A lot of people hate Milo. In fact, I think the main reason Milo doesn't appear on more people's "worst-of" lists is because so few people have bothered to see it.
The uniformly hostile reactions of viewers and reviewers at the time Milo was released on video kept me from bothering with the film for many years. The shiny, attention-getting cover of the video box also helped dissuade me, as I'd learned to mistrust any movie that needed that kind of special cover art. I lumped it into the same category as similar movies of the time: The Fear, for example, or Pumpkinhead II... movies I supposed I would get to eventually, but which I was in no hurry to investigate.
Thinking of the box art, that irridescent cover showed a little boy with a bright yellow rain slicker... and no face. This was a pretty good image, and it initially had me thinking: ghost story. The impression was misleading, as a quick check of the reviews informed me that Milo falls into the category of Mild Slasher Films. Now that I've actually seen the movie, I realize the cover misleads in another way as well: far from being a faceless ghost, Milo just looks like a little kid with some skin problems. Though his face is kept skillfully shadowed for most of the movie, when we finally see him we have to wonder what all the mystery was about.
So here I am a decade later, and I've finally worked my way down the list to Milo. And I have to admit that overall, Milo isn't nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. It's well-photographed, with a keen eye toward atmospheric lighting, and its score, in the minimalst piano-and-orchestra style made popular by Halloween, is really pretty good. The acting in general is about what you'd expect for a movie of this sort, although the cameo performances by Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas and Vincent "When I Get Cast in Horror Flicks I'm Always the Bad Guy" Schiavelli lend a touch of class the movie barely deserves. It does suffer from a ludicrous story, and an equally ludicrous and unbelieveable monster-menace. One of these two elements is required for a slasher flick to be worthy of note, and since we have neither, Milo would be consigned to the pile of post-80's mediocrities... even without its needlessly, unpleasantly drawn-out ending.
The problems with the story and the monster begin almost immediately. We open with a sepia-tinged prologue, in which 5 little girls (aged about ten) meet a little boy in a yellow slicker in their school playground. We don't really get a good idea when this prologue is taking place: from the clothing the actors are wearing, I would have said early to mid-1960's. From the style of the bikes the girls are riding, I would have guessed early 1970's, the period in which I grew up; and since the bulk of the remaining action takes place in 1993 (as proven by the postmarks on letters reeived by the heroine), the action couldn't be taking place any earlier than 1973. However -- and I don't think I'm giving away any real secrets by revealing this -- we're also given evidence that the eternal child Milo was born in 1953, and passed as a normal child up until the time of the prologue... which brings us back to 1963 as I'd originally thought. This would make the heroine and her friends forty years old at the time the main action of the film takes place, and that's just plain ridiculous. Aside from the fact the main characters don't look any older than their mid-twenties, what slasher film would ever concern itself with protagonists in early middle-age!?
Milo, the kid in the rain gear with the rusty old bicycle, is the son of the local gynaecologist, Dr. Jeeder. Yes, gynaecolgist: is anyone getting creeped out already? Milo has offered to show them something really icky, in true ten-year-old fashion. Together, the boy and the five girls go off to Milo's house, which is also his father's clinic. I should probably mention that one of the girls, the shy Claire, sneaks off and writes something behind a school water fountain before joining the others.
Anyway, Milo (whose face we never see) leads the girls back to his father's clinic, where he shows them shelves full of pickled fetuses (this suggests obstetrics more than gynaecology; but I'm quibbling). Among the preserved remains is one empty jar, labeled with a date in 1953. You see where that's pointing, don't you? Yes; I thought you might. So, having lived up to his part of the bargain, Milo demands what was promised him: the chance to "play doctor" with each of the girls.
That crashing sound you heard was the sound of my disbelief slipping from my grasp and plunging through the floorboards, along with my expectations for the rest of the movie. No matter how dim an opinion you have of girls on the threshhold of puberty, there's no way that five of them are going to go as a group and allow themselves to be groped by the creepiest little boy in the county. I mean, the kid goes around in a raincoat even when the weather's fine! Plus, he talks like a grownup whose voice has been altered with filters or something. No; there's no way these girls would even give Milo the time of day, let alone go off alone with him... and certainly not when four others are waiting their turn in the next room.
