I reached out to cult filmmaker Nick Millard AKA Nick Philips back in September for an interview and he graciously agreed to partake in one, stating that he always tells the truth in his interviews, “unlike a lot of people in Hollywood”. Mr. Millard is best known to his fans for the string of outrageously campy, low-budget comedy-slashers he produced from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s, including those pictured below. During the course of our correspondence, we discussed a few of his more obscure titles, as well as some that were never even released! Check it out. Continue reading
Concepts are often repeated in movies to clarify an idea, stress the significance of something, or because it’s cool or dramatic. A staple of the Hellraiser series is that Pinhead and his gang of Cenobites are almost always preceded by the sight of a brilliant, blue haze spilling through slatted wood. In Blood Feast 2, a snippet of a Butthole Surfers song (“Sweat Loaf”) that goes “Satan! Satan! Satan!” plays every time the hoity-toity mom walks on screen.
For me, repetition is most effective when used as a plot device to bring everything full circle by connecting the beginning and end of a story somehow. Dario Argento is a bona fide master of this.
There are moments, though, when an instance of repetition serves no purpose at all. And that’s the case in Nick Millard’s Death Nurse. Edith the Death Nurse repeats not one, but two lines of dialogue back to back for what seems like no reason.
She does this for the first time at around the forty-five minute mark.
Septuagenarian social worker and patient Faith Chandler sneaks down the stairs of the Shady Palms Clinic in search of her two missing clients, who are also patients (oh, and unbeknownst to her, long-deceased).
Edith heads her off with an icy look. “Get back in bed, you nosy old bitch.”
“If you don’t take me to Mr. Davis and Mr. Bedowski, I’ll call social services.”
Edith repeats herself. “Get back in bed, you nosy old bitch.”
“All right, I’m going to phone.”
Usually, when people repeat themselves, they preface it with an “I said…” or “Didn’t you hear me?” Not Edith. She doesn’t roll that way. Below is an oscillating comparison of the first frames of each utterance, proving they were in fact from two different takes.
Why does it matter? Well, if auteur Nick Millard had used one take twice, I would have thought, ok, maybe this guy forgot to film some other line of dialogue and was forced to reuse it. Knowing he had the foresight, however, to shoot the same sentence two different times leads me to believe he intended the conversation to play out as awkwardly and nonsensically as it did from the get-go.
The worst part is that Edith’s approach doesn’t work. It was all for naught. Faith Chandler ignores her and has to be stabbed to be silenced. I can’t help but wonder, would Edith’s tactics have been more successful in other movie situations?
Edith repeats herself for a second time at around the fifty-six minute mark.
At that point, she peeks through her living room blinds to see a policeman snooping outside her garage. “Son of a bitch.” she remarks, tiptoeing the “son of a”, punching the “bitch”. The policeman walks up her drive to the front door. “Son of a bitch.” she repeats in the same exact tone of voice.
As hilarious as it is, what’s the significance? Why were these lines so important that Mr. Millard felt the need to repeat them? Is there even a rhyme or reason to his mad genius? All I know is that I could revisit these scenes a thousand times each and they’d still crack me up. Maybe that’s what Millard was going for.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Death Nurse, and it probably won’t be the last. The deeper I dig, the more I find, and the farther I stray from reality. Investigating one of this movie’s mysteries leads to another. Questions are only answered with more questions. Nothing adds up.
Has anyone out there seen this? What are your favorite moments from Death Nurse or its equally madcap sequel?
Nick Millard as Nick Philips
25th Anniversary Slasher // Video DVD © 2013, Region: 1, Format: NTSC
~59 minutes, 46 seconds
Death Nurse 2 picks up right where the last one left off. Lieutenant Bedowski, the uncle of one of the first movie’s victims, is poking around the outside of Shady Palms Clinic for signs of his missing nephew. Having tracked a foul stench from the building’s steps to its rat infested garage, he instead finds the corpse of that nephew’s social worker, Faith Chandler (Nick Millard’s potbellied seventy-some-year-old mother, Frances Millard), eyes open, mouth agape, and with some sort of green schmutz I’m assuming was meant to be rot all over its face. I feel it’s my duty here to point out that Ms. Chandler is wearing a different top than she was when she died — one of several continuity errors and/or logic fails you’ll encounter throughout this hot mess if you’re actively searching, but who’s keeping track? Edith’s phone also rings a handful of times even though the receiver is always off the hook. The list just goes on.
