25 June 2011

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES/1968/TED V. MIKELS

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES

1968/Director: Ted V. Mikels/Writers: Ted V. Mikels, Wayne Rogers

Cast: Wendell Corey, John Carradine, Tom Pace, Joan Patrick, Tura Satana, Rafael Campos, Joe Hoover


I have to admit that I have been on a real super B-movie or Z-grade film roll for a long while. God knows I watch more of this stuff lately than I can keep up with as far as posting goes. I may soon be shifting gears for a couple posts and do some posts on some other films I have seen lately, like Mr. Majestyk with Charles Bronson, or the Getaway with Steve McQueen or a Japanese film like Woman of the Dunes or Onibaba. Of course I simply love this old B-movies and love writing about them and promoting them. And few Z-grade films have a more special place for me than Ted V. Mikels’ bewildering The Astro-Zombies (sometimes listed as simply Astro Zombies. The poster art says Astro Zombies or Astro-Zombies-with hyphen- while the opening credits say The Astro-Zombies and most searches actually turn up a song by Glenn Danzig’s Misfits, sometimes called The Misfits). I picked this up long ago on VHS and saw it a couple times and really knew little about it other than who John Carradine and Tura Satana were. I will have to admit that this film is not fort everyone, but I love it. Yes, there is tons of padding and wasted opportunities. I feel Tura Satana is not used on screen enough and John Carradine is fun as yet another mad scientist but spends too much time tweaking equipment and babbling pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo to his mute and imbecilic henchman and not enough time really being insane and misguided. But the film is fun and the dialog is priceless I have a couple samples below for your listening pleasure. The dialog is all the more an oddity because the script was co-written by Wayne Rogers, Trapper John from TV’s M*A*S*H. Roger’s was also co-producer and a lot of the property used in the film belonged to him. The film is torn to shreds usually in sites online that I always thought were supposed to pander this stuff. It is a bad film and going into the movie with that knowledge will not make it any better. If you are not a fan of really bad cinema then steer clear. But if you are the type who love seeing greasy haired, stooped over henchmen torment tied up girls in bikinis for no explainable reason, or monsters that consist of phony looking rubber masks with no expression and all of it topped off with the zaniest dialog ever then you will enjoy the time wasted with this grimy jewel. Ted V. Mikels is still alive and working and  I read on his website that is actually planning an Astro-Zombies “part III”, to follow the 2002 straight to DVD release Mark of the Astro-Zombies, which starred Tura Satana. This will not be the only film Mikels film to be featured here at the Café. Coming eventually: The Doll Squad (again with Tura Satana, Blood Orgy of the She Devils, and The Corpse Grinders. You have been warned.

The film starts off with a day for night scene of a woman driving a sweet looking white Ford Mustang convertible with historically relevant shots of the dashboard. She parks her car in a suburban house and soon is attacked and killed by an Astro-Zombie. There was some special reason she was singled out and murdered but I forget that reason right now. You always know an Astro-Zombie is about to attack because of the loud, strange music that announced his arrival. Now you may well be wondering what the hell an Astro-Zombie is exactly. Well simply because I have seen this film about six times does not mean I understand anything about it okay. One professor DeMarco (a mad scientist played by the king of mad scientists John Carradine) was recently dismissed from NASA because of his Astro-Zombie. Seems he could not discriminate between the body of an air force officer and a cadaver and was let go from the team. That will usually do it. The basic idea seems to be that the Astro-Zombie would actually someday be a type of cyborg astronaut that could be controlled by radio wave transmissions from the ground. Why this is necessary is never explained. DeMarco of course now works in secret with his mute, imbecilic and hunched over associate Franchot (William Bagdad who played in a couple other Mikels’ features) and his visions of what the Astro-Zombie can ultimately accomplish has increased in grandeur since he got canned from his cushy job. He now imagines that all the knowledge of the words great minds can be assembled into some sort of computer chip type device and implanted onto the Astro-Zombie and this will be of great assistance to the astronaut while in orbit. Franchot has the miserable task of harvesting body parts for DeMarco’s experiments and at the beginning of the film he seen gathering parts following a car accident. Luckily he must have standing by the shoulder of the isolated stretch of road just as the car plunged over into the ravine below. When Franchot is not busy with this grisly task he is either listening to DeMarco’s convoluted scientific ramblings, watching DeMArco tweak circuit boards for minutes at a time or pursuing his own private experiments on bound up bikini girls.


A group of men associated with DeMarco and his former experiments at NASA have began to worry that the recent wave of mutilation murders around LA may be connected to DeMarco. The team is headed by Dr. Holman (played by character actor Wendell Corey who was now ill and battling the late state alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver from which he would soon die). Brought to assist in the undercover type operation is Eric Porter (Tom Pace from the Girl in the Golden Boots) is one of those sort of handsome guys of the time who can’t really act even when given a good script and believable lines and overacts at being either charming or tough. The office room dialog between Holman, Porter and the other guys is simply great. I am going to try and rip some dialog samples and post those at the bottom if they are successful. Well things are even more complex than they seem already because DeMarco and his secrets are being sought by dragon lady Satana (played by Tura Satana, the tough talkin’ gal who immortalized the Russ Meyer character Varla in Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!) who is a spy from an unnamed country. Her switchblade welding heavy is Juan (Rafael Campos) who also happens to be an electronics genius.

