Horror, Science Fiction, Zombies

The Astro-Zombies (1968)

Comments Off on The Astro-Zombies (1968) 22 October 2016

astro-zombies

Studio: Kino

Theatrical Release: May 19, 1968

Blu Ray Release: October 11, 1968

Director: Ted V. Mikels

PG 

Review by James Klein

With just a touch of my burning hand
I send my astro zombies to rape the land
Prime directive, exterminate
The whole human race

And your face drops in a pile of flesh
And then your heart, heart pounds
Till it pumps in death
Prime directive, exterminate
Whatever stands left. —Astro Zombies by The Misfits

With the passing of director Ted V. Mikels just a few days ago and the Halloween season coming upon us, it seems fitting that I would review his 1968 science fiction / horror film The Astro-Zombies. Mikels was the poor man’s Herschell Gordon Lewis, a film maker whose ultra low budgets would provide countless cult viewings and repeated showings on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Like Lewis, his films were at times over the top, bloody, poorly acted, and down right cheap while shot on location. Needless to say, as much as I admire a film maker like Mikels for trying to make a film for $37,000, watching a film like The Astro-Zombies is a choir to sit through. It takes a certain kind of patience to allow oneself to endure this tedious 91 minute film.

From the very opening, you should know what to expect as the viewer is forced to watch a woman drive in her car…and drive…and drive…until she parks. And that is what most of The Astro-Zombies is like; long, pointless shots of just random and mundane actions. But once the opening credits start, things pick up a little: the credits are played over toy tanks and little robot toys with background noise of explosions going off. It is never mentioned again nor does this have anything to do with the movie. Absurd and dumb but at least funny and entertaining. I only wish the film could have remained this bizarre.

I guess The Astro-Zombies is a mad scientist film from what I can gather as the plot is almost incomprehensible. John Carradine (a far cry from his heyday as Dracula or in John Wayne films) plays Dr. DeMarco, a scientist who was once part of the Space Agency but was fired for reasons unclear and now wants to create Astromen, recently dead humans whose brains are removed and replaced by other scientists (?). I don’t know, this movie is so goddamn boring and padded out, it’s close to impossible to pay close attention to what the fuck is going on. Watch John Carradine open up a box with tools and place a computer chip inside and close up the box again! See countless cars driving and driving and driving and then…park! Witness a guy playing bongo drums for ten minutes (whose also played by the director himself)!

Eventually these Astroassholes go apeshit and start to attack whoever comes in their path. There is a strange subplot where two criminals played by Tura Satana (Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!) and Rafael Campos (Lady in the Cage, V) are trying to steal the mad doctor’s plans or some stupid crap. They all get shot and die (well Tura gets electrocuted) at the end and the world is saved…and thankfully so is the audience.

Aside from some out of nowhere gore at the end and some topless dancer covered in body paint (and this was PG?) the film has no redeeming qualities. As much as this is a borefest, I still would rather watch The Astro-Zombies over a Zach Snyder film any day of the week. If this film had more Astro-Zombies attacking people and less dialog and meandering moments, this could have been an ok film…maybe?

And after my dismal review, I am going to recommend this blu ray. Why you may ask? Well it’s because Kino got the boys from Rifftrax to do an audio commentary on the blu ray. For those who are unfamiliar with Rifftrax, its similar to Mystery Science Theater 3000 where these three men make comments and jokes while the film is played out. One of it’s members, Mike Nelson, is even from MSTK. This is a must watch. I laughed pretty hard at some of the jokes and while there are a few that bombed, 85% of the jokes work and are very funny. Some even a little risqué and shocking (there is a Sharon Tate joke that made me bust a gut).

But that’s not all. There are two more commentary tracks! One is from film maker Chris Alexander (Queen of Blood) who confesses to being a super fan but comes across as super annoying. He tries to be funny and it comes out forced and just awful. Think of someone who laughs at their own jokes or giggles over every sentence they say. While his comments about the 80’s and growing up in the VHS world bring back memories, I couldn’t list to more than 45 minutes of this. The other commentary track is by film maker Ted V. Mikels and it makes me sad that I have to rip on his film because this guy really did try his best at making a sci-fi / horror thriller on a low budget. For budding film makers, this is a must listen as he discusses everything from pre-production to post. His stories are great (James Caan was almost cast in the film but Mikels promised one of the actors a part and refused to budge) and entertaining. He seems like a genuine nice guy and his stories about allowing beginning film makers to come to his sets to watch him work is very sweet.

The blu ray also has the theatrical trailer and if you watch that and then watch the film, you will see how great the transfer looks. Though the print is damaged and crappy as hell, the film looks clear and the best it will probably ever look. Even the brown blood from the trailer now looks bright red. The sound is a bit crummy but that is due to the film’s budget and not the transfer. There’s no question you will need to turn the volume up when the movie starts to play.

Co-written by Wayne Rogers who went on to become Trapper John on TV’s MASH, The Astro-Zombies is one of the worst films ever made, no question. However, Kino’s blu ray is one of the better genre releases of the year. R.I.P. Ted!

Movie Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★½

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