Saturday, January 2, 2010

Double Feature: Tales of the Astro Zombies

Ted V. Mikels is one of those filmmakers who is spoken of in the most glowing of terms by creatives and B-movie fans alike. However, from what little exposure I've had to his work, I think he might be to those enthusiasts as Charles Band and Full Moon is to me: You either like his movies or your don't.

In the case of Mikels, I think I may be in the "don't" category. I've only seen two, but I was led to believe that "The Astro-Zombies" was among his best. Maybe I was misled--it could be a fellow reviewer was playing a cruel prank on me!--but my reaction was that if "The Astro-Zombies" is Mikels' best, then I don't get the appeal.

This is the first of two Ted Mikels Double Feature posts I'll be making--I have his "Grinder" movies sitting in my 'To Be Reviewed' stack, and I'll get to them some day. If you have an opinion on his work in general, or these two movies in particular, I'd love to hear it.

The Astro-Zombies (1968)
Starring: John Carradine, Tura Satana, Joan Patrick, Wendell Corey and Tom Pace
Director: Ted V. Mikels
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A disgraced NASA researcher (Carradine) trying to create the perfect astronaut using dead bodies, hi-tech, and radio waves uses the brain of a homicidal maniac for one of this creations... and it runs amok. A sinister Mexican spy ring gets wind of his creation and dispatch sultry psycho Satana (Satana) to secure it for their use as a super-soldier. Meanwhile, the Astro-Zombie is stalking the beautiful nurse that was the last person he saw while alive (Patrick).

"The Astro-Zombies" is one of those flicks that mix all sorts of genres into a wild B-movie stew. In this sense, it's a In this film, we get horror, we get action, we get spy vs. spy intrigue, we get blood and guts... we get everything but excitement.

Despite all the plots and subplots and characters crammed into this film, it is still very, very boring. If it had clocked in at a crisp 60 minutes, it might not have been so bad, but an additional 20 minutes are added to the running time through padding. We overlong and pointless scenes of Carradine's mad scientist puttering around his lab uttering techno-babble, we have long and pointless scenes of characters driving about, and we have lonmg stretches of badly delivered expository dialogue that's only slightly more boring than watching Carradine puttering around the lab set.

Aside from the padded, we can add that the film is universally badly acted--except perhaps the performances from John Carradine and Joan Patrick, but the characters they play are so archetypal and flat that all they're doing is delivering their lines competently--weakly directed, and full of illogical plot conveniences without which the story would fall apart.

There are a few moments in the film that let us see what might have been if it had been more competently mounted--such as the climactic confrontation between mad doctor, evil secret agent Mexican bitch and Chad Squarejaw of the FBI--but they are too few to save the movie from a very low 4 rating.

Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2002)
Starring: Sean Morelli, Robert Southerland, Tura Satana, Brinke Stevens, and Shanti
Director: Ted V. Mikels
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Evil aliens unleash machete-wielding Astro-Zombies upon unsuspecting shoppers at mini-malls as a prelude to their plan to invade Earth (I think). While the greatest scientific minds of the United States try to figure out where these murderers are coming from, an opportunistic psychopath (Satana) sets about conning intelligence agencies from around the world that she commands the unstoppable killers and that they can be theirs for the right price.

"Mark of the Astro-Zombies" is a kinda-sorta sequel to the 1968 "cult classic" from the same writer/director, although the connections make absolutely no sense. (Why do the alien Astro-Zombies look like the ones created by an Earthling in the first movie? Why did it take the twin sister of the evil Mexican femme fatale super agent in the first movie 35 years to mount her revenge? And just how and why did they keep John Carradine's head alive for all that time?)

The film further suffers from two major problems. First, it feels like director Ted V. Mikels took the approach "we shot the scene, so we gotta use it!", which leads to a number of redundant and repetative dialogue exchanges, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the main thrust of the story and just serve to bore and annoy viewers. Second, it's script is so atrociously bad both in story organization and in dialogue that I sincerely hope it was ad-libbed from a loose outline and that said outline morphed as filming took place. The only thing that works in the script is the comedy... oh, wait. The comedy here is almost entirely unintention. NOTHING works in the script!

There are a few ideas here that made me give the film a very generous rating of 3. The notion of an uscrupulous and well-connected member of the intelligence community attempting to take advantage of a global crisis to con corrupt regimes like Iran, North Korea, China and Venezula out of piles of money is pretty cool. It's completely botched here due to a non-existent budget (if international spies can be fooled into thinking a guy in a Halloween mask is an industructable super-soldier, then it's not at all surprising that Saddam Hussein fooled them all into thinking he had nukes and chemical weapons) and sloppy writing.

Despite liking some of the ideas in the film, there is really nothing here to recommend it. The behind-the-scenes footage included on the DVD make it look like everyone had a good time making the movie--and I get that sense from watching the film unfold as well--but the end product is simply not worth the time you'll waste watching it.

Ted V. Mikels is about to start production on his second Astro Zombies sequel, "Astro Zombies M3: Cloned". He will be casting and interviewing potential crew on 1/19/2010, and cameras are slated to roll on 1/31/2010. You can read more about the project and watch a teaser trailer at his official website by clicking here. (You can also see pictures of Mikels and his cool moustache there.)

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