Monster movies tend to reflect the general fears of society at that moment. For instance, during the ’50s, giant monsters became all the rage, representing the fear that scientific progress—especially in terms of atomic energy—was progressing so quickly that it might escape our control and destroy us. Of course, anxiety about Man Tampering in God’s Domain was represented by Frankenstein and his monster, as well. However, the scale was radically different. Giant monsters took what had once been a fear of the localized, personalized destruction of a few and made it a matter of mass devastation.
Given this, monsters and the subtextual fears they embody generally evolve to some varying extent over the years. Mass media in general and film especially have vastly sped up this process, quickly establishing ‘rules’ that had never existed back in the folklore days. Nosferatu, for instance, introduced the idea that vampires don’t just rest in their coffins during the day, but would actually be destroyed by a touch of sunlight. Quickly adopted by other filmmakers, this is now one of the general shared definitions of what a vampire is.
Occasionally, though, monsters are redefined not through a slow, piecemeal progression, but abruptly and in their totality. Although werewolves had existed in myths for hundreds of years, two Universal films, 1935’s The Werewolf of London, and 1941’s The Wolf Man, established out of whole cloth just about everything we ‘know’ about lycanthropes: they are furry men instead of actual wolves, they change involuntarily under the full moon, the curse is transferred by the bite of another werewolf, they can only be killed by silver, etc. None of this has folkloric roots (at least for werewolves), but again, these are now the rules by which a werewolf is defined.
Perhaps no monster, though, has been so radically redefined in concept, and through a single work, as the zombie. The classic supernatural zombie is an animated corpse whose soul has been captured by a voodoo priest, and is thus completely without a will of its own. Generally used for literally mindless forced labor, the zombie thus stood not just as an undead monster, but as a metaphor for the horrors of slavery and colonialism.
The latter idea was a favorite theme for early zombie movies, since the zombie myth was basically rooted in the voodoo religion of Caribbean locations like Haiti. As these island countries were colonized by the European powers, the zombie became a symbol for the way natives in general were used as cheap labor, a workforce whose skin color ensured that their white overseers barely saw them as being human at all. In films, either whites would themselves learn the voodoo rites necessary to enslave others, or would work through some native priest,* in the same way that one African tribe would capture members of another and sell them to white slave traders.This provided a neat amount of subtext to the horror (and horror is almost always better when such themes remain implicit rather than explicit). Several films of this sort became authentic horror classics, in particular White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. Hammer’s later, and sadly neglected, Plague of the Zombies, is also a worthy examiner of this theme.[*As Jabootu Nitpicker Carl Fink clarifies, because I didn’t, ” Voudon came to the islands with the European colonists (and their slaves). It’s not the religion of the largely extinct Arawak and Carib Indians.” True enough, it was imported with the slaves from Africa.]
On the other hand, skid row production companies like Monogram and PRC also liked zombie movies because they were cheap to produce. After all, zombies were about the cheapest ‘monsters’ to realize on screen. Slather on the pancake make-up and dress a guy in rags and, bam, he’s a zombie.
Thus, although there was never a really popular character associated with zombie movies; no Dracula or Larry Talbot or Dr. Frankenstein; a decent number of zombie movies got made: Voodoo Man, Bowery At Midnight (one of the nuttier entries), Revenge of the Zombies, Zombies of Mora Tau, Revolt of the Zombies, Zombies on Broadway, King of the Zombies, etc.
Even in the early days, however, some filmmakers chaffed at the restrictions of using voodoo as a plot device. First, it made it harder to move zombies into the modern world represented by America and Europe. Second, society was quickly becoming more secularized, a fact that has also done untold damage to the mythological underpinnings of vampires.
The transformation in vampires and zombies is similar, in fact. One of the central fears once represented by both vampires and zombies was the potential loss of one’s immortal soul, with the Earthly undead state a grotesque parody of the more proper and entirely spiritual afterlife. As people became less interested in theological matters, however, the fears represented by these monsters became rather more material.
In the modern era, the dread of becoming a zombie has become less a central fear than being gorily dispatched by one, and especially a zombie that in life was a loved one. (Meanwhile, vampires became outright fantasy figures, complete with overwhelming sexual charisma and super powers. Nobody wants to be a zombie, but in the post-Anne Rice world, an entire sub-culture dreams of becoming a vampire.)
And so even in the early days science began intruding in zombie films. Although many pictures stuck with the traditional, mad scientists were increasingly the ones raising the dead, rather than voodoo priests. These scientists were no Frankensteins, however. They didn’t seek to create a sentient being in their own image so much as, like the voodoo practitioners before them, mindless automaton slaves to obey their every command. Sam Katzman’s 1955 Creature with the Atom Brain represented this trend, and is in fact an obvious predecessor of our subject today.
Then, in 1968, George Romero and The Night of the Living Dead came along, and the zombie was refined utterly and irrevocably. People no longer feared becoming an eternal slave of another’s will, denied even the escape of death. No, the fear now was much more material and obvious: People literally didn’t want to be eaten alive. As with horror in general, matters of the soul and the afterlife were replaced with more mundane concerns about our physical integrity. No monster represented this change more obviously than the zombie. Even the fact that nobody has ever figured out *why* exactly the dead would be compelled to feast upon the living has done little, if anything, to slow this down.
