Director Interview: Nick Millard

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

“Yes, We Perform Abortions Here.” — Nick Millard’s “Butcher Knife” (1987)

Scan NA

Directed By
Nick Millard as Nick Philips

Version Reviewed
N/A

Total Runtime
~56 minutes, 53 seconds

Synopsis
Abortion physician Roger Thorn (Albert Eskinazi) makes an unannounced house call to a patient of his. “One of the standard tests we do came back positive.” he informs a young woman (Leslie Simon, one half of the Cemetery Sisters) from across her dining room table.

Befuddled, the young woman replies, “I didn’t know you made any tests.” Perhaps she meant ran.

The doctor responds sharply — well, sharper than he was speaking. It may have been sharp were he not so glum, so emotionally checked out. “Of course we do. We do more than just perform an abortion.” Then, only briefly elaborating, “It’s necessary to start you on vitamin injections to clear up the infection.”

“What infection?” you’d most likely ask were you in this woman’s shoes. I mean, I would. I typically prefer to know what’s wrong with me before signing off on the treatment for it. Well, the young woman on screen doesn’t care, consent is implied, I guess, and without so much as another word, Roger grabs a needle from his little black bag and sticks her right there at the table.

“Something’s wrong,” the soon-to-be-murder-victim murmurs almost instantaneously. “I feel tired.” Less than ten seconds later, she’s out. That’s a fast acting sedative!

In stone faced silence, the doctor carries her unconscious body upstairs to a bathroom and lays her down in the tub. He returns to his bag, grabs the title weapon — a big ol’ butcher knife — plods upstairs once again, and proceeds to robotically stab away at the young woman’s midriff. She groans and gasps a few times in discomfort — either due to the dying or actor Eskinazi’s unbearably rigid, over-pronounced body language — then expires, her body a bloody mess.

That spatter could work as a Rorschach test.

That spatter could work as a Rorschach test.

The action then cuts to a shot of a San Francisco street. Two cable cars slow to a stop. A man crosses traffic. I assumed at first this was stock footage, but judging by the arbitrary zoom at the end, it’s Nick Millard’s own.

We reconvene with Roger as he wraps up a seminar he’s giving in what I presume is supposed to be an auditorium full of his colleagues (which was, in actuality, a bedroom). He drives his speech home on a Hippocratic — and hypocritical — note, stating “…a doctor’s primary concern has always been, and must always be, the health and well-being of his patient. Thank you.”

That evening, Roger plops onto his couch looking stressed. Upstairs, his wife (Irmgard Millard) rubs perfume on her old lady pancakes in front of a large, ornate mirror. She comes down, explains that she’s gussied up for a “garden club banquet”, then secretly rendezvouses with a balding, out-of-work poet named Jersey who barely speaks English and bums money off her, cos hey a plot. On her way out the door, Ms. Thorn tells her white maid Juanita (?) to cook Roger dinner.

The cutaway shot of the ethnically-incorrectly-named maid that comes next was taken from Satan’s Black Wedding. Here, believe it or not, Millard actually spliced footage in of a separate character from an older, unrelated movie of his. The biggest problem with this is that Butcher Knife was shot on video (i.e. recorded directly to VHS with a camcorder), whereas the moments featuring “Juanita the maid” were filmed nearly fifteen years prior on actual film stock and look nothing like it. In short, this is one of the least seamless edits you’ll see, probably ever.

Back at the crime scene, a black man with moles on his face named Lieutenant David Chandler shakes his head in what might be disgust peering down at the strangely intact and pristine looking corpse of the victim from only a few minutes earlier. “Poor kid never had a chance.” he says to himself in a wannabe hardboiled tone.

Another spliced-in character, this time a policeman, shouts up from the floor below, “We’re finished down here Lieutenant.” At this point, I couldn’t help but suspect the whole reason Roger carried that woman upstairs to begin with was to set up this splice — in which case, I’m extremely disappointed but not in the least bit surprised.

Lieutenant Chandler (who is of unknown relation to Faith and Charity Chandler of the Death Nurse dulogy) looks back at the bloodless dead body before him. “I’m gonna find the son of a bitch that did this to you. I promise.” he vows. Will he make good on his word, or simply pop in to say various cynical things and make asinine observations without actually following through the way most detective types do in these kinds of movies?

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
I don’t think that question needs answering.

Some time shortly thereafter, Roger knocks on the door of a second former patient of his (Joan Simon, also from The Cemetery Sisters), again with the pretense of anomalous test results, and proceeds to invite himself in. When pressed, the pixie-haired woman admits she’s alone, even though I can hear children yelling in the background gwwaaarrrgghh. Roger moves in with a meat cleaver raised overhead, indicting his prey monotonically, “Murderer.”

_________________________

It’s Roger’s conflicting indictment that separates this shot-on-video slasher from Nick Millard’s others. Butcher Knife, or Doctor Bloodbath as it’s more widely known, is the closest Millard ever came to a serious, psychological horror movie — that’s not to say that it is one per se, but hey, it’s got the leg up.

Here, techniques such as lighting, composition, and editing play more of a part than they have since the guy’s glory days shooting actual films with an actual, you know, camera twelve years prior. As a result, Butcher Knife stands out as the most well-made and dare I say artsy of Nick Millard’s no-budget home video ventures. One “artsy” flourish worth noting is the way Roger’s unstable state of mind is portrayed, bolstered by ten or more shots of him twiddling his thumbs all compulsively, as well as with claustrophobic close-ups of him sitting in church (at least I think it’s a church) looking deeply introspective, or something close to it.