Lieutenant Bedowski strolls calmly back up the sidewalk to the front door. The man exhibits no fear. Personal safety is of no concern. This will be his downfall. “Open up, police. Open the damn door.” he recites with as much flair as the suit on his back. Nurse Edith Mortley (Priscilla Alden) swings the door open and greets him with seven jabs from a tinfoil knife, right there on the porch and in broad daylight in front of the neighbors. Blood dribbles out of Bedowski’s mouth. A look of betrayal crosses his face.
Edith turns to a shot of her mad doctor brother (Albert Eskinazi) taken from the first movie and sounds off. “Do I have to do all the work around here, Gordon? Would you get off your dead ass and help me pull him inside?”
Recycled Gordon does just that.
Elsewhere, a John Sawyer, Faith Chandler’s successor at County Social Services, is told to round up a homeless bag woman named Brownie (Irmgard Millard, Louise from the last movie — that’s right, the same actors return to play slightly different roles!) and check her into whatever healthcare facility will accept her — because, as the man giving Sawyer his orders puts it, “the merchants have been complaining to the mayor” about her. Hold up, merchants? What is this, 16th century Europe? It may well be the way Brownie’s dumped off at Shady Palms Clinic without her consent.
Sawyer locates the bag woman in back of a strip mall loading food from a dumpster into a shopping cart and politely says hi. Like a hippie Satanist hopped up on Rabies-filled meat pies, Brownie whips out a knife and starts spewing death threats. “I’ll kill you, kill you, you dirty motherfucker.” she threatens. Lucky for Sawyer, he’s able to smooth talk the volatile vagrant into his car with a jug of white wine, then drive her to Shady Palms Clinic without further incident. This, of course, is unlawful. People can’t be admitted to mental health facilities for being homeless — for pulling knives, maybe, but Sawyer’s plan was in place long before that.
“This is Brownie. I’m afraid we don’t know her last name…” Sawyer explains to Nurse Edith in person. Then, leaning in, a bit quieter, “She’s got a few things in [her] bag that she shouldn’t have.”
Doing her best to be nice, Edith thanks him and shuts the front door. Then, lowering the facade, she turns to Ms. Brownie. “Give me that bag, you dirty old bitch.”
Brownie backs up a step.
“I said gimme that bag. Gimme that bag!”
Brownie whips out the knife once again and gives chase, grumbling profanities as the two clumsily circumnavigate the facility’s living room. Will this be the end of Nurse Edith?
Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
Hardly. In between screams for help, Edith is able to calm Brownie down with more alcohol. She brings her a small glass of sherry, then stabs her eleven times in the chest the moment her guard comes down. Brownie falls to the floor with a comically overdone death gurgle. Edith drags her (presumably) dead ass to the basement.
Brownie comes to notwithstanding her life threatening injuries, though, because, as director Millard states in the DVD commentary, “Brownie is tough, see. She’s a street person. She’s used to sleeping in doorways. You can’t kill Brownie.” The resilient bag woman hobbles upstairs and proceeds to slash Gordon several times with her knife for touching her precious bag before Edith runs in from offscreen and finishes what she started with eight more strikes to the spine, this time with a cleaver.
Back in his office, Sawyer is told to round up a second pesky civilian named Mischa Rudzinski for shouting right-wing political beliefs outside of City Hall. “This is Communist city. San Francisco is Communist city… You’ve got big mess here in San Francisco!” the “self-styled” street philosopher shouts out in broken English. Sawyer nabs him and takes him to Shady Palms Clinic as well. The guy doesn’t last long.
A proverbial wrench is thrown into the works when Faith Chandler’s identical twin sister Charity (Frances Millard, again) comes snooping around in search of her (decomposing) sister.
The whole operation comes down shortly after when Edith’s basement-dwelling rats (or “longtails” as she affectionately refers to them) drag bloody bits of remains onto the front lawn. A Sargent Gallagher (Nick Millard himself) drops in to have the bits analyzed and put the kibosh on Shady Palms Clinic’s shady business model once and for all.
If you feel like you’ve seen these credits before, it’s because you have. They’re the opening credits from Criminally Insane. They were used again in that movie’s sequel, for a third time in Death Nurse, and now for the fourth (but not final) time in Death Nurse 2. No, there’s no glitch in the Matrix. It’s completely normal to experience feelings of déjà vu like this marathon-ing through Nick Millard’s work.
Death Nurse 2, you see, is just one of five SOV (meaning shot-on-video, recorded directly to VHS tape with a camcorder) horror movies Nick Millard pumped out in the span of two years from 1987-1988, and they’re all pretty much the same thing.
These “movies” were “filmed” in Nick Millard’s home on budgets of exactly nothing, starring himself, his friends, and a short list of regulars, using the same consumer-grade camcorder.