But here in Scriptland, that's what our five girls do. The first to go into Dr. Jeeder's examining room with Milo is a little girl caled Ruth. Ruth obediently lies down on the steel table and shuts her eyes tight -- after all, she doesn't have a fast-forward button -- and Milo starts to unbutton her dress. It's hard to tell which is worse: what we might expect from this scene, or what actually happens. Don't worry, though: we're about to retreat from the appalling back to the merely disgusting. As you may have suspected, Milo is much more interested in playing medical examiner than playing doctor, and soon the other four girls waiting outside are distressed to see a line of thick red fluid spilling out from under the door...
...at which point the grown-up Claire sits upright in bed.
It's many years later -- I'm guessing twenty or so -- and Claire is now living in the Big City. We find out gradually that Claire and her family left town after the horrible murder of Ruth. Claire's led a rootless sort of existence ever since, working off-and-on as a teacher, but in general doing nothing to establish herself in a single place and creating no permanent attachments. Just after her restless night, she receives a letter from one of her three remaining childhood friends, May, who is inviting her back to town for her wedding.
Claire goes back for the wedding, big silver-wrapped gift in hand... only to be met at the door of May's house by her two other friends, Abigail and Marian, who are dressed in somber black. May was killed in a car accident the night before.
May, it turns out, had been a much-beloved elementary school teacher. Claire, who is a teacher herself, is suddenly struck with the desire to return to the life that had been taken away from her so long ago: she decides to apply for May's tragically-vacated position. The principal warns her that she'll probably have a difficult time taking the dead woman's place, since the students are feeling her loss very strongly. Nevertheless, Claire gets the job, and on her way out she stops to check under the old water fountain. There she sees the scrawled words: "Claire and Marian are RAD!"
I was expecting something very different. As it is, these words suggest a few possibilities. First, they suggest that the old school janitor, Mr. Kelso (Fargas), isn't takng his cleaning and painting duties very seriously. I mean, after 20 years?? The words also help to confuse the timeline even more, since the tem "rad", or even "radical", wasn't in use until some time in the mid-1980's. Unless this is supposed to suggest that little girls in the present still scrawl their secret messages under school water fountains... in which case it seems a little remarkable that their names would be Claire and Marian.
What I expected the scrawled message to be was a desperate little endearment, something suggesting Claire had a schoolgirl crush on one of her friends... possibly even the one who was killed. This would help to explain her apparent inability to make solid relationships later in life, and would have given some much-needed ambiguity to her decision to abandon her life in the City and renew her old friendships... OK, it's a cliché, but in any case it would have been better than what we got. Rad? Like, gag me with a spoon.
So: Claire goes off to her first day of school, and we're treated to the first truly harrowing scene of the movie. It's the dreaded "New Teacher Tries to Connect with her Class" scene. You know the scene I mean: it's the sort of ghastly sentimental nonsense that all bad writers think they can do. We see the kids wrestling with some "problems" in a ham-fisted, obvious manner, and they express themselves the way an untalented grownup would expect kids to speak. Claire responds by spewing a stream of platitudes that any real kid would reconize as blatant insincerity... but of course, in true movie-of-the-week fashion, the kids seem to respond warmly to the garbage she says to them.
OK. You want some samples? Read 'em and weep:
(The first question the kids ask of Claire, though, is: "Are you married?" If you think like me -- God help you -- then you might have made the connection between a kid named Milo, a new teacher in town, and students' questions about her personal life, and expected a smarmy lawyer and a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet to appear on the scene. Not to mention a talking penguin. Oh, the cruel dashing of my hopes... But enough of that: L.H. Puttgrass signing off and heading for the tub!)TOKEN BLACK GIRL: What makes you think you can be a teacher?
Claire's maudlin attempts to bond with her students are quickly undermined when she starts seeing a familiar slicker-clad shape out of the corner of her eye. We might think the return to the place of her childhood trauma had unhinged her a little, but for the fact that we've been catching glimpses of yellow even before Claire did. Claire thinks she sees Milo stopping to talk to one of her schoolkids, but the shape is gone before Claire can get Kelso to confirm what she thinks she sees. Claire starts to get nervous and distracted, which undoes a lot of the progress she'd made with her class; while someone on the outside -- perhaps Milo himself? -- keeps feeding the kids little bits of information about Claire's past that give them still more of the upper hand over their teacher.
