• Astro Zombies, The

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: October 11, 2016
    Director: Ted V. Mikels
    Cast: Wendell Corey, John Carradine, Tura Satana, Tom Pace, Joan Patrick
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    The year 2016 has not been kind to the artistic community, with the deaths of Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Gary Shandling, Michael Cimino, and Ted V. Mikels just a few of the many who have passed on. Thankfully, the art lives on in the form of film and music, readily accessible to fans the world over, and Ted V. Mikels' 1968 film, The Astro Zombies, is one piece of that legacy. Undeniably one of Mikels' best-known titles, it's also the one that seems to generate the most controversy. Is it a classic? Is it a piece of garbage? Is it one of the dreaded, "So bad that it's good" films? Is it worthy of also being a Misfits song title?

    A government agency led by Chief Holman (Wendell Corey) is investigating the experiments of a number of scientists, scientists who are attempting to create superhuman space men whose thoughts can be controlled remotely. The purpose behind these experiments seems to be to send these "Astro Zombies" into outer space as astronauts, while their vulnerable counterparts stay comfortable back at mission control, free from the perils of the astrological unknown. And while one of these scientists, Dr. Petrovich, seems to be content to carry out his research within agreeable confines, his colleague Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine, in one of the most wacky performances EVER) has flown off the rails; choosing to salvage organs for his Astro Zombies from live human beings instead of cadavers!

    Holman's inside man, Eric Porter (Tom Pace) has done a fantastic job of verifying the integrity of Petrovich, but there are bigger tasks that require more agency personnel. In addition to a a wave of "Mutilation Murders", in which integral organs are removed from the victims, there's the more nefarious plot angle to consider. A group of murderous foreign spies, led by the buxom and deadly Satana (Tura Satana) are very interested in acquiring DeMarco's talents for their own government's race to space, and will stop at nothing to gain this knowledge. Fortunately for the CIA, Agent Chuck Edwards (Joseph Hoover) has extensive experience in dealing with, "Subversives", as he's been infiltrating the Commie hangout spot, a local nightclub, for some time.

    It's a race with drastic consequences for the loser as both governments track down the kinda-sorta-clues that will lead them to DeMarco's evil high-tech lair and the secret to conquering outer space. But as much of a threat as they are to each other, a much greater challenge exists, in the form of a rogue Astro Zombie with a defective criminal brain, who for some reason has a hankering for blood and vital internal organs! With not much in the way of rhyme or reason in sight, the winner will not be decided until the finale....the gloriously un-choreographed and insanely ridiculous finale.

    The Astro Zombies, as fun as it may be in a number of spots, is not an easy film to sit through. The opening of the film is a good indication of the trials to come; a lengthy scene subbing day for night and an exaggerated cricket sound effect (both of these will occur frequently throughout) ends with an eyebrow-raising attack, which then leads into a bizarre opening credit sequence, and then a very lengthy, very inaccurate scientific explanation of the plot premise. The science is wrong, and although that's forgiven in brief blasts in films like, "The Tingler", The Astro Zombies dwells on it and its rubbery-looking organs for far too long; reaching Ed Wood-ian proportions. Mikels' budget, or lack thereof is also a serious detriment to the film; DeMarco's lab is funny as hell, although a decent throwback to the Universal horrors of old, with a lot of lab-looking stuff bleeping and blooping, and random circuit boards placed in random spots...not to mention a hunchbacked assistant; and then there's the issue of the Astro Zombies, themselves, normally dressed actors with giant plastic heads. While most of us are not strangers to lower-budget outings, this film, combined with a vague, nonsensical plot, renders itself almost unwatchable.

    Almost, however, is key here. Despite the wonky premise and endless technically faulty jargon, The Astro Zombies has some seriously entertaining moments, often a result of the same flaws that negatively impact it. DeMarco's "degaussing of the circuits" for the benefit of his lab assistant is funny as hell, and an Astro Zombie with a "power cell" broken off in a fight, who is then forced to flee while charging himself with a common flashlight actually caused me to laugh out loud. The aforementioned day-for-night scenes and ever-present crickets are a smile-inducing addition, and the "horror horn" overkill provides auditory amusement aplenty. There's lots of great 60's culture on-hand as well, such as the dance number in the night club, and a ton of agent and bad spy skulking, a headbutt to the testicles, and Satana's fake looking gun, and then there's Tura herself; the powerful entity from Faster, Pussycat! Kill!! Kill! now done up in diabolical evening gowns and femme fatale cigarette holders, killing it in every scene. The Astro Zombies may qualify for many as a terrible film, but there's definitely still a whole lot to like here.


    Kino Lorber brings The Astro Zombies to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks....interesting. Due to the source material being of such a low-budget nature, the film is never going to be a reference disc for high definition displays, but this is going to be problematic for most viewers. Though there is a wealth of grain and a healthy amount of detail, a number of shots lack focus, and, due to Mikels shooting on "short ends"....the last bits of film from different reels that are often throwaways...the stock changes frequently, often mid-scene, and so does the colour. A lot of fluctuations to be seen in said colour here as the lab attempts to match each reel, as well as a decent amount of shake, shimmering, flare-ups, and washed out frames. Thankfully, damage appears to be fairly limited, with speckling and the occasional green line popping up only on occasion. Overall, this is a decent attempt, but not a pretty film by any stretch.

    You can expect the audio here, courtesy of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, to be on par with the video transfer, also due to source material. As a result of Mikels econo brand of film making, the dialogue often comes out muffled and not balanced well with the rest of the soundtrack. Distortion and other flaws pop up occasionally as well, but that's not to say that it's unlistenable. It doesn't seem like there was any amount of remastering done here, so your mileage may vary.

    The main body of extras on this disc are made up of commentaries. It should be noted first off that there is a flaw selecting commentaries from the supplements menu, with the selection playing the previous entry. For example, choosing the first available commentary will result in the film playing the original audio. Choosing the second available commentary will play the first, etc. For the purposes of the review, I used the audio select button on my player to access the last commentary.

    Anyhow, that first available commentary is a Rifftrax option with the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. If you're familiar with MST3K, you know what this entails, but if you're not, picture watching the film with loud, jokey friends who endlessly make fun of what's happening on screen and insert dialogue at various moments. If you're a fan, it's an amusing accompaniment, if you're not, it's annoying.

    The second commentary comes from Ted V. Mikels himself, who shares some anecdotes about the making of the film, and occasionally gets into the details about locations and cast, and shooting on a shoestring budget...oh, and Tura Satana's stunning wardrobe. Though he spends a large chunk of time describing the action that's happening on screen, normally rendering a commentary useless, Mikels comes across as just so damn likable that it's easily forgiven.

    A third commentary, by Horror Cinema Historian, former Fangoria Editor-In-Chief, contributor to Rue Morgue, etc, etc, afficionado Chris Alexander is interesting, but has very little to do with the film presented. Instead, Alexander discusses himself a whole lot and why he loves horror, as well as his friendship with Mikels. There's not a lot of technical detail shared here, but Alexander is enthusiastic enough that it makes for an entertaining listen.

    A gaggle of trailers for The Astro Zombies, Beware! The Blob, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, and Deranged are also included.

    The Final Word:

    Undeniably an infamous entry in the Ted V. Mikels catalogue, The Astro Zombies is definitely not sci-fi for the average viewer. The transfer from Kino Lorber suffers due to the source material, which will be a deterrent to some, but compensates somewhat with the number of available commentaries.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!