Technically speaking, Butcher Knife is the best of a bad bunch. The Bloody Pit of Horror describes it as “a little more tasteless, a little bloodier, and slightly better made…” All that’s true, but you’ve got to remember, Butcher Knife is still a Millard-er, and that means it bears all the hallmarks of one. It was “filmed” in the crackpot director’s own home on a budget of (no foolin’) nothing, starring his family and friends, and incorporates masturbatory amounts of recycled 70s footage for no apparent reason at all. It clocks in at just under an hour, but runs for six weeks. More over, it gives me that all-too-familiar feeling I’ve stepped through a door to to a parallel universe where nothing fucking happens and everything somehow repeats itself. In other words, Butcher Knife is a poorly made, plodding affair, so much so it’s compelling, hypnotic, addictive even.

Albert Eskinazi, errrm, showed up for the lead. His sole mode of delivery — deadpan — suits the role well and in this instance works. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s really no defending this guy’s acting chops. However, I will say again that he brings a weird charm to the table, and as always, his chin and mustache games are on point.

Get on my level, bitch.

Get on my level, bitch.

Refreshing is the manner in which this movie removed itself from the moral connotations that come with its subject matter. And for that, I’m thankful, as otherwise it would have opposed everything Nick Millard’s movies stand for — nothing. A whole lot of nothing.

The premise of a doctor so ravaged with guilt from performing abortions that he goes off the deep end and starts killing patients is something you’d halfway expect to be loaded with right-wing conservative commentary, and could even be seen by some as pro-life propaganda in and of itself. Yet, for some reason, I doubt director Millard ever gave so much as a thought to the social ramifications behind this thing, or to anything else for that matter besides upping his game only slightly enough to make the proceedings intelligible. Here, he approached the material as only he could — as daftly and drably possible.

The outcome is more or less what you or I or anyone else would expect.

Nick Millard’s movies are by their very nature impossibly pointless and boring. What’s more, they’re content with that standing. They exist for the sake of existing and for no other reason. They have zip to say, do, or prove. It’s an almost existential experience to endure them.

These movies exist, but why? Why do I exist? Why do any of us?

The real genius of it all is how they manage to be genuinely entertaining in the face of these limitations. That, my friends, defies logic. That takes some skill.

Now, for me, a big part of the fun to be had with these types of movies is playing Where’s Waldo? with the goofs and quirks their directors either overlooked, or didn’t think we would notice. In this case, it’s not even challenging. One of Butcher Knife‘s most baffling, head-scratching moments occurs when this woman sits down on screen:

Q: What kind of a tan would you like? A: Just fuck my shit up.

Q: What kind of a tan would you like?
A: Just fuck my shit up.

“I want to have the abortion.” she says.

Roger asks if she’s considered the alternatives.

The woman replies with a lisp for some reason, even though she was speaking just fine but a mere moment earlier. “Yeth, but thith is the eathieth way.”

“Alright.”

HOLY SHIT. WHAT?

The first thing I did after all this transpired was ask myself why the actress/monster above was so tan. I mean, Jesus. There’s no way her look was an oversight, right? Surely Millard would have noticed how grossly unnatural her skin was. Then it dawned on me. Maybe the woman’s not tan after all, maybe she’s decked out in Birth of a Nation-grade blackface. If indeed that’s the case, I pray it’s not cos Millard was unable to find a black actress and felt he could pass this one off as such. However, I wouldn’t put it past him. Let’s not forget, this is the same guy who substituted a washcloth for a surgical mask in Death Nurse, and in this flick alone, a run-of-the-mill turkey baster for a medical device and a kid’s baby doll for a fetus. That’s right, a run-of-the-mill turkey baster for a medical device and a kid’s baby doll for a fetus.

More shocking than Dumplings.

More shocking than Dumplings.

I don’t know what to believe after watching this. Scratch that. I believe Nick Millard believes one of his daughter’s toys he had laying around was a good enough special effect. I believe Nick Millard believes pregnancies can be terminated with turkey basters. I believe Nick Millard believes this is not a bad movie. And you know what? The more I re-watch it, the more I begin to agree with him.

God help me.

I need help.

Like, lots of help.

Sadly, Butcher Knife was released only once by a mail-order VHS company and is therefore impossible to find. It can, however, be watched free of charge on a popular video streaming site, which is where I succumbed to its wiles. Here’s hoping an official DVD release comes our way soon!

Body Count
6.

Only three of these victims are killed via butcher knife.

VICTIM #

NAME

KILLED VIA

1

unknown

butcher knife

2

Ms. Stanley

meat cleaver

3

Ms. Andrews

screwdriver

4

Ms. Rogers

hammer

5

Mrs. Thorn

butcher knife

6

Juanita

butcher knife

Bod Count
0.

Overall Enjoyability
5 old women in blackface out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
N/A.

Recommendations
this alphabetized sampling of other shot-on-video (horror) movies:

555 (1988)
Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)
Blood Cult (1985)
Boardinghouse (1982)
Cannibal Campout (1988)
Death Nurse (1987)
Demon Queen (1987)
Ganjasaurus Rex (1987)
Goblin (1993)
Las Vegas Bloodbath (1989)
Mutilations (1986)
Redneck Zombies (1989)
Sledgehammer (1983)
Spine (1986)
Splatter Farm (1987)
Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987)
The Burning Moon (1992)
The Cemetery Sisters (1987)
The Hook of Woodland Heights (1990)
Venus Flytrap (1987)
Video Violence (1987)
Violent Shit (1989)
Woodchipper Massacre (1988)
Zombie Bloodbath (1993)