When I was a kid growing up in midtown Omaha there was a movie rental place up on Leavenworth that carried a bunch of movies that were “off the beaten path” so to speak. Five Star Video was the name of the place, and you could always find something interesting to watch on a Friday night if the popular videos were rented.
It was here that my neighborhood friends and I discovered Andy Milligan’s horror film “Torture Dungeon”.
I don’t remember why we picked this particular movie – maybe we thought the guy with the pitchfork through his chest was the sign of a great horror film. Maybe there was nothing better on the shelf. For many reasons, some of which I will list below, this film should not have been rented to three teenage girls. And yet it was. And it was GLORIOUS!
Before there was MST3K there was the three of us crowded in front of a small TV in my friend’s basement, eating popcorn, watching a bad R-rated horror film and mocking it.
The movie has popped into my head off and on over the years but I was never able to find it. Until last week. Thank you YouTube!
(I say thank you YouTube because I was able to refresh my memory of this film without having to pay the $1.99 that Amazon wanted for it. We paid for this shit once. I wasn’t about to pay for it again…)
Yep, it’s a piece of shit. That’s why it has life as a cult classic. I had forgotten how much of a piece of shit it is, which is why it was so fun to revisit. Andy Milligan was known for this film, and many other cult horror films such as Guru The Mad Monk, Bloodthirsty Butchers, and The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!
If you are into classic horror as I am then you have to take the good with the bad. And this one, while wretched, should not be missed.
The story of a medieval Duke who kills off the heirs to the kingdom one by one so that he can become ruler sounds like a decent plot. The costumes, created by Milligan (he costumed many of his films) work for the most part. Except for the “virginal” Heather who’s breasts nearly fell out of every costume that wasn’t see through. It’s funny, but I didn’t remember that from my first viewing some 35 years ago…
I also apparently didn’t remember all the sex in the film. Heather and her “true love” – aka pitchfork in the chest guy – have a romp in the woods. The Duke gets it on with anything that moves – his chamber maid, his male servant, his chamber maid and male servant at the same time. You get the idea. He is a try-sexual. “I’ll try anything for pleasure” the Duke purrs at one point. Nice dialogue there Andy.
The movie isn’t very scary (I didn’t think it was when I was a teenager either), and that’s okay. The deaths that occur by the Duke’s executioners isn’t all that imaginative, and really not that gory either because Milligan employed this annoying technique of swirling the camera around, so you really couldn’t see the murders as they were happening. The first death is the exception. Not to mention in some scenes there was hardly any lighting at all. That didn’t make it creepy. That made it hard to see what was happening.
The dialogue is silly, the camerawork choppy at best (which made following the plot difficult at times) and the acting less than stellar (Outside of the marriage counselor. Yes, the marriage counselor. She was good).
A particularly confusing, albeit favorite, moment of mine comes toward the end of the film when one of the stepsisters attempts to get our heroine, the “virginal-wardrobe-malfunction-waiting-to-happen” Heather to leave in the middle of the night to escape the Duke. She pops her head into Heather’s chamber to tell her to get out while the getting is good – we then cut to a scene with the other stepsister, who is trying to escape for fear of her life – IN BROAD DAYLIGHT – when she runs into the Duke. She tells him she is going to go back to her chamber and go to bed for the evening – IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. We cut back to a night scene of Heather gathering her things and then leaving on a horse – IN BROAD DAYLIGHT…
You get the idea. Andy, you really couldn’t shoot those scenes at night? I mean, with the swirly camera movement you even caught the sun once in the shot. No one believed it was the moon Andy. No one.
So many horrible things about this movie. So many wonderful memories of watching this on VHS when I was a kid with my friends.
I have read that no self-respecting horror fanatic should get through life without watching one of Mr. Millgan’s cult classics. I don’t know if you can find any of his others on Amazon or YouTube, but you have a bona fide classic here. It may be torture to watch, but it clocks in at a fast 90 minutes. Gather some friends and have your own MST3K party – I’m sure you can come up with as many witty jokes as Crow and Tom Servo!