent social themes of the era. As the main credits roll, mournful church bells toll. Their melancholy call suggests the end of religious hegemony, an eventuality which augured in the devastating moral self-examination of the late Victorian era, a cultural shock wave which caused no end of grief and mischief to the population. Soon, the bells cease, replaced by the roar of a hard wind. In the Milligan universe, this can be nothing other than an ill wind, which may announce the utter desolation of a society – sans religious surety – now lost and alone in godless nature, unsure how to achieve moral resurrection.

Blood boldly illustrates the inherent paradoxes of late Victorian society – most concisely with the ritual on-camera slaughter and consumption of a live rodent – and plays very much like a nightmarish Dickens scenario brought to grisly, brutal life. The moral decay of the era seems a natural metaphor for Milligan’s disdain of contemporary society for Blood – even more so than other films such as The Body Beneath – pontificates passionately on the subject. The collapse of morality depicted in Blood mirrors in microcosm the simultaneous collapse of the Victorian social order, a default of humanist faith which leads to a nightmarish reign of Social Darwinism, in which only the truly wicked and cunning survive, while all others are slaughtered unceremoniously.

Blood deftly (if awkwardly at times) illustrates one of the major conundrums of Victorian society, the often momentous contradiction between the public facade and the private reality. Behind closed doors, the well-mannered, well-appointed Orlofskis are gruesome, degenerate, warring monsters – as are most families behind closed doors. This phenomenon of duplicity leads directly into the heart of the Victorian dilemma – the function and parameters of an ethical society. Victorians agonised over their moral trespasses, tormenting themselves to the point of obsession, as witness Carrie’s soulful prayer to Mary regarding her split loyalties. Yet the egotism and perverse promiscuity of the Orlofski clan, the patriarch foremost, certainly predicts the ascendancy of immorality as a counter-force.
The marriages of Orlofski and Regina, and to some degree Orlondo and Carrie, also mirror certain Victorian conceits. As Milligan constantly maintained, a marriage is, like all human relationships, a political unit with power being wielded by the stronger individual over the weaker, either by force or mutual consent. Love is merely the public facade used to mask the often intense power dynamic going on within. The most successful marriages function not as two mutually-attuned individuals, but as one socio-political unit which, in Milligan’s scenarios, have the decimation of the community and the maintenance of their own omniscience invariably as its common goal. Blood may be the most devastating critique of the heterosexual paradigm yet concocted by Milligan, which is really saying something, as he has been beating this drum since Vapors.
Sexuality is another topic, fraught with contradiction and moral ambiguity, with which Victorian society struggled. Bound by a legacy of religious indoctrination, the Victorians saw sex as a necessary evil, the engine by which to uphold one’s lineage, primarily a utilitarian tool for the continuance of civilization. As a recreational act unto itself, sex was seen – at least in the public sphere – as dirty, repulsive and base. Beatrice Webb, a noted chronicler of Victorian culture, looked upon sexual passion as “an irresponsible, antisocial force to be exercised, at most, within the confines of marriage.” (Interestingly, Webb also consciously rejected motherhood, an unusual stance for the typical woman of the day.) In league with this repressive notion of the sexual act was the constant specter of impotence. Still, as a powerful – one might say omnipotent – biological urge, sex had its sway over people, and became something of an obsession behind closed doors. Private Victorian society, as exemplified by bohemian artist enclaves such as “The Bloomsberries,” indulged in all form of non-traditional sexual activity, including homosexuality, incest and rampant promiscuity. Blood touches on all of these aspects of Victorian sexuality (all but, conspicuously in Milligan’s case, homosexuality), from the Orlofski’s loveless, sexless marriage, to the male Orlofski’s dalliances with several women, to Carrie’s sex-centric relationship with her brother – even Regina’s “plant-children” can be seen as a nod to the utilitarian function of sex as creator of heirs.

