Originally released in 1970, Guru, The Mad Monk is yet another invitation into the mad world of self-taught filmmaker Andy Milligan. Although many find Milligan’s works utter trash and not worth viewing, there are those who find that they relish Milligan’s skewed view of genres, such as exploitation, softcore porn, and of course horror. Guru, The Mad Monk is a relatively tame affair, but one that is just bizarre enough to leave many bewildered.
Clocking in at just a little over an hour, the movie tells the tale of Father Guru (Neil Flanagan, chewing scenery), a schizophrenic monk who talks to his other personality via a mirror. Guru runs an asylum/prison on the island of Mortavia during the 1940s. It seems that the Roman Catholic Church has started to run low of funding. Because of such financial woes, Guru has created a sideline to ensure that he maintains his lifestyle. Guru takes the bodies of the people he murders inside the prison and sells them to nearby medical schools.
The story begins with the imprisonment of Nadja (Judith Israel), who is accused of killing her newborn infant. Jailer Carl (Paul Lieber), who is in love with Nadja, cooks up a plan to secure her release. Carl makes a deal with Guru to help sell the bodies to medical schools. Like the devil, however, Guru does not release Nadja right away but rather keeps her around to ensure Carl continues to be under his yoke.
Guru’s days are spent as judge, jury, and executioner, leaving the dead bodies to be drained by his vampire lover Olga (Jaqueline Webb). He also has a hunchback naturally named Igor (Jack Spencer), who he frequently beats when the poor slob isn’t sweeping or giving the goo-goo eyes to the lovely Nadja.
The plot thickens, kind of, when Guru learns that Bishop Kopel (Frank Ehols) is coming for a visit. Along with Kopel is Father Polanski (Gerald Jacuzzo), whom Guru soon learns is to be his replacement. The remainder of the movie has Guru and Olga taking out the poor Bishop and the Father while Carl and Nadja turn the tables and finally put an end to the mad monk and his vampire lover.
There is no doubt that this movie is bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaking, but like most of Milligan’s productions, there is something oddly compelling about the movie that makes it queasily entertaining. Yes, the movie feels like a high-school production, complete with horrible dialogue, terrible acting, choppy editing, unfocused writing, and very little in the way of tension or excitement.
Why bother watching such a hideous movie? Despite its many flaws, the otherworldly bizarre world of Andy Milligan is strangely compelling. For one, Milligan’s talent as a tailor is quite evident, as the costumes here are fantastic. The hammy acting by some of the players is also a joy to behold—with Neil Flanagan a standout, although folks like Jack Spencer underplay their parts. The romance between the two young people is sweet and the gore effects are hilarious. The odd mixture of storylines, with plots developed only to be abandoned, makes for a whirlwind of strangeness that is both comedic and strange. Before the story really gets going, the movie is over.
Sharp-eyed viewers will also find quite a few period flubs throughout the movie. Watch for typos in the opening credits, modern appliances such as light switches and a motor scooter (it is set in the 1400s, after all), and talented organ playing (playing a two-handed melody with only one hand).
Those who enjoy low-budget fare with an edge of dementia will really dig Guru, The Mad Monk. The naiveté (almost childlike at times), the subtle underpinning of frustrated sexuality and repressed homosexuality, the weird moments of almost pedestrian violence and gore, and the weird vibe that pervades the entire production are just some of the reasons why this movie has stood the test of time. Those who of you who prefer more straightforward movies will find little to recommend Guru, The Mad Monk and should best avoid anything made by Andy Milligan.