John Carradine stars in this pitiful excuse for a horror film as Dr. DeMarco, a guy who is working on creating “astro-men,” which are essentially dead guys souped-up with plastic innards and computer-chips implanted in their brains who run off solar power…because, why not? One of his creations, due to having the brain of a criminal, is loose and committing murders, mutilating the bodies of its victims and stealing organs. Meanwhile, ever-inebriated Wendell Corey heads up a task force of some kind of governmental secret agents who are trying to track down DeMarco, and Tura Satana (playing a character named Satana) is a foreign agent also trying to find DeMarco to get her hands on the astro-man plans. The three factions come together at the very end of the film for a slam-bang finale, but not before 85 minutes of sheer tedium have passed.
The writer and director of this dumpster fire of a film is a guy named Ted V. Mikels, who was born as Theodore Vincent Mikacevich in Minnesota in 1929. He later moved to Oregon and shot his first film, Strike Me Deadly, there. Ted arrived in Hollywood in the mid-1960s, where (while working mainly as a cinematographer on films such as Day of the Nightmare, The Hostage, and Catalina Caper), he continued to write and direct his own films, a couple of which he made in partnership with Wayne Rogers, later one of the stars of the TV show M*A*S*H. The first of these two films is entitled Dr. Sex, and if you’re curious about it, it’s been uploaded to the Internet Archive for free viewing. (As you can probably guess, a movie named Dr. Sex is not safe for work, so be forewarned.) The second was The Astro-Zombies. Ted went on to carve out a niche for himself in Hollywood, making really, really low budget movies (with such charming titles as Blood Orgy of the She-Devils and The Corpse Grinders), with a lot of enthusiasm but precious few other positive attributes. Of course, most of them are reviewed in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, which also means that I’ll be discussing them here as I work my way through the book. And speaking of that, Michael Weldon, in the Encyclopedia, called The Astro-Zombies “[o]ne of the all-time worst.” I certainly have to agree with him on that.
All of this is not to say that The Astro-Zombies is totally devoid of interest; any film featuring Tura Satana, star of Russ Meyers’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (which is, purportedly, director John Waters’s favorite movie) is worth watching as far as I’m concerned simply because she’s in it. I also like the two laboratory sets in the film—even though the labs are both devoted to creating synthetic organs for “astro-men,” they both seem to contain mainly beakers of colored fluids, many of which are bubbling and/or smoking for no good reason. The laboratory of the “good” scientist, Dr. DeMarco’s former partner Dr. Petrovich, includes a “Visible Man” model which Dr. Petrovich seems to actually be using as a design tool for the spare parts he’s attempting to make. If this model were life-sized, it might be kind of impressive…but it’s only about a foot tall and sits on his desk. Here’s a picture of one of these models. I really, really wanted one of these when I was in third grade or so:
There’s also some obvious cost-cutting going on in Satana’s apartment, as evidenced when she tells her two henchmen to get rid of a dead body and they take it out of the apartment through a wall made of drapes. There’s no door, no windows–just some drapes that they leave through. I’m still trying to figure out how that would work in actuality. I would think that all sorts of critters would be wandering in under the curtains.
In probably my favorite scene, one of the government agents (who has a really weird accent, by the way) has escorted one of Dr. Petrovich’s lab assistants to her apartment, as it’s very late at night and there are Astro-Zombies about. While there, the lights go out, so he goes outside and downstairs to check the fuse box, which totally thwarts him. I think that Ted V. was trying to milk some suspense here, as it’s pretty obvious that the girl is going to get Astro-Zombied, but it comes off like the agent has never seen a fuse box in his life and is trying to figure it out as one would a Sudoku puzzle. He finally gets the bad fuse replaced right about the time the lab assistant starts screaming, but at least now he can fight the Astro-Zombie in the light. The capper to the scene, however, is that the Astro-Zombie’s power pack gets knocked off in the scuffle*, so to have enough energy to make it back to Dr. DeMarco’s lab, he grabs a convenient flashlight and holds it to the photoelectric sensors in his forehead—ALL THE WAY HOME. I like that the scene has both the ingenuity to come up with such a novel (and useful) way of powering the Astro-Zombies and the delirious stupidity of having a guy in a rubber mask run around for a good length of time holding a flashlight to his forehead.
*Note to future Astro-Zombie designers—rig up an INTERNAL power source. You’re welcome.
To sum things up: The Astro-Zombies is not a good movie, but the last ten minutes or so are relatively entertaining, if you can make it that far. You know that you’ll want to see it, especially after watching the trailer:
And for even more fun, here’s the 60-second radio spot for the film!:
Now for something super-special: In the late ‘80s, Jonathan Ross hosted two series of shows for Channel 4 in England called The Incredibly Strange Film Show and Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show. Each episode of these series was devoted to one or two filmmakers who trafficked in exploitation cinema. One of those episodes was devoted to Ted V. Mikels, and now you can watch pretty much the whole episode here. It’s a fascinating portrait of a true Hollywood oddball, and it also features a nice interview with Tura Satana:
And I know that there are bound to be those of you who are champing at the bit (and some of you who might even be chomping at the bit) to watch the full feature, so here it is, courtesy (as is often the case) of Daily Motion and those genre enthusiasts, Film Gorillas:
Oh, and just one more thing: If you find that, against all odds, you like The Astro-Zombies and want to know more about what happened to them, Ted V. made three (!) sequels to the film. The first of these, Mark of the Astro-Zombies, appeared in 2004, 36 years (!!) after the original. It was followed by Astro Zombies: M3 – Cloned in 2010, and Astro Zombies: M4 – Invaders from Cyberspace in 2012. I’ve linked each of the titles of the sequels to their uploads on YouTube, so if you feel like taking a gander at ‘em, have at it.
Up next: You have nothing to lose but your mind!