Another dialectic contemplated in Blood also featured prominently in Victorian culture – the battle between science and religion, or more specifically, reason versus faith. The Victorian era saw an increasing onslaught of scientific and philosophic theories which challenged the old religious order, an attack which culminated in the proverbial “final nail in the coffin” – the release of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, a momentous event which sparked the acrimonious battle between science and religion, a war which sadly still echoes throughout culture even today. The then-shocking revelation of Man as being merely another in a long line of randomly-evolving creations of a very logical, clearly non-magical natural process, was an direct assault on the spirit of Victorian Man, causing no end of soul-searching and angry denial. The Orlofski’s, for one, have one collective foot in the old religious order, and the other firmly planted in the rigors of Science, to which they owe the continued life of their matriarch. Carrie’s pleas to a very real Virgin Mary underscore the Victorian dependence on the old religious paradigm during times of travail, and the Orlofski’s debt to their monstrous parents (Werewolf and Vampire) also allude to allegiance to an antiquarian discipline of faith and magic. Yet the Orlofski experiment in “modern living” is predicated on the success of the various scientific research projects pursued in their all-too suburban cellar. The monster-children plants, poignant symbol of evolutionary theory, accent not only the obvious differences, but profound similarities between the apparently antithetical factions of science and religion – rather than further separating the two, they conspire to merge them in concordance, for it is these surrogate babies which, for a time, bring all the members of the household together in mutual activity, if not exactly harmony. Further, the plants may serve as an emblem of scientific naturalism, another potent new school of thought, which claimed that nature, as witnessed by man and revealed through the scientific method, was the prime reality, and that man could be entirely comprehended within its laws. All members of the Orlofski family are impacted – indeed, are defined – by the plants, which have such an ominous impact on the clan.