I’ve never been a huge zombie movie fan, and am if anything even more ambivalent about the modern, Romero-esque zombie. This is true even though several authentic horror masterpieces have come from this genre, including Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead. This in addition to a surprisingly healthy number of quite good entries, ranging from Return of the Living Dead to 28 Days Later to the recent Dawn of the Dead remake.
On the other hand, Night of the Living Dead (much like Halloween) also produced a slew of inferior progeny, films that often traded on the genre’s trademark ultra-gore and little else. The Italians were the master of this trend, producing seemingly hundreds of often moronic but invariably grue-filled zombie flicks. Some of these Euro zombie films are dumb enough to be genuinely funny—Zombie Lake is a legendary, all-time bad movie classic—but it must be said that, in general, this sort of thing will never be my bag.
And thus, naturally, when the B-Masters decided to join in on Cold Fusion Video’s 7th annual (!) “Month of the Living Dead,” I turned to the earlier type of zombie movie, although one that again offers up Mad Science as the culprit rather than unworldly magic.
We open on an attractive brunette showing am ample amount of dÃ©colletage, driving along in her Mustang convertible on a sunny day. Top down—I mean the car, smart ass—she cruises suburban streets, listening to Generic Library Jazz on the radio. (We know the music emanates from the radio because it is, itself, afforded several camera close-ups.) Director Ted V. Mikels was apparently so entranced by this sequence that he lets it run for nearly a minute and a half. That might not sound like much, but in movie terms it’s a fairly long haul.
When the woman arrives home, a filter is used to tone down the brightness of the sunlight by, oh, 15% or so. This, along with the giveaway use of Foleyed-in cricket noises on the soundtrack, clues in the veteran bad movie watcher that it’s now supposed to be night time. Brunette activates her garage door opener, and then parks her vehicle inside. The door naturally closes behind her.
We cut away to see a figure lurking in the interior darkness. You might not think your average garage has enough space to enable successful lurking, but there you go. (One might also wonder how he got in her garage in the first place.) The figure’s head is covered with what looks like a Korean Skeletor knock-off mask, the sort of thing that would be emblazoned with the name Skulletor and bought for a bitterly disappointed young He-Man fan by a clueless aunt who believed saving six dollars trumped buying the official mask with the right features and name attached.
Suddenly the chirping crickets are rather louder, suggesting perhaps the garage is not only a lurking zone but an illicit cricket breeding facility. Then a heart beat starts loudly thudding on the soundtrack. This, we learn, heralds an appearance of the Skulletor guy, who, I’m guessing from the film’s title, is an ‘Astro-Zombie.’* Another clue that heralds his appearance is that the camera just showed him lurking in the garage several seconds ago.[*Oddly, just this week I received the Icons of Horror: Sam Katzman DVD set. This collection includes the film Creature with the Atomic Brain, which thematically is a close predecessor of Astro-Zombies. Among the similarities, in that film the scientifically-created zombies are also heralded by a heart beat booming on the soundtrack.]
The heartbeat grows louder, and needless to say, the Zombie (eventually) attacks the woman. I won’t blow the outcome of this for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but it involves a hand gardening cultivator and ketchup being spattered on the Mustang. Oh, and the Brunette is listed on the IMDB as “Woman Killed in Garage.” It should be noted that the actual attack is accompanied by a highly annoying electronic sound effect, which sadly becomes a bit of a motif.
Following this prologue we get the opening credits. These start over footage of that black, clumsily-waddling, mass-produced toy robot sporting a human face behind a plastic screen and a machine gun mounted in its chest. My contemporaries will know the one I mean. I had one as a kid. This robot is joined by several other toy robots and some toy tanks in an extended montage, accompanied by a cacophony of machine gun and bomb noises. Eventually even a few small smoke bombs are deployed.
This sequence promises rather more than the film delivers. Not so much in that we don’t really get to see robots fighting tanks or even soldiers, but rather because the toys themselves represent the acme of the film’s special effects. And, given that in the end a full half dozen different toys are glimpsed, it probably also represents the acme of the film’s budget outlays. (Actually, if Mikels had kept these toys, he could probably sell them on eBay right now and recoup the movie’s entire production budget.)
We cut to the aftermath—it’s far thriftier that way—of a car crash. A leg and arm (still attached, thankfully) are artfully arranged in-shot, as moans emanate from the otherwise concealed driver. Then we cut to another angle and see that the driver is speckled with red. From the look of these stains, I surmise that he was attempting to open a perhaps overly stubborn bottle of ketchup just prior to his accident, which is probably what caused it in the first place.
His hand falls limply to the ground, indicating his demise. This provides a welcome opportunity for Igor-like hunchback Franchot, who comes trundling down a now revealed incline to survey the situation. The veteran horror film buff will quickly assemble the pieces here: Hunchback means Mad Scientist’s lab assistant; his approaching a fresh body indicates that body-stealing is one of his central job duties; while his timely appearance indicates that he, himself, caused the car crash. This, presumably, by daring the driver to open the aforementioned ketchup bottle, but only after first having glued the cap firmly in place.*[*Less evident: How, given that he can barely get down the long and fairly steep hill without falling over—hunchback, remember—he intends to get the body back up it to the lab. Needless to say, the details of this are left to our imaginations.]