Now, naturally, Claire knows that the murderous creep from her childhood is unlikely to be hanging around, and in any case he's certainly not a ten-year-old boy any more. So she keeps relatively quiet about what she's seen (or what she thinks she's seen). And so it goes until one night when Claire stops by Abigail's house to look at some old Super-8 movies of their childhood. After Claire leaves, Abigail sits alone and finishes watching a reel shot at an early birthday party. As the little girls dance around the house in their costumes, the home-movie camera picks up a sweatshirt-clad Milo arriving outside on his bike. The girls run out to see him; the boy is carrying a black medical bag, out of which he draws a scalpel. He holds it up for the girls to see... Oh, brother. We can see in the film that there are adults present at the party, and for crying out loud, there's an adult filming it. At what point was someone going to step in and say, "That's enough, little boy! This is more than a little creepy!"? And why on earth did the family keep this particular reel of film after everything that happened?
No matter, though. The point of all this was to keep Abigail's attention fixed on the screen as the murderous shape of Milo suddenly launches himself through it.
The next morning, the police show up at Claire's door. Abigail has disappeared, and her house shows signs of a violent struggle. Claire being the new girl in town, and an unmarried one at that, she attracts a good deal of suspicion. Claire keeps quiet, but afterwards confesses to Marian that she knows Milo has killed Abigail. Marian thinks she's nuts.
Claire continues to see Milo in fleeting moments. Once, she has to swerve to avoid him -- nearly having an accident on the spot Kelso says is the place where May died. To make matters even ickier, one of the boys in Claire's class starts showing up on Milo's bike, dressed in Milo's slicker... and speaking Milo's own words from twenty years ago.
Things come to a head after recess one day, when one more kid than usual seems to come in after the bell rings. Claire is caught outside the classroom when a familiar, unmistakeable voice calls her from behind. In her panic, Claire slams the door shut by accident, and is unable to open it before the yellow-coated shape jumps her. Claire manages to fight it off, but once she gets back in her classroom she sees the other little boy acting all Milo-esque. It's too much for her, and she passes out.
When Marian comes to get Claire -- from the school nurse's office, embarrassingly enough -- Claire insists on going to the one place where she thinks she might find some answers: the presumably-abandoned office of Dr. Jeeder. While they're ransacking the dusty records, Marian run into Dr. Jeeder himself... not dead, not gone, merely reclusive. When Claire starts explaining her theory that Milo has returned, Jeeder drags them out to the back yard. There, anguish evident in his eyes, he shows them his son's grave: Milo drowned in the river trying to escape the police after he killed Ruth.
Well. That would seem to be that. We might believe it, too, except for two things: first, the movie has done nothing so far to establish any ambiguity as to whether the figure of Milo is something in Claire's imagination. Second, Dr. Jeeder is played by Vincent Schiavelli. Draw your own conclusion.
Actually, you don't have to: on their way home that night, Claire and Marian catch sight of a little boy on a rusty old bicycle. Marian sees him, too -- which is just too bad for Marian. Things are about to get very ugly indeed...
I'm not going to go too much further into the plot, but in order to sum it all up, I'm going to have to reveal a thing or two about the ending. Ready for a few spoilers?
Milo manages to hold its own as an adequate, if routine, slasher flick up until the Grand Finale. Just before things start to lose control, and about ten minutes before Milo turns into an overwrought imitation of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, we're actually given one truly inspired moment. That moment comes courtesy of Vincent Schiavelli, which should hardly be surprising. Claire has called him -- Dr. Jeeder, that is -- as the only person left who could possibly believe her story. As she tears into her Oscar® moment, begging him for his help with all the fake emotion she can muster, Schiavelli just glares at her as though she's lost her mind; he out-acts her with his eyebrows. Then, in the moment of stillness after she's said her bit, Schiavelli's Dr. Jeeder tun away from the door and agrees to help her. He's still acting as though he thinks she's nuts, though there's enough ambiguity in his body language that we might suspect he knows more than he'll admit. Slowly, hesitantly, he moves across the empty classroom towards Claire. Slowly, he reaches out and pulls over a child-size chair; with great deliberation, he lowers his large frame onto the tiny seat. This perfectly-observed gesture is one of the last worthy moments in the film -- at least until the scene in which Antonio Fargas gets to bitch-slap that little bastard Milo.