Like most Milligan’s families, the Orlofskis illustrate the principal of Social Darwinism, at least as interpreted by Herbert Spencer: “natural selection functions, or should function, the same way in society as in nature; that the struggle for existence is the precondition for the emergence of the socially fit as for the biologically fit; and that the best society is one that approximates a state of nature, that is least regulated, least governed, least controlled by extraneous forces of purposes.” Although the Orlokskis are ultimately felled by their own inherited shortcomings, during their brief reign in Mortavia they successfully destroy all threats to their enclave, due to their moral vacuity and beast-like cunning (punctuated by acts like Regina’s killing of the mouse). Yet as observers such as Julian Huxley noted: “the evolutionary or ‘cosmic process,’ the process of struggle and selection which had made the world what it was, had resulted in the survival of the ‘fittest’ but not of the ‘best.’ The ethical process was precisely the opposite.” Morality, to Huxley and others, was an essential – but not naturally occurring – part of Man’s make-up, and must be forged through reason and mutual agreement for a society to function properly.
It might be thus suggested that Milligan was, at heart, essentially a Huxleyian moralist, depicting in his nightmare fables the folly and devastation of Social Darwinism, which is how he viewed the various revolutions – sexual, social and political – which infected the 1960s and 1970s. During this time period, a moral “revolution” of sorts took place, wherein “moral deviancy was being popularized and democratized, so that it was not the occasional eccentric who was rejecting the traditional values, morals, and habits of thought and behavior, but an entire generation.” Milligan’s omnipresent late-Victorian milieu might thus have been concocted, in part, to act as a colorful metaphor for the moral collapse of the 1960s’ “now” generation – which he saw as sharing a great affinity with the moral upheaval of the period he so often invoked in his films. To Milligan, the license of the times was merely an excuse for the most cunning and amoral characters to lord over those more vulnerable, creating a devastating moral and emotional vacuum which could lead only to abuse, misery and disaster. To some degree, the Milligan dilemma is the Victorian dilemma. The primitive assurances of the past have been abandoned or destroyed. Religion is false at best, evil at worst. Modern man, now lacking any supernatural master or spiritual guideposts, must nonetheless find within himself some measure of morality, mercy, kindness, democracy, for without these, he is truly a “beast by nature,” a low, lusting vermin whose only goals are satiation of base appetites and protection of one’s immediate brood – and the world be damned.
Blood is one of Milligan’s most polished and narratively mature works, filmed in crisp 35mm with a consistent and conscious color palette, using his claustrophobic interiors with great efficacy. After the derivative, redundant nature of Fleshpot on 42nd Street, which seemed to signal the end of an era, Milligan takes a quantum leap as an artist with Blood, yanking the weary Gothic horror genre to new heights, as he had previously done with The Body Beneath. Blood is Milligan’s stab at a horror-satire (something he tried and failed with Fleshpot), his own experiment in stylish, ironic art-horror, indeed his answer to Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein, released the year before. However, Milligan’s penchant for soap opera dramatics, and his haphazard insertion of classic horror stereotypes insures that Blood will not look anything like the relatively big-budget, philosophically advanced Warhol/Morrissey horror satires. Blood is unquestionably a Milligan film, bearing many of his trademarks and faults, but is still one of his crowning achievements. Blood is also an excellent example of Milligan using costuming to enhance character. All the characters in Blood can be effectively seen as symbol, and as such, their covering is significant. The clothing, make-up and other external factors (i.e., their superficial gender and class “signifiers”) reveal a great deal about their personality, agenda and impact on the community.
Blood’s suspiciously bland title suggests several interpretations, but two predominate. Firstly, there is the use of “blood” as a modern slang reference to “family” or “blood relations,” the central focus of this film certainly, and perhaps all of Milligan’s films. Also, actual human blood, of an increasingly pure, even “royal” nature (i.e., “blueblood”) is extracted from poor Carlotta in order to feed the monster plants, which in turn keep matriarch Regina alive well past her useful prime, and thus by inference to perpetuate the sorry Orlofski family into the doomed future. As this family of literal/metaphorical monsters is indeed a diabolic one, causing harm to themselves and even more to the community, this “sacred” blood is nothing more than a fuel for animating monsters, as Milligan makes the startling case that blood, in and of itself, is evil, for it alone perpetuates human life, itself an evil thing. The title card for Blood is superimposed over Milligan’s trademark bouquet of “blood red” roses, further underscoring the word with high symbolic import. Other Milligan films – starting with Seeds of Sin and continuing through The Body Beneath and The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! – dote on the notion of rare, sacred fluids used to keep alive a malevolent lineage, and Blood continues this tradition, succinctly connecting the dots between the seeds of inheritance and and the perpetuation of human monsters into eternity.
Blood is filmed entirely on location at Milligan’s then-current Staten Island residence. The familiar stone stairway entrance, put to such good use in The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! and Fleshpot on 42nd Street, makes another momentous appearance in Blood, appearing in the very first frame of the film. Milligan shot many of his movies on his own properties, usually using his current residence as a set, making his movies in a very special and literal way, his actual “home movies” (or as some would have it, “home movies from bedlam”). Yet rather than filming his friends and family mugging during holiday or frolicking during tiresome vacation days, he tossed them scripts and costumes and had them perform high drama in familiar environs, a brilliant conceit which makes the best of Milligan’s films seem all too real, virtually documentary in nature. The real estate which Milligan managed to acquire with his meager earnings were no mere vanity or investment gamble – they were essential to his art, as they almost consistently functioned as his studio, and were thus a basal reflection of the artist himself.

In Blood, Milligan takes his usual amount of pseudonymous credits (lighting, sound, sets, costumes, editor), as well as “ Written & Directed by.” A “Photographed by” credit is conspicuously absent, strange in that Blood is one of Milligan’s most consciously arty films, with some of his cleanest cinematography and some of his most astute compositions. Blood was financed for $20,000 by one Walter Kent, with whom Milligan also made Dragula, purportedly a gay take of the Dracula legend, and now lost. Blood was released to theaters only briefly, on the bottom of a double bill with Gerard Damiano’s Legacy of Satan, and distributed by Bryanston Pictures, the notorious outfit helmed by Lou and Tony Peraino, the mob-connected entrepreneurs who used the business as a front to launder money coming in from their hardcore cash cow, Deep Throat. Another Faustian deal with another unscrupulous distributor virtually ensured Blood’s obscurity, and suggests that Milligan received little if any promised boxoffice receipts. Blood does not seem to have been released to television, and only an obscure UK home video release has prevented it from total obscurity. The existing home video version runs just under an hour, and all of the drama and narrative complexity which Milligan was able to insert into such a short running time is indeed impressive. Rumors abound of a 74-minute cut of Blood, featuring an entire subplot with Mortavia being invaded by rabid vampire bats, but no such references exist in the hour-long extant print, and no verification of this longer version has been forthcoming.

-Rob Craig


DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!



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