There are some dealing with a underworld people with Russian accents that go askew and a couple guys get stabbed and ran over. Later lascivious Satana is lying on the sofa, smoking from a cigarette holder in her slit gown that all oriental spies wear around the house, listening to the tapes made by DeMarco about his Astro-Zombie experiments. For some reason I cannot fully recall some CIA guys had a hunch that earlier some shady dealing were going to go down at a shady nightclub. They manage to let the Russian spies get killed off without noticing but later wind up at Satana’s hideout in the suburbs and wind up getting caught, tortured and killed off themselves. In one great scene Satana puts out a cigarette on the CIA guy’s face. Too bad there were not more scenes like this of Tura Satana acting evil and merciless. Later a cute lab assistant is killed by an Astro-Zombie back at the space center I guess. Security must be lax.  We know the girl is going to die because she is too sweet and volunteers to take the shift for her college Joan (Janine Norwalk) so she can out with lover boy Tom. We also know when she will die because the loud Astro-Zombie approached music begins seconds before the girl has her blouse ripped off and then repeatedly stabbed. The death scenes in Mikels’ films are not usually too brutal and the sex stuff is played down. He never made a nudie as far as I am aware of. The death scene here is a little more over the top than is typical but still not gory by any stretch. Probably not suitable for Mormons.

There is plenty of padding in the film. Long stretches of film shot in the laboratory with nothing much happening other than noisy blood transfusions and Franchot conducting his experiments on some poor, struggling girl in a gold bikini. We never find out what these experiments are but in one scene Franchot is holding what looks like old radio transistors and smiles perversely as the camera cut back and forth between him looking at the transistor and the girl tied to the lab table. Sadly we never discover what he does with the transistor but I bet there were some discomfort involved. In a sequence that happens in films more often than I find credible Tom Pace (who I now figure is some sort of cop) figures that the Astro-Zombie was actually trying to return to the lab to murder Joan and killed the other girl by mistake and will probably return and asks Joan to be a decoy. She is not a trained policewoman nor is she given a gun but she seems to agree that this is the best way to trap the beast and goes along with the plan. The Astro-Zombie is a tricky devil and never shows up but instead suddenly appears, with blaring music, in Joan’s bedroom while she is in her slip. Tom is outside monkeying with the circuit breaker but manages to chase off the Astro-Zombie. During the conflict the Astro-Zombie’s solar cell is knocked off and in desperate need of power grabs a flashlight and sticks it in the little hole on his forehead.

Juan has figured out where DeMarco’s hideout in the suburbs is by analyzing transmissions to and from the Astro-Zombie and the cops figure it out some other. Needless to say everyone winds up at Demarco’s place at the same time. I should make clear that there are two, yes two, Astro-Zombies. The one that is running around killing everyone is the one that received the brain of a deranged criminal so you have to expect that sort of thing. The other Astro-Zombie is still being put together but once he is completed he will be the physically, intellectually and morally superior human that all Frankenstein type mad scientist long to create. Of they always screw up the first prototype by putting a blasted deranged criminal’s brain into the body! 

Of course fast thinking Tom decides it would be a good idea to bring Joan to the place where the murderous monster is kept and then just leave her alone waiting in the back yard, telling her to just wait and not move. Satana and her gang arrive first and in a pretty unequal knife fight Juan kills Franchot. He himself is later shot when he runs out into the open firing his pistol like James Cagney at the cops. DeMarco suddenly decides he must destroy the evil Astro-Zombie and Satana off him. She winds up dying along the Astro-Zombie in some power box hanging on the wall. And that about wraps it up except for the heroes all standing together at the end and saying some lines about DeMarco not understanding human emotions. The closing sequence is made is the same as the opening and I think is pretty cool. Little toy robots walk around the haze made by one of those old smoke bombs you got at the 4th of July and the soundtrack is some interesting though dissonant noise. But why take my word for any of this when you can see the entire film here at the Uranium Café Matinee. Certainly one of my favorite Grade-Z films. I may poke some fun at it but I enjoy this film and appreciate Mikels’ energy and enthusiasm. Like Ed Wood Jr. he just wanted to make movies and often invested everything he had into getting the things made and distributed. He usually did the production, direction, editing and camera work. Okay, he may not be Orson Welles, but this is great stuff.

2 comments:

ghidorah said...

I have this, unwatched, laying on my HD.

Maybe now that I know Tura is in it, I will give it a go!

Bill D. Courtney said...

Unwatched! My god man, get on it. This is one of the great z-movies of all time. Great bad acting and. I think you will like the hunchback assistant and his experiments and Tura torturing CIA agents with lit cigarettes. Rambling scientific experiments and, of course, the Astro Zombies themselves. This is homework! Check it out soon and get a post up on it. I think you will "like" it.