Cut to a guy in the backseat of a car, operating a reel-to-reel tape recorder. We see him rewind a tape in its entirely, as well as an additional slab of driving footage, because, baby, we’ve got nothing but time. Driving along a cloverleaf! Driving through a tunnel! Driving along another cloverleaf! It’s a thrill a second! (Still, compared to the recently viewed Hawk the Slayer, this thing is a veritable Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Eventually, the tape is completely transferred to one reel, which the guy removes and sticks in his breast pocket. Huzzah!
Then we cut to the *cough* ‘office’ of FBI agent Holman, as portrayed by veteran actor Wendell “Mumbles” Corey. (A fact, I must say, that makes the DVD’s lack of subtitling particularly annoying.) This office, as most such federal workspaces are, is adorned with bright red curtains, a small metal table, some maps pinned to the wall, and a large American flag standing in the corner. Oh, and a picture of LBJ, then the President.
Holman is meeting with Eric Porter, a younger agent who has been posing undercover as a scientist. On the table before them is an array of plastic internal organs, of the sort used in high school biology classes. One of them is a brain, here seated under the transparent cover of a cake dish, which can only be an ominous sign in a movie like this. As far as I can tell from Holman’s mumbled dialogue,* the two suspect a Dr. DeMarco ofâ€¦ something.[*To be fair to Mikels, however, whatever his manifold shortcomings as a filmmaker, they actually managed to record Corey’s dialogue in a much clearer fashion than did, say, the makers of Women of the Prehistoric Planet.]
They call into the office one Dr. Petrovich, a former partner of the now missing Dr. DeMarco. Holman alludes to a series of “mutilation murders” they believe are tied to DeMarco and his work. To make sure that Petrovich isn’t a part of this, they secretly placed Porter in his lab as his assistant. Just to make sure that Petrovich now thinks Porter is a complete dick, the latter explains, “As you can see, I took the liberty of bringing in some of the experimental work from the lab.” Sure, why not? Help yourself, buddy.
The ‘work’ he refers to is the plastic organ models and the shiny brain in the cake dish. Porter asks Petrovich to explain the theories he and DeMarco had been developing on “vital organ transplants and thought-wave transmission.” Because you’d be bored working on just one of those things, I guess.
At this Holman brings in Chuck Edwards, another agent and a pal of Porter’s. Introductions complete, Porter gets back to business. (It should be noted that Porter is played by a guy named Tom Pace, who was apparently the actor you got when you couldn’t afford the real Casey Kasem.) “Doctor,” he asks Petrovich, “why don’t you start with the explanation of the experiments you and Dr. DeMarco were working on at the time he was dismissed from the Aerospace Research Center?” Porter’s preemptive attempts to get Petrovich to stay marginally on topic sadly fail, however. “Well, let me go back little first,” the Doctor replies, causing much teeth-gritting, at least on this side of the TV screen. This is the scene that first makes it clear exactly how much of the movie will be dedicated to the Talky-Talky.
Petrovich begins referencing blood banks and organ transports, and generally gasses on about Today’s Modern World. “Heart-lung machines are being nervously applied,” he notes, although that’s the natural result when you hire, say, Jerry Lewis to work in your hospitals. That, and the glaven.
DeMarco, Petrovich explains, had developed an artificial heart. More important, though, was DeMarco’s entirely less humdrum work in “thought-wave transmission through radio frequencies.” Well, I have to admit, that does make pioneering artificial heart work seem sort of tame. As Porter notes, this has “obvious applications in our Man in Space program.” Uhm, OK. That wasn’t my first thought, but whatever.
However, Petrovich concurs. “Imagine feeding information from computers into the brain of an orbital flight,” he suggests. (What now?) This has Holman interjecting as to how “a foreign government might be deeply interested in obtaining this information.” Again, in conjunction with space flights? If you say so. In any case, this is why Chuck was brought in, as he’s attached to the Bureau’s “Subversives Division.”
Good grief. Apparently this is going to be one of those overly-elaborate genre films popular at that time, jam-packed with incidental characters and subplots and whatnot. I’m definitely getting an Al Adamson vibe here. Let’s see:
Mysterious Guy With Mysterious Tape
Presumably murderous, definitely body-snatching Hunchback
Artificial Organ Transplants
Thought-Wave Transmission Experiments
The Space Program
Subversives / Foreign Agents
The Woman Who was Killed
The Astro Zombie
The Guy with the Tape
The Car Crash Victim
The Referenced Missing Scientist
The three FBI Agents
And that’s just in the first ten minutes.
