The review I slapped up the other day for visionary director Nick Millard’s Gunblast got more hits than my little site here has seen in months — just over 800, if you must know — so I figured, hey, why not go back to the well (assuming it isn’t already dry) and see if we can keep the admittedly low-rent “momentum” we’ve got going around here stoked to its current less-than-fever-pitch by talking some more Millard?
Hmmm — let’s see — we’ve already covered Death Nurse and Death Nurse 2 — ditto for Criminally Insane and Criminally Insane 2 — Satan’s Black Wedding, maybe? Nope, did that awhile back, as well — and Cemetery Sisters — and Doctor Bloodbath — and The Terrorists —
Hey, wait! What about 1977’s .357 Magnum? That’s previously-uncharted (at least around here) territory — let’s give that one a go, shall we?
True, this one predates Nick’s second — or maybe third, depending on how you look at things — act as an SOV auteur by a good few years, and it runs a little long by his standards clocking in at a whopping 71 minutes, but nearly all the essential elements of a distinctly Millard-ian viewing experience are present and accounted for here, apart from a plethora of recycled footage from earlier films in the director’s CV.
Roll call : opening scene in the “jungles” of “Angola” that has nothing to do with the rest of the film and features entirely different characters; bizarre introduction to our supposed “leading man,” CIA “black ops” agent Johnny Hightower (regular Millard “rep company” member Marland Proctor, here working under the name Marland T. Stewart) nursing some sort of hand wound in a hospital; stock footage of Hong Kong with San Francisco’s Chinatown standing in for it (and, a bit later, for Tokyo) when the actual “action” starts (with the flow of automobile traffic reversed to make things look, ya know, “realistic”); weird scenes of a bearded dude walking around with a — you guessed it — .357 Magnum; Johnny leaving the hospital and going to Tuscon, where he mashes his face between a pair of boobs (Kathryn Hayes’ boobs, to be specific), and receives an assignment to kill “Clay” (the bearded dude) because he apparently offed a couple of undercover agents in the aforementioned exotic Far East locales that we are supposed to believe look just like Chinatown; Johnny hiring a drunk named Steve (James Whitworth) to “help” with the “mission” ; John and Steve shooting quarters and plates with their — I’m picking up a theme here — .357 Magnums; the house from Criminally Insane turns up for a second (and so does Crazy Fat Ethel, Priscilla Alden, herself); then we cut to the townhouse/condo from the Death Nurse flicks and Cemetery Sisters, where some dudes in stocking masks are breaking in and there’s a shoot-out with some fake blood and that’s really about it.
One nifty little quirk worth mentioning — Millard tore a page from the Doris Wishman playbook here and obviously shot this thing without any sound, so we almost never see anyone’s mouth at all. Even during scenes — and there are plenty of ’em — where people are just sitting around talking. Seriously, whole conversations go by — with plenty of weird close-ups on foreheads, eyes, eyebrows, chins — but you’ll never see a mouth. The post-production sound dubbing makes for some seriously bizarre and ill-timed insertions of musical cues and sound effects, as well. And yet, paradoxically, you never get the sense that anyone here, most notably the director himself (billed under his occasionally-used “Jan Anders” pseudonym) isn’t giving it their all. It’s just that their “all” can only result in the most feeble and half-assed of efforts by most conventional standards. We talk about low-budget cinema a lot around these parts, but I’m not even sure this movie had a budget. It just had a guy with a camera, some film (probably short ends), and a dream.
Chuckle all you want, but there’s a certain nobility in that. Like all Millard works, .357 Magnum doesn’t just disregard any and all rules of conventional filmmaking, it refuses to even acknowledge their very existence. It’s art that operates on an entirely different level of reality than our own, and therefore can’t be judged by any pre-set standards. It’s not a “bad” film — nor is it a “good” one — it is simply a film that got made in the only way its director knew how and for reasons that only he could possibly understand. It’s every bit as beyond our criticism as it is beyond our comprehension.
I would defend the films of Nick Millard to my dying breath if I had to, but guess what? His work does that for me already. It is a hermetically-sealed universe unto itself the likes of which other, more well-regarded and accomplished, directors have spent decades of their lives, not to mention untold millions of dollars, trying to create. It is what it is and no one else has ever been able to come close to even imitating, let alone achieving, it. The intellectually lazy might just call it “hopelessly amateur” and leave it at that. The equally-lazy but somewhat more generous might label it “outsider art” and pat themselves on the back for giving Millard a back-handed compliment. I call it — and I have countless times already in previous reviews — pure genius. And goddamnit, I’m right. But then, I suppose I would say that.