Claire makes the terrible mistake of trusting Dr. Jeeder, when a little thought would have shown her he's the one person she should be most afraid of. After all, unless Milo is a ghost (and that's highly unlikely even in horror movie terms), somebody had to keep him fed and sheltered all these years. Somebody had to provide alibis and possibly even a body to the police (more about that later). And who more logical to have created the conspiracy than the boy's own father? But Claire invites herself into a disastrous situation, leading to twist after twist after cruel twist. Every time you think the bloodbath has reached its most sadistic climax, it gets worse, more repellent, more ridiculously shrill. And while it goes without saying that Milo concludes with one of those "it's over but it isn't over" endings, this one is so ineptly put together that there's no way of telling what it's supposed to mean.
And while we're on the subject of confused meanings: it's been suggested by some that Milo is a slasher flick with an anti-abortion message. It isn't. There are indications in the script that this might have been intended at some point -- for example, as mentioned above, Claire starts blithering to her kids about how children are our greatest legacy, as though to ram a point home to the audience. There's also a moment in which Claire, well-qualified techer that she is, tells her kids that human fetuses have gills that enable them to breathe in the mother's womb. This is biologically inaccurate: though the developing human embryo does bear a close superficial resemblance to the early fetal or even larval stages of other animals, the fetus doesn't actually have gills at any point. It gets its oxygen entirely from its mother's bloodstream. This tidbit of misiformation was probably slipped in to explain how Milo survived drowning, even though his body was presumably recovered... being a reanimated fetus, he kept some of his original fetal superpowers!
Yes, you read that correctly: in case I didn't make the point beforehand, Milo was a dead fetus which Dr. Jeeder nursed back to life in his laboratory. But he was not, repeat not, an aborted fetus, as some reviewers have claimed. He was a stillbirth, or possibly a miscarriage... the script is a little unclear which. But there's a big diference between a stillbirth and an abortion. Again, there are points in the script when the anti-abortion message might be glimpsed, provided you're really looking for it. But like Claire's scribbles under the water fountain, it seems as though the filmmakers created an obvious opportunity for themselves, and then backed off at the last minute.
What we end up with, far from being an anti-abortion statement, is a film that takes a very dim view of the human fetus. Here's poor Dr. Jeeder, unable to have children of his own, horrified by the waste of so many unborn children dying (for any reason you'd like to supply). He finds a way to breathe life back into the body of a child born dead, and what does he end up with? A bloodthisty monster who remains trapped in the body of a prepubescent child. When the boy reaches mental adulthood while failing to undergo puberty -- that is, when his brain realizes what he's missing but his body is unable to provide it -- the bizarre murders begin (and worse things follow, as we find out at the end). And Dr. Jeeder, who only wanted a child of his own, is forced to become an accomplice to the bloody deeds. Ungrateful little bastard... What more can we say? Babies are evil. It's enough to make an impressionable viewer want to go out and demand an abortion.
Milo's obvious ancestor is that often-filmed German potboiler Alraune, about the soulless seductress born in a lab from the seed of a criminal and the egg of a prostitute. These days, in-vitro fertilization is a fairly common and well-understood practice -- which is why there are thousands of beautiful dead-eyed murderers walking our streets, right? Phooey.
To sum up, then, Milo is the bastard child of Alraune and Freddy Krueger. The movie deserves at least a little of the dreadful reputation it's got, though it is fun to see Antonio Fargas as the child-hating janitor Kelso, and Vincent Schiavelli is a solid presence as the enigmatic doctor. All in all, Milo isn't the worst of the post-Slasher Boom attempts at creating a distinct new villain... though, if it had just a bit more courage and ambition, it probably could have been.
If only it had been one of the worst: then, at least, its sheer awfulness might have given more people an excuse to watch it, and might have inspired them to remember it for a moment or two after the movie was over.