Now it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of Chuck’s investigation. “How’s it going with those leads?” Holman asks. Whoa, enough with the dense law enforcement jargon! Chuck explains that some foreign agents are using a local night club, the Carriage House, as their base of operations. (Because, presumably, director Mikels had permission to film in such a place.) Anyone who knows his B-movies will now grimly realize this means we’ll eventually have to sit through at least one floorshow act. “I should get some useful information [there],” Chuck concludes, “if I don’t turn into a lush, first!” Such a card, that one.
After a round of appreciative chuckles at this hilarious jape, they get back to business. Asked to return to the subject of Thought-Wave Transmission, Petrovich focuses their attention on the plastic brain in the cake caddy. “Now this is a rather primitive device,” he somewhat unnecessarily begins. His point, though, it that DeMarco is presumably far more advanced in his own experiments. Yes, one would hope. Referencing the *cough* brain, he notes the “two nodes are radio receivers. As I vary the wavelength frequency of the oscillator [wow!], watch the reactions on the brain.”
So saying, he activates the device, as is indicated by an extremely annoying high-pitched note. As he fiddles with the frequency, the brain begins to shake violently. “There, you see,” Petrovich concludes, “there’s a definite response.” Well, OK. Still, but I’m entirely sure using sound to oscillate a brain constitutes “thought-wave transmission,” nor am I convinced this process would be of benefit to an astronaut’s cerebral integrity. Still, everyone else sure looks impressed.
Chuck, meanwhile, is still trying to catch up. “What you’re saying is, Doctor,” he asks, “that one man’s thoughts can be transmitted to another man’s brain and that man will respond to it?” Well, no, actually. “Exactly,” Petrovich responds. Dude, you are such a liar! You weren’t even close to saying that!
Still, Petrovich has the ball, and he’s running with it. “In this way, knowledge from the minds of our top astrophysicists, aerospace medical scientists and neurosurgeons could be combined and projected into the receiving device of a Quasi-Man in interplanetary space flight.” OK, now the movie’s just getting goofy.
“Quasi-Man?” Chuck asks, understandably confused. I mean, you’d really hope he would be at this point, wouldn’t you? “You mean, a sort of a zombie?” OK, never mind. I mean, how to hell did he get from something as vague as “Quasi-Man” toâ€¦ “Well,” Petrovich answers, “it’s not exactly scientific terminology, but it would be close to the truth.” Huh? OK, are there just entire batches of dialogue missing here, or what?
Then Holman tosses in his highly slurred two cents. “Well, what else would you call a man with a synthetic electric-driven heart, a stainless steel mesh stomach, a plastic pancreas and a cellulose liver, to mention a few things for a starter?” OK, the film just overloaded all of my brain’s stupidity circuits. And I have a lot of redundant wiring in that area, too.
As if that weren’t enough, Porter adds that DeMarco had moreover been “working on a silicone treatment of the skin that would make it impervious to micro-meteorites!” Chuck wonders why this scientific genius had been let go. “Well,” Holman replies, “when a man doesn’t know the difference between an experiment on an Air Force officer and a cadaver, well, I think it’s time to drop him from the team!” Indeed. If I had any clue as to what you were saying, I’d probably totally agree with you.
Cut to the aforementioned bar / nightclub, as we meet our next raft of characters. These include foreign agent Satana (!) and her psycho henchman, Juan. Satana, as assayed by cult actress and stripper Tura Satana, is played in full Dragon Lady mode. She is if anything more of a homicidal nut than Juan, and wears those long, patterned Chinese silk dresses with the super-high slits up the leg that are only owned by these types of characters. Meanwhile, actor Rafael Campos received a special “as “Juan”” credit, the only member of the cast to be so privileged. Perhaps it was in lieu of pay.
The two are having a cocktail in their booth, giving us a good look at the dÃ©cor in exchange, presumably, for letting Mikels shoot in the place for free. It’s all grossly over decorated, as befits the time, poorly lit for that ‘intimate’ feel, heavy on the reds and golds and with the velvet wallpaper and dark wood and whatnot.
Meanwhile, at several junctures, including here, we see a waitress wearing a uniform of fishnets and black, sleeveless leotard, the latter decorated with a little bow on the ass. Basically it’s the Playboy Bunny outfit sans the ears and the tail, with the latter replaced by the bow. Meanwhile, since we see her several times throughout the picture, I can only assume she was one of the producers’ girlfriends or something.
Soon the Man with the Tape from the beginning of the film arrives. This, we later learn, is Sergio, an international lowlife. Sergio arrives in a car that, despite seeming kind of old and not particularly plush, is driven by a chauffeur. As portrayed by Egon Sirany, the character sports an exaggerated (albeit possibly real) German or Russian accent.
Sergio is played in full sneer mode, although both Satana and Campos easily match him in the scenery-chewing department. In any case, the actor’s exaggerated technique, along with his slightly doughy build and stiff posture, suggested a (putatively) serious version of the broadly supercilious comic villains Kenneth Mars often played. In the end, let’s just say I was unsurprised to learn that this was Mr. Sirany’s sole screen credit.
So Sergio arrives at the Carriage House, and the film segues into another scene that lasts entirely too long for its weight in the narrative. I’m sure Mikels intended these to be ‘character’ scenes that would add a sense of substance to the cynical spy antics that the film is partly about. And, of course, there are practical considerations as well as artistic ones. Setting up camera placements takes time and costs money, so it never hurts to hang around a location for a while once you’re ready to shoot there.
