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)

I Feel Like I’ve Seen This Before — “Death Nurse 2” (1988)

Death Nurse II DVD Scan [black border]

Directed By
Nick Millard as Nick Philips

Version Reviewed
25th Anniversary Slasher // Video DVD © 2013, Region: 1, Format: NTSC

Total Runtime
~59 minutes, 46 seconds

Synopsis
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.

The built-in VCR font is a wonderful touch. Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

The built-in VCR font is a wonderful touch.
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

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.

Ain't that Ethel Janowski's outfit? Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Ain’t that Ethel Janowski’s outfit?
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

“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?

[continued below]

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.

Roll credits.

How can one look so dashed against such beautiful gold tile wallpaper? Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

How can one look so dashed against such beautiful gold tile wallpaper?
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

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.

What the sound of homicide looks like.

What the sound of homicide looks like.

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:

Eh-AAAHH!

(pause)

Eh-GWAAAHH!

(pause)

Ooph-GWAAAHH!

(pause)

Ah.

(pause)

Ah.

(pause)

Ooph-AAAHH!

(pause)

Ack.

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.

Director Millard, immortalized outside the So Bad It's Good Hall of Fame in my head. Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

Director Millard, immortalized outside the So Bad It’s Good Hall of Fame in my head.
Credit: Slasher // Video DVD

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!

Happy collecting!

Body Count
4.

Bod Count
0.

Overall Enjoyability
4 right-wing conservative street speeches out of 5.

Where I Got It
Ebay.com.

Recommendations
these other Slasher // Video titles:

Boardinghouse (1982)
Satan’s Blade (1984)
Splatter: Architects of Fear (1986)
Killer Workout (1987)
Deadly Prey (1987)
The Cemetery Sisters (1987)
Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)
Trashology (2012)
Cinco De Mayo (2013)