Monday, January 23, 2023

freakboy on film: BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (1970)


Bloodthirsty Butchers, 1970.  Directed by Andy Milligan.  Written by John Borske & Andy Milligan.  Starring John Miranda, Annabella Wood, Berwick Kaler.  The movie poster shows people screaming and a man wielding a cleaver.   Text reads, Their prime cuts were curiously erotic…and thoroughly brutal.   Sadism was just an appetizer for the Bloodthirsty Butchers!

I guess you could call me a Sweeney Todd fan.  I have experienced the stage musical twice and I enjoy the Tim Burton film, even though it doesn’t compare to the energy and thrill of a live performance.  So, I was intrigued and excited when I discovered Andy Milligan wrote and directed a non-musical version of the gruesomely amusing Todd tale.  Though, I would love to see Milligan on Broadway!  Can you imagine the corrosively crazy vibe his material would bring to The Great White Way?   

Anyhoo, my initial viewing of BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS was on a cheap DVD and it left me more than a little baffled.  I found the story to be more disjointed and confusing than usual for a Milligan film and I kept wondering if there was going to actually be blood in BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS.  I didn’t hate it, but I was disappointed. 

Then I experienced the posthumous “director’s cut” on The Dungeon of Andy Milligan box set and a scarlet veil was gradually lifted from my half-blind eyes!  There was more gore and I came to understand and even revel in the character-driven plot.  Milligan chose to focus less on the people being baked into pies and more on the relationships and romantic entanglements.  Seriously, it is best to have a working knowledge of the story before watching or you might get confused very quickly. 


Sweeney Todd is preparing a barbershop customer for murder.
Sweeney preparing dinner

In BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, nearly everyone is unhappy in their relationship.  Sweeney Todd, besides giving customers a severely close shave to steal their expensive trinkets, has to deal with an alcoholic wife and a difficult showgirl mistress.  Never mind his relationship to Mrs. Lovett.  Maggie Lovett, besides baking Sweeney’s customers into scrumptious pies, has to deal with her invalid husband and a couple of debatably good employees.  Tobias Ragg, besides butchering Sweeney’s customers for Mrs. Lovett’s pies, has to deal with his demanding girlfriend and then make time to harass his coworker Johanna.  Johanna Jeffrey, besides being a shopgirl for Mrs. Lovett, has to help with taking care of Mr. Lovett while pining for her love Jarvis to return. 

Jarvis and Johanna bask in sunny afterglow
Jarvis & Johanna crave an after-sex pie

Jarvis eventually returns and life seems happy for Johanna.  Well, until he flashes a piece of jewelry for his beloved in front of Sweeney.  Now Jarvis is missing and the community is becoming increasingly suspicious of two local business owners.  Seems like a lot of missing folk were last seen getting a trim from Mr. Todd.  It doesn’t matter that it has mainly been beggars, thieves and prostitutes disappearing.  They are still people.  Then there is talk about the declining quality of Mrs. Lovett’s pies.  Apparently most people are disgusted to find a chunk of human hair in their pie or even a woman’s breast popping out from under the crust.  Tobias has grown careless in his work, which leads to a power struggle between the three bloodthirsty butchers!  Who will live?  Who will die?  Who will be baked into a pie?  My hungry lips are sealed! 

Tobias peers around a corner.
There is nothing at all creepy about Tobias

BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS is one of Andy Milligan’s British films and, despite my initial reaction, he is in top form.  Unconventional pacing and editing, including the “swirl camera” to represent out of control violence.   Personal rants disguised as overly theatrical dialogue.   Corrosively cynical characters who are generally horrible to everyone.   Occasional doses of acidic humor, especially when Mrs. Lovett helps a customer who wants a specific “part” in his pie.   All of this adds up to a delirious, delectable low-budget grindhouse feast that only Andy Milligan could serve us. 

Mrs. Lovett slyly assists an excited customer
Only Mrs. Lovett knows what “part” he wants in his pie

He also served up some fascinating performances.  Jane Hilary gives the strongest performance in the film as the sly Mrs. Lovett.  Berwick Kaler sheds the sympathetically pathetic persona of his NIGHTBIRDS character to become believably creepy and repulsive as Tobias.  John Miranda is effectively domineering as Sweeney Todd.  Annabella Wood and Michael Cox as young lovers Johanna and Jarvis give the weakest performances, which makes sense in a Milligan film since love is often shown as frivolous, if not pointless.  Though I must give a special shout-out to George Barry as a drag performer who works with Sweeney’s showgirl mistress.  Corky will never win RuPaul’s Drag Race, but the character lights up the room and may be the kindest soul to ever grace a Milligan film. 

Corky talks with His coworker and Sweeney Todd.
Corky gives sage advice and make-up tips

In conclusion…

Despite my less than thrilling first experience, BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS has steadily grown on me with repeat viewings.  That is one thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years.  The more times you watch a Milligan film, the more you come to appreciate and embrace his uniquely off-kilter vision.  Well, except for maybe SURGIKILL, but that’s another post for another time.  Anyhoo, if you are in the mood for some bloody British horror through the lens of a 42nd Street American grindhouse director, then pop in a beef pot pie and savor the flagrant flavor of Andy Milligan’s BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS! 

Thank you for reading or listening to my half-blind words.

Freak Out, 


P.S. Click the pic ⤵️ for more Milligan! 

Frankie bleeds on Jamie


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  1. I have to admit John that I still haven't worked up the courage to watch an Andy Milligan film, but if anything can turn the tide it's your reviews. Did not realize that he had taken his show across the pond to Britain. Every time you turn around, he reveals new depths (take that any way you like!). :-)

    1. Take your time, brian! Andy Milligan is definitely not for everyone and may ultimately be an acquired taste.

      Oh yes, he directed five films over in England, which is impressive for a grindhouse director.

  2. This sounds like a soap crossed with a horror and a killer twist.

  3. You're turning into quite the Milligan scholar, John! When are you starting your cross-country lecture tour? ;) I've probably seen almost half a dozen Milligan films because of you, and based on your fun review, I need to see this one as well. The Sweeney Todd angle is too tantalizing to miss!

    1. I think that is a brilliant idea, berry! I could rent out the back room of the library for only $25 and hold my first of what I'm sure would be many many Andy Milligan lectures! 😆

      I'm happy to hear I've been a positive influence in your cinematic life and I hope bloodthirsty butchers entertains on many levels!

  4. I had no idea Milligan tried his hand at Sweeney Todd. You always manage to lure me into watching more Milligan. I'll be looking this one up.

    If you like Sweeney Todd, I recommend watching the 1936 film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It stars Tod Slaughter as Sweeney and he gives a delightfully campy performance.

    1. It's my mission in life to spread the word of milligan! Lol

      Thank you for the recommendation! I knew there were older versions of the story, but I have not seen them! I will definitely look this one up!