Anyhoo, Satana had hired Sergio to procure the aforementioned tape. However, having learned nothing from hundreds of similar situations in Quinn Martin-esque TV episodes, Sergio now tries to extort more money. This is all played extremely straight, and at length, as if it were a novel situation and not a complete and utter clichÃ©. The funniest bit, therefore, is ‘master’ spy Satana’s complete shock at this development. “Wait a minute!” she gasps. “Are you trying to change our deal?!“ Boy, is she in for a rude surprise should she ever hire a housing contractor.
Enraged, she chucks her cocktail into his face (!), but keeps Juan from employing the switchblade that is his weapon of choice. (Humorously, he waves this around, even though they are sitting in a public venue occupied by other customers. Good craftwork there, my friend.) Said knife is one of those really big ones that always strike me as more comical than threatening, although obviously I wouldn’t like to be stabbed by one. Still, it’s so cumbersome that you wonder that anyone would carry one around, and hints at more than a bit of overcompensation on the wielder’s part.
Standing in the background, meanwhile, has been a fellow named Tyros, as played by what appears to be the guy you get when you can’t afford the services of Vic Tayback. Ascertaining that Sergio indeed intends to demand double the amount they had agreed on, she signals Tyros and he heads out to the parking lot. I should note that when Juan reluctantly reaches into his wallet for the additional funds, he withdraws but two or three bills. Even if these are thousand dollar notes, which seems unlikely, I’d have to say Sergio isn’t hijacking them for much. Maybe it’s just the principle of the thing.
Out in the parking lot, meanwhile, Tyros ambushes and kills Sergio’s chauffeur. This despite the fact, I should add that both the chauffeur and car are standing in open sight in front of the club, and moreover mere yards away from a busy street. Again, these guys are obviously masters of the murky, highly covert world of international espionage. I especially like the way they will now kill an associate of theirs, one Juan was just publicly waving a large knife at, right on the doorstep of the place from which they conduct their business.
As you may have guessed, when Sergio leaves and signals the car, it’s now Tyros driving it—while wearing the chauffeur’s cap and jacket, none the less, and despite the fact that driver was half his size—and he runs Sergio down. This isn’t as exaggerated as tying Batman up in a giant popsicle-making machine, but it still seems a pointlessly exaggerated way to kack the guy. And that’s even assuming you could build up a fatal amount of speed in the at best twenty foot distance between Sergio and where the car was parked. Perhaps Sergio actually died choking on the ketchup packet that he was apparently carrying in his mouth for some reason.
Now we get to the star of the picture (although Corey is top-billed), John Carradine as Dr. DeMarco. He is working in a highly unsanitary lab that is literally in his basement, which is realized via a truly motley collection of whatever bits of ‘scientific’ looking equipment Mikels could get his hands on. This includes, if I’m not mistaken, some of the actual filming equipment, such as standing lights.
DeMarco is messing around with an artificial heart in a fish tank. And that’s not an exaggeration, it’s clearly the basic tank you’d buy for a kid who won a couple of goldfish at the school fair. The ‘heart’ is lying on a black tank floor that is clearly fabric, designed perhaps to allow somebody stick their hand up into it to make the organ ‘pulse.’
Franchot the Hunchback is here, and the car crash victim’s body is on a gurney. Franchot is not working very hard to avoid the stereotypes of his profession. He has grossly greasy hair and beard stubble, squints like Popeye and exaggerates his dominant eye during his close-ups, and is moreover mute. Aside from assisting DeMarco, he’s there to provide a rationale as to why the scientist pauses to explain his each and every move in unbearably painstaking detail.
Indeed, we now watch DeMarco and Franchot putter around their ‘lab’ for the next eleven straight minutes of screentime. During this, DeMarco makes any number of highly dubious scientific pronouncements and commands (“Franchot, prepare for 10.2 memory extraction!”); highlights several rather silly pieces of purportedly advanced equipment; and performs a variety of boring tasks in excruciating detail.
As an example, he warns at one point that “We must be sure of total degaussing of the circuits!” This involves a Degaussing Box which sports a little drawer secured with screws. DeMarco grabs a screwdriver, unscrews both screws, removes the box, unscrews another screw holding the lid shut, opens the lid, tosses a small circuit board inside of it, closes the lid, rescrews the top screw, reseats the drawer, rescrews the two outer screws, runs the equipment, and then repeats the entire procedure to remove the circuit board. We watch this entire process in real time. As you can imagine, the resulting minute and a half is raw, electrifying motion picture entertainment at its finest!
()Mess around with the artificial heart.
()Prep the body for surgery. This involves, for example, putting a metal cone on its head.
()Wheel around and deploy several highly apparent pieces of DIY scientific apparatus.
()Subject the body to a piece of equipment that features blinky lights and projects a variety of science fiction sound effects.
()Reveal DeMarco’s altruistic side: “We will add this circuit to the memory bank until we can affect an exchange with the first Astro-Man. One day we’ll be able to fill the memory bank with the most brilliant minds in the world, preserved forever for the benefit of Mankind, to call on them for their knowledge!”
