You have to hand it to Nick Millard : long after the point where you or I would have retired our Sony Betacams and looked for work selling power tools, cleaning offices overnight, or digging ditches, he kept on making direct-to-video horror flicks. Heck, I’m friends with him on facebook and I can tell you for a fact that he’s still at it to this day. Whether or not the projects he’s currently working on will ever see the light of day only time, I suppose, will tell, but I’ll say this much — I’d never bet against Nick. Sheer determination has kept him in the game this long, and will probably keep him in it for some time to come, provided his health co-operates (which thankfully, so far, seems to be the case).
So yeah — Nick’s not done making movies (at least in his mind and/or on paper), but his 1980s straight-to-video (and shot on video) numbers will probably always be what he’s best remembered for, and it pleases me no end to see something of a small-scale revival going on in terms of fan interest in those flicks. Jesus Teran over at Slasher Video has enjoyed some modest success and garnered rave critical reviews for his DVD releases of Millard’s Death Nurse films, and with 2013 marking the 25th anniversary of yet another production shot for the most part in Nick’s former Pacifica, California condo, namely 1987’s Cemetery Sisters, giving that film the full Slasher treatment in celebration of its silver jubilee seemed a no-brainer.
I guess there’s not much point in deluding ourselves — “no-brainer” is a fairly apt description of the film itself, as well, but as with all Millard projects, it’s brainlessness pursued with a kind of earnest integrity and heart that sets Cemetery Sisters apart from much of the ’80s SOV pack. Sure, the primary goal here seems to be filling up 60 minutes of videotape at minimal (if any) cost, but if Nick’s gonna kill an hour of our lives so he can make his mortgage for the next couple of months, at least he’s gonna do it his way.
Our story here revolves around two sisters, Joan and Leslie (played by real-life sisters — wait for it — Joan and Leslie Simon), who grew up in a family-owned mortuary and now, as adults, long to open a funeral parlor of their own. And what the hell — they’ve already got their first set of customers lined up because the two have been serially marrying lonely middle-aged guys, convincing them to take out hefty insurance policies, and then bumping them off for their cash (bilking the system by means of murder also being the central plot conceit employed in the Death Nurse series). It takes real dedication to resort to killing in order to start up a business working with the deceased, it seems to me, so give our two deadly dames credit for getting some practice in ahead of time prior to their hoped-for grand opening.
Apart from the Simon siblings, the cast here is primarily composed of Millard (unpaid, I’m guessing) mainstays like Albert Eskinazi, Nick’s wife Irmi, and yes, the writer/director himself even makes an appearance, so we’re in pretty familiar territory all the way around here — in fact, be on the lookout for the same rehashed clips from Criminally Insane that were used to pad out the runtime in both Death Nurse movies being employed for the same ends here (although they’re presented as dreams rather than flashbacks, thus ensuring that their inclusion makes even less actual sense here). Yup, folks , we’ve seen this all before — and I do mean that literally.
Still, there’s no denying that Cemetery Sisters entertains even as it kills more brain cells than a fifth of cheap bourbon downed in a single sitting, and Jesus has, as we’ve come to expect, pulled out all the stops as far as assembling a genuinely comprehensive package goes — the full-frame picture and mono sound are both culled from Millard’s personal master videotape copy, and while it all looks and sounds as crummy as it deserves to, it’s not gonna get any better than this, so sit back and enjoy. On the extras front, we’ve got a full-length commentary with Nick and Irmi moderated by Teran, a short video production from the mind of Millard called Death Sisters that treads more or less the exact same ground as the feature itself, an on-camera interview with the Millards, a gallery of production stills, the original trailer (as well as trailers for a handful of other Slasher titles), a couple of nifty little hidden “easter eggs” that are worth searching out, and a slide-show-style gallery featuring the art of up-and-coming horror illustrator Jazmin Martinez, who also provides the all-new cover artwork for this release.
You definitely get the abiding sense that Nick Millard knows he wasn’t making Citizen Kane with this or any of his productions, but he still takes a certain amount of professional pride in knowing that he did the best he could with what he had. And why not? It beats punching a time clock and people are still paying good money to add his films to their DVD shelves, so the man has plenty to be proud of. His cinematic legacy may not be one of enduring quality, and to those not “on the same page” with what he’s tried to do it may not even be a particularly interesting one, but shit — it is a legacy (of something, at any rate), and that right there is a lot more than many of us will ever leave behind.
Here’s to hoping that he’s very far from finished.