Madman Millard was apparently so opposed to cracking the checkbook open those years that he not only drew every take out as long as he possibly could to fill time, but cut-and-pasted large hunks of footage from his higher quality 70s movies into the new ones. The saddest part? They still fell short of the one-hour feature-length finish line half the time. Another one of his trademarks was zooming, like, a lot — as many as four times a shot and almost exclusively when nothing in frame needed emphasizing. Because zoom function.
Criminally Insane II, for example, includes approximately sixteen minutes, fifty-six seconds of recycled 70s footage and no less than eighty-eight zooms. Death Nurse includes approximately eight minutes, thirteen seconds of recycled 70s footage and no less than sixty-three zooms. Both trademarks are again on display in the topic of this here review. Death Nurse 2 includes roughly five minutes flat of recycled 70s footage (as well as numerous scenes from the first Death Nurse), and no less than fifty-five zooms. If nothing else, Nick Millard newcomers can take comfort knowing these numbers trend downward as the movies go on.
They can also take comfort knowing Death Nurse 2 is chock-full of just as many, if not more, idiosyncrasies as the first movie.
One of these idiosyncrasies is the lack of post-production attention paid to the soundtrack that accompanies this flick’s many kill scenes, comprised of rapid-fire split-second shots of Nurse Edith raising her tinfoil weapons and equally short shots of those weapons hitting her victims. Normally, in the editing room, audio tracks are tweaked and synced up with the scenes to play naturally. Not here. Basically, whenever one of the shots cuts, the audio cuts out as well. This might not sound like a big deal, but it’s something we take for granted. Look at this waveform of Mischa’s death. As pictured below, the guy’s wailing is broken up into several short bursts like a long-distance walkie talkie transmission with interference.
During an actual murder, one would expect to hear a continuous, uninterrupted scream from the victim — yet every time the camera leaves Mischa, his voice cuts out. The result is a jerky, audibly harsh series of sounds that goes something like:
The “ehs” and “oophs” before the hyphens in the hyphenated words above are Edith’s downswings. In other words, it appears Mischa screams only after he’s hit. Not the whole time. Very peculiar, indeed.
In spite of its shortcomings (nonspoiler: the whole thing), I found the first Death Nurse to be hugely super awesome. If you’re one of the every person on this planet minus fifty people that hasn’t seen it — in which case why are you reading this? — I can best describe it to you as a blackly humorous B-(fuck it, Z-)grade comedy-slasher that works ok the way its supposed to at face value, but more so ironically because of how bad it is.
This one is more of the same.
Superficially speaking, this sequel shows modest signs of improvement, most noticeable of which are perhaps its location shots of the San Francisco area. In my opinion, the characters are fewer, stronger, and more interesting this go around as well. And to top it all off, the man who plays Sawyer is actually a charismatic actor, or at least he appears to be when compared to the rest of the wooden cast.
Now, that’s not to say that Ms. Alden is bad as Nurse Edith. Far from it. Her style is just more of the dry, refined type. She uses crazy things like facial expressions and other subtleties such as the way she squints during each sip of tea to establish her character. Director Millard maintains that Ms. Alden was actually a classically trained theatre actor who loved attending the arts, especially opera, and I don’t doubt it.
To the opposite point, there’s not much to be said about Albert Eskinazi’s performance. There’s really no defending this guy. I will say, however, that he brings a weird charm to the table and at least he’s got a good chin. One difference between this flick and the last is that Gordon’s role has been downsized dramatically, as if Eskinazi had only a small window of time to crank out his scenes between other engagements. Gordon is stabbed early on and spends the rest of the outing’s short runtime recouping in bed looking disillusioned or bored, rudely ignoring his sister’s dialogue. By film’s end, he’s spoken less than one-hundred words — ninety-seven by my count.
All in all, Death Nurse 2 is, if nothing else, a consistent sequel. It’s every bit as bad as the first with some minor, almost imperceptible differences and improvements. Be that as it may, I’m deducting a point for there not being surgery scenes, which I felt were the strongest and funniest parts of the first installment.
Extra features for the Slasher // Video disc are as follows: commentary with Nick and Irmgard Millard, alternate commentary with Jesus Teran and Jason Durant (?), a photo gallery, an interview, an original skit with Nick and Irmgard Millard, trailers, and more!
4 right-wing conservative street speeches out of 5.
Where I Got It
these other Slasher // Video titles:
Satan’s Blade (1984)
Splatter: Architects of Fear (1986)
Killer Workout (1987)
Deadly Prey (1987)
The Cemetery Sisters (1987)
Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)
Cinco De Mayo (2013)