()Pump out the body’s blood and replacing it with what looks to be anti-freeze. The body has a surprising amount of blood left it in, really, considering the guy died awhile ago after bleeding out following a car crash. In any case, we get to see this process performed at some length (over a straight minute of screentime, actually).
This done, they stick the body in the “Thermal Freeze Vault,” which looks like an awful lot like an ice cream display case from one’s local supermarket. I’m just saying. It does, however, make bizarre science-fictiony noises when activated, as it is after DeMarco commands, “Set the Thermal Control Unit on Circuit Number Nine!” (Part of the ‘control unit,’ by the way, looks to be an old drive-in theater speaker box cunningly painted red.)
DeMarco continues his assistant’s education: “If we are to preserve the patient until we can complete the synthetic heart transplant, there must be absolutely no cellular decomposition whatever!” Luckily, I’m sure the dead guy’s cells didn’t degrade even a tittle whilst his body was fatally mauled in a car crash, hauled up a steep hill by a lumbering hunchback under the hot California sun, transported back to the lab, and manhandled there.
By the way, we learn during this extended tour-de-force sequence that the new subject, once complete, will be used to find and recapture DeMarco’s original Quasi-Man, who naturally is the Skulletor guy running around and hacking up hot women.
When this finally ends, we cut directly to Dr. Petrovich’s lab. It’s apparent this is meant to be an ‘ironic’ counterpoint to DeMarco’s dank Mad Scientist lab. As such, it is well lit and painted a sterile white, equipped with gleaming, sanitized equipment, and staffed not by a greasy-haired mute hunchback but a pair of hot lab assistants in cute little nurse-type uniforms. Special attention is paid to the lab’s Visible Man* model, however, which Petrovich scrutinizes while making notes. Yes, he’s obviously doing some very advanced work.[*Apparently somebody thought the Visible Man was symbolic of, well, something, because the camera tends to linger on it whenever we return to the lab.]
One assistant is a redhead named Janine, and it turns out she is Porter’s girlfriend. This we learn when he enters the lab and immediately starts pawing her. It’s OK, though, because it’s after 5:00. This leads to some purportedly wry ‘romantic banter’ which is about as dreary as you’d think, a fact not disguised by the not utterly convincing smiling responses from Petrovich and Lynn, the other assistant. Still, I’m glad Porter has taken advantage of his undercover assignment for the FBI to get a little something-something.
Anyway, Janine is certainly presentable, but for my tastes I prefer Lynn, with the perky upturned nose and short brunette ‘do. Ah, well, that’s what makes the world go around, I guess. Sadly, when the scene ends Lynn is left alone to clean up the lab, so obviously she’s not long for the picture.It turns out that Porter and Janine are to meet Chuck at the Carriage House for dinner and (sigh) a show. Porter opines that Chuck is “hooked on the dancer,” so there’s obviously no escape from the dreaded floor show scene. (Apparently Chuck isn’t allowing his assignment to interfere with his love life either, and he’s actually tracking spies who hang out at the place!) Then everybody leaves except for Lynn the Sacrificial Lamb. As we too depart, the camera pauses to perform a Significant Zoom on the Visible Man model. Uhm, OK.
We cut away to Satana’s room at an apparent EconoLodge. She’s reclining on the couch with her slit skirt hiked up as far as it can scientifically go without turning this into a fan service shot. Here we finally learn the contents of the tape, which are *gasp* a lecture by Dr. DeMarco on the whole Astro-Man / thought-transference thing. Meanwhile, she reads about the “MUTILATION MURDER” bannered in the The Star Dispatch. Or else she’s reading the “GIANT PLANE FOUND ALL ABOARD SAFE” story. Who can say?
After several brilliant seconds of that, we cut back to the lab, now apparently only lit by a candle or something. Janine is still clearing up, despite the fact that their work area is one smallish room and nothing was much disturbed in the first place. I don’t want to surprise the hell out of you, but she’s attacked by Skulletor the Astro-Man, who somehow has entered the lab without her noticing. I’m not sure how that would even be possible, but there you go. He stabs her to death, but not before ripping her uniform (if not her slip) open.
Nice. I must admit, the film is getting genuinely horrifying now. Not because of the horrible murder of Lynn, I mean, but because we now immediately cut to the nightclub, where the long feared floorshow scene commences. This involves a female ‘dancer’ dressed only in panties and a full coat of body paint—ah, the ’60s—writhing unrhythmically to the bongo beat of the house band.
As you’d imagine, this clip has long been unseen, given that it was inevitably removed for the film’s TV showings. I have the DVD, though. Lucky me. And we indeed get to watch this whole number, as do Chuck, Porter and Lynn from their front row table about four feet away. I always wonder in movies from this time period about the woman who are in attendance, inevitably dressed and coiffed to the nines for a night out on the town, and smiling vaguely as they sit with their husbands or boyfriends and watch some supposedly arty strip act or other. I guess you just had to be there.
