Bad Movie Club: The Astro-Zombies
1968 sci-fi thriller
Bad Movie Rating: 4/5 (Fred: 1/5; Libby: no rating, but she did not seem happy; Josh: 2/5; Johnny: 2/5)
Plot: A disgruntled scientist and his Igor-esque assistant are reanimating the dead to make superhumans. Frisky scientists try to discover what's causing mysterious murders while a bizarre trio of spies attempt to use the creations to their advantage.
Fred called this "almost unintelligible," but I thought it all came together in a traditional B-movie way. In fact, I think I almost liked it enough to give it a Bad Movie Rating of 4/5, but because of peer pressure, I don't feel like I can. I almost want to boost it a point just because of the presence of Tura Satana. [Edit: I have bumped the rating up to a 4/5. I will not succumb to peer pressure!]
I think my fellow Bad Movie Clubbers' problem with this movie had to do with pacing, but for me, inept pacing is endearing. Think of your Plan 9s or Yucca Flats or Manoses. They all have this almost otherworldly quality because the director has no idea how to make a story flow, create tension, and piece storylines together, so you've got this mass of B-movie cliches that plods along like that carpet monster in The Creeping Terror. For most people--like, normal people--that's going to make a film tedious, but for me, it adds a certain magic. The best example in this movie are mad scientific laboratory sequences with John Carradine, seemingly endless sequences where you have no idea what the scientist is doing and have no reason to care but are forced to watch it anyway. The movie just screeches to a halt during these scenes and starts to feel about as interesting as your high school chemistry class.
Carradine also has this assistant, Franchot, who, if you close your eyes and imagine a B-movie mad scientist's assistant, you don't need to even see to know. He's played by William Bagdad who Torgoes it up quite a bit with a hunched back and limp and wonky eye. I checked out the career of Bagdad. He was in The Ten Commandments, several Ted V. Mikels' movies, and something called A Clockwork Blue.
God damn, I sure love that poster. This has been on a list of "Bad Movies I Need to See" for a really long time, and it's partly because of that poster. And it's partly because of the infamy of Ted V. Mikels who is still working as he pushes close to 90 years of age. Glancing at his filmography, I believe I've only seen one of his movies--the interesting Black Klansman. But I always come across the guy's name in the same sentences that Ed Wood Jr.'s name hangs out in, so I was intrigued. And when I saw that poster for the first time? Oh, boy, this became a must-see.
It couldn't live up to the poster, but it's got its moments. I enjoyed the Astro-Zombies, plastic-skull-headed things in sports coats. I like how they aren't just menacing or violent but they're also a little pervy, clawing at brassieres and engaging in some light fondling as they attack their victims. One great scene has an Astro-Zombie having to stumble around while holding a flashlight to his own forehead.
Just doesn't seem all that menacing, does it? But then you've got rare moments like this:
A machete to the head doesn't sound like a pleasant way to go anyway, but knowing that that machete to the head was delivered by an astro-zombie that has to hold a flashlight to his forehead to function adds a level of embarrassment that makes it all seem even worse.
I also liked a lengthy dance sequence that was about as gratuitous as movie scenes come. And how scenes are inexplicably sped up although that might have had more to do with the Youtube version of this that we watched. And, of course, there's Tura Satana. It reminds me that I need to see Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! again. Tura, other than being shapely, has this presence that I like. And cleavage. I wish she would have had more of a career in movies although Varla in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is enough of a legacy. I am going to have to find The Doll Squad, another Mikels' movie that features Satana.
Honestly, I think this is a pretty good movie for something made in 6 days. I do wonder what the 370,000 dollar budget went for other than Carradine's paycheck and plastic skulls.
Ted V. Mikels made a sequel to this 33 years later, by the way. I guess the demand was just too much to ignore.