• Corpse Grinders, The

    Corpse Grinders, The
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: October 24th, 2017.
    Director: Ted V. Mikels
    Cast: Sean Kenney, Monika Kelly, Sanford Mitchell
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    Next to Astro-Zombies (dutifully reviewed by Mark Tolch here), The Corpse Grinders is probably the late, great Ted V. Mikels’ best known horror film and definitely one of his more successful pictures (it even spawned a sequel in 2000, but we shall not sully this original with talk of that movie). When this picture played drive-in’s and theaters across the country it was tripled billed with The Undertaker And His Pals and The Embalmer. Theaters would make attendees sign off and agree not to hold the producers liable for any fear related deaths that might occur during the screening – grand ballyhoo that would make William Castle and David Friedman proud. You’ve got to admire that sort of showmanship.

    At any rate, the movie itself is blackly comic. It takes place in a small town where, we learn, human cadavers are worked through a big meat grinder machine that effectively turns dead bodies into ground hamburger meat. From there, the meat is canned and shipped out to grocery stores around the country as Lotus Cat Food. When people buy this food and feed it to their feline friends, they soon learn the hard way that the food is making the cats go insane with blood lust. Having had a taste for human flesh, cats all over the place are attacking their owners in a series of not-even-close-to-convincing attack scenes that serve as some of the highlights of the picture.

    That problem aside, business is good and the Lotus Cat Food company is running into supply problems. See, there just aren’t enough cadavers around to keep the cat food coming. As such, they decide to take matters into their own hands when a nurse named Angie (Monika Kelly) comes to the factory to talk to the owners about her cat’s strange behavior. It’s all downhill from there…

    Co-written by Arch Hall Sr. and Joseph Cranston, there are long stretches in this film where absolutely nothing of interest happens. It’s plagued by ridiculous pacing problems and stilted dialogue and by all other standards, it should be written off as a boring mess. Well, it is a mess to be sure. Like most of Mikels’ films, plot comes secondary to set pieces and low budget effects. But it’s got atmosphere to spare and the whole thing has a weird, funny, scuzzball vibe to it that makes it completely watchable. The acting is horrible but the gore effects, as crude and obvious as they might be, are actually quite effective. The movie’s twisted sense of humor works well in the context of the story that the film is telling. The sheer ridiculousness of the cat attack scenes add some welcome head-scratchingly insane moments, the best of which involves a buxom young woman laying on her couch in her underwear sipping a cold can of Budweiser suddenly attacked by a vicious cat that… just sort of lands on her and runs away.

    Go into this one knowing that there are spots where the pace absolutely grinds to a halt, but appreciate it for the atmosphere, dopey-ropey effects and asinine plot and it’s hard not to have some fun with it. Bonus points for Mikels using wonky colored lighting for the meat grinder scenes – Mario Bava, eat your heart out!


    The Corpse Grinders arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome ‘newly scanned and restored in 2k from the 16mm negative elements’ in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. While the image is grainy the way that a lot of 16mm sourced transfers are, detail is pretty solid (except for a few shots that are just plain out of focus), as is texture and depth. Compared to previous DVD releases from Image Entertainment and Alpha Video the improvement here is pretty impressive. There’s not much here in the way of print damage to discuss, a scratch or a speck here and there but it’s never distracting and the picture is surprisingly clean in that regard. Color reproduction looks fine, skin tones look good. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction to complain about – this is quite a nice upgrade over what we’ve seen before.

    The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD Mono track, with optional subtitles provided in English only. This track isn’t’ going to floor you but it seems a pretty accurate representation of the way that the movie has always sounded. There’s some flatness here and some hiss now and then but dialogue is clear enough and always audible. No major problems here, it just sounds like the old single channel mix that it is.

    Extras kick off with a ‘historical commentary track with Ted V. Mikels and Elijah Drenner.’ Here Drenner puts the concept behind the film into historical context and explaining how maybe the idea of killer cats isn’t so crazy after all. As Mikels passed away in October of last year, it’s understandable that he couldn’t take part in the commentary itself but Drenner got to know him before he died and he’s able to provide plenty of interesting facts and trivia about the picture. He talks about Mikels infamous castle and his philosophy and lifestyle but before he does that he talks about how he got into the man’s films, how he got to know him after his appearance at the screening of The Doll Squad and some of the locations used for the shoot. Drenner also talks about all the different jobs that Mikels did on this film (and quite a few of his other pictures) and makes the case that he was an ‘auteur’ – fair enough – he also talks about the cast members and their contributions in the picture, Mikels belief in polygamy, his castle ladies and more. There’s some great archival clips here, including one that was recorded to be played for ‘potential castle ladies’ by Mikels himself that explains his lifestyle and how all involved were to be of service to each other in the castle. Drenner also covers the details of the corpse grinding machine itself, the lighting in these scenes and how Mikels’ early career as a magician may have had a hand in this. He talks up the humor in the film, if it’s supposed to be there or not (!!), Mikels’ move into digital filmmaking including The Corpse Grinders II, the existence of a Spanish produced third film in the series (which seems to be elusive) and the quality of Ted’s video work (it’s not good). There are a few more archival clips featuring Mikels scattered throughout the commentary, all of which are quite interesting. This serves as a nice tribute to Mikels, a nice guy with some strange ideas, an unusual lifestyle and who left behind a genuinely wacky filmography. On a side note, this writer was lucky enough to have dinner with Ted V. Mikels once when he wound up sitting at our table at Chiller Theater in the early 2000s (there were no other free seats!). He was a genuinely nice guy and a pleasure to hang out with.

    Also on hand is an eighteen minute long video featurette with Ted V. Mikels entitled TedTalks, shot in 2007. Here he speaks about the infamy of The Corpse Grinders, how the project came to be, its theatrical run with The Undertaker And His Pals and The Embalmer, working with Arch Hall and how he brought the screenplay to him, sharing a floor in an office building with Bozo The Clown, shooting on a soundstage on Santa Monica Boulevard, the grinding machine featured in the movie (he says it’s not made out of cardboard!), how and why he was always an independent filmmaker, working with Crown International and other distributors (most of whom seem to have ripped him off) and lots more. Mikels is pretty forthcoming here, delivering a candid talk about his time in Hollywood and the heyday of his film career. Again, Mikels is just plain charming and likeable here – great stuff.

    Outside of that we get a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. It’s also worth noting that this release comes with some nice reversible cover artwork and, if ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome, the first 2000 copies come with a nice slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    The Corpse Grinders remains a high point in the wacky-ass filmography of the late, great Ted V. Mikels. Vinegar Syndrome gives this cinematic curio a very respectable Blu-ray debut, presenting the film in excellent shape and with a nice selection of extra features. If it doesn’t offer the ‘Bone-Crushing Terror!’ and ‘Spine-Tingling Chills’ that the one sheet promised, it remains a pretty fun slice of early seventies micro-budget nonsense.

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

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I remember the heavy ad campaign via radio and tv that made me want to see this film so damn bad. But I was 11 and it was only playing at drive ins so I had to wait decades to see it. I would have liked this better if I were still 11.