As the same cocktail waitress seen earlier walks through shot several times (and as a warning, ladies, this is an example of when a guy actually did put his girlfriend in a movie), Juan and Tyros pass through in the background. Our two hyper-observant FBI agents don’t notice them, though, because they are too busy scrutinizing the gyrating boobies before them for signs of communist infiltration. After the number finally ends, they and Janine engage in some more truly painful banter. Again, aren’t they supposed to be rounding up spies and stopping a serial murderer or something?
Tyros calls in to Satana, explaining that Our Heroes are at the club. (Which one of them the villains are tracking remains unclarified; nor do we know if they realize two of them are FBI agents.) Tyros is all pissy about obeying Satana’s orders, either because she’s a woman, or Tura Satana. She lays the law down, though, and orders him and Juan to come to her apartment on the double.
Anyway, their call is being monitored from a junction box at, I guess, Satana’s motel. This leads, unsurprisingly, to a long sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with nothing. Anyway, despite the fact that there are two agents listening in, they don’t seem to actually know where exactly Satana is (and maybe they don’t know who she is, either). This makes their presence on the scene sort of suspect, but there you go.
Trying (I guess) to triangulate the signal, one guy heads outside into the open air courtyard / swimming area. Once apart, the outside guy stands in plain view waving around a presumed signal finder, albeit one that oddly resembles a normal walkie-talkie with the telescoping antenna fully deployed. I guess I had an exaggerated idea about what ‘covert’ means.
Back at the nightclub, where Janine and Porter watch raptly as Chuck performs some sort of lame-looking bar trick involving a cocktail, some flatware and a book of matches. I’m sure this scene would be stupid even if we could actually tell what he’s supposed to be doing, although that’s only conjecture, since we can’t. Anyway, our tax dollars at work. Not to mention our film dollars. Was Mikels really this hard up for material? I’m almost wishing they’d bring the dancer back out.
And there’s the same waitress again. This time she gets to have Chuck leer directly at her ass from about a foot away. But hey, it’s show business! This also leads to another crack about “the study of anatomy,” and boy, that joke gets droller every single time they use it. Then Porter loudly makes a jape about being “undercover men,” despite all the customers at the surrounding tables. In this case, I have to say that the good and bad guys are very well matched.
Super well-trained undercover man Agent Headphones almost gets spotted as Juan and Tyros drive into the garage. Headphones hides, and it’s supposed to be suspenseful about whether they’ll discover him, but it’s not, and they don’t. After Juan and Tyros pass, he frantically tries to alert Agent Walkie-Talkie over their radios, but fails for no other apparent reason than that the Script says so.
And so, to his shock and dismay, Agent Walkie-Talkie gets discovered by the two villains as he stands around out in the open courtyard with his radio finding equipment. Probably the funniest bit about all this is that it seems like the motel is completely deserted except for the players in the film. You can’t even reasonably surmise that the place is shut down, because the swimming pool is perfectly clean and full of water. Even so, this lack of other guests allows for a lot of chasing around the courtyard and shooting and stuff, all without even one extraneous person making an appearance.
However, I’m getting ahead of myself a little. Juan and Tyros get the jump on the guy, grab his gun, and haul him to Satana’s room. There we learn that the guy is a CIA agent (!), meaning that he can’t legally be working on U.S. soil. By the way, if CIA agents were going to conduct fieldwork here illegally, would they really carry their agency ID in their wallets? That’s so dumb I can’t even believe real CIA agents would do it.
The boys work him over, with no apparent fear that they will be overhead. No doubt because, again, they seem to be the only people in a twenty mile radius. Then Satana tortures him a bit with a lit cigarette, asking him who he is, right after Juan identified him from his ID[?]. At this he screams loudly, drawing no attention from anybody. Satana orders him killed. When Tyros balks (??), Satana shoots the agent herself with a silenced revolver.
Barking at Tyros to never disobey her again, she next tells them to dump the body. Naturally they just carry it through the aforementioned courtyard. Seriously, what’s the deal here? Why the hell are they the only ones in the motel? At this very moment (!), Agent Headphones finally decides to leave the garage and investigate what might have happened to his partner. Or rather, he ducks out of the garage for a brief second, and immediately returns to it. Johnny-on-the-Spot, that guy.
However, Tyros and Juan now enter the public garage with the body. Being a canny wetwork veteran, Agent Headphones doesn’t jump them as they walk right past his place of concealment, catching them completely unawares* and with Tyros encumbered by the body. Instead, he allows them to walk well past his position, get on the opposite side of their giant Lincoln sedan, and actually dump the body inside the car before making his presence known. A regular Patton, that one.[*Also, having caught a CIA agent on the premises, wouldn’t you think Juan and Tyros would at least be keeping an eye out for somebody else? If so, you couldn’t tell it from the casual way they came ambling through the garage. As for Headphones, need I point out that maybe he should have been calling for backup at some point?]
Headphones calls out, and the bad guys—now protected by about four tons of Detroit steel—unpredictably decide to shoot at him. Headphones takes a bullet in the shoulder, fires a shot, and then runs off. Naturally he runs out to the courtyard—brilliant!—and a rather ridiculous stalking sequence takes place, one lasting a good long while, as the two henchmen run around the extremely small area looking for their weirdly elusive prey. The best part is that when Headphones tries to take a shot at one of them, it turns out he’s out of ammo—after having fired one shot. Boy, loading your gun with only one bullet? That’s just sloppy, I’ve got to tell you.
Even so, Headphones nearly escapes (maybe—I don’t know) by running past the pool. His hopes are stymied, however, when Satana steps from concealment and empties six shots into him. By the way, while there was technically time for her to have reloaded her gun after thrice shooting the first guy, it seems unlikely that she would have already done so. Anyway, Headphones falls into the pool, which means he’d be filling the thing with blood and leaving tons of trace evidence behind, but whatever.
Again, as you may have noticed, this scene really has little to do with anything. You could easily clip out the entire nearly ten minute-long sequence with no one being the wiser. Morever, everyone would probably considerably more entertained, if only because the movie would have ended earlier and they could have gone done something else.
Back to DeMarco’s lab, where he fiddles with a particularly suspect-looking piece of equipment. Also, he apparently just got his latest shipment from the Mad Scientists Club of America; a writhing, albeit strangely silent, bikini girl strapped to a lab table. What does this woman have to do with anything? Nothing! And then Franchot walks into shot bearing—No!—Yes!—a Conical Flask continuing a Mysterious Colored (not to mention Bubbling) Fluid! Huzzah!
DeMarco calls Franchot over. It’s time to explain the properties of the artificial heart in the fish tank. This hunk of synthetic protoplasm, you see, only beats in the presence of light, natural or manmade. That would seem to be a problem once you stick it into something’s chest, but I guess they could rig up a battery for it or something.
Following a discourse on this topic, DeMarco moves on to expel further gobbledygook (I won’t even deign to call it technobabble) regarding the thought-transmission equipment. I mean, seriously, shouldn’t something be happening in this movie? What about the Astro-Man? Haven’t seen him for a while. No? Sigh.
Yay, we’re moving on! Hazâ€¦Oh. It’s back to Holman’s office. The raw excitement of this scene is indicated by the fact that it opens with a close-up of Chuck grabbing a drink from Holman’s water cooler. It’s small paper cup-filling action at its most exhilarating!
They discuss the deaths of the CIA agents. “There’s no question in my mind, gentlemen,” Holman opines. “Mike Webber and Thompson were on to something!” Gee, ya think? Chuck is all, “I should have been with them!” And, considering what a pair of morons they were, maybe that actually would have helped. (Not that Chuck couldn’t use some thought wave transference himself, if you know what I mean.) But wait, does that mean all these guys are in the CIA? Maybe I just assumed they were FBI, because, you know, it would be illegal for the CIA to conduct domestic investigations, such as putting an agent undercover in an American scientist’s lab.
Anyway, Chuck’s all “blah blah I could have saved one more Jew by selling this ring” and Porter’s all “it’s not your fault“* and Holman’s all “stiff upper lip old bean they knew the risks” and so on. Then, again falling for the idea that this is a Robert Ludlum novel or something, they detail a ridiculously involved biography of the lately departed Sergio. This would have been boring back when he was alive, much less after his death.[*Actually, Porter replies, “You can’t be all things to all people!” What the hell does that mean?!]
Sergio, we learn, had “attended the Astro-Physicist conference just two weeks before DeMarco was dismissed.” Well, that proves it. They have Petrovich come in, since he was at the conference too. He identifies Sergio from a photo, which again I don’t see really amounts to much. But then, I’m not a trained espionage expert. To Holman, it means “I’m certain that subversive elements have in their possession very important information!” *Gasp, choke!* Very important information?! That’s the worst kind!
Porter notes that “There’s got to be a direct connection between this information and the murders!” (Huh?) “Are you trying to say,” Petrovich replies, “that someone has been successful in creating an Astro-Man?!” (What now?) “Exactly!” (Really?) Man, there must be some thought wave transmission going on between these guys, because otherwise this conversation doesn’t make a lick of sense. Oh, and in a “nod” to James Whale’s Frankenstein, the brains DeMarco had to experiment with back in the day were *gasp* homicidal criminal brains. I guess this is supposed to explain why Skulletor is butchering women.
Back to Satana’s apartmentâ€¦ Huh? This makes no sense—I mean, even for this movie—since Holman said they were checking the surrounding area after the agents’ bodies were found there. So Satana’s just staying in the exact room, about twenty yards from where they left the body floating in the pool?
Satana plays Juan and Tyros her tape, on which DeMarco is heard blathering on about even more dubious scientific advances. She’s put together the pieces, and quotes a newspaper article about the police shooting the mystery killer at pointblank range to no visible effect. (This is the first we’ve heard about that, but whatever). And in case you’re wondering, the reason they established the Astro-Zombie as being impervious to “micro-meteorites” is because that means he’s bulletproof, too. Deducing that DeMarco’s experiments have borne fruit, she avers, “This is something my government must have!”
This leads to a rather embarrassing stretch of the movie for the heroes. Juan immediately deduces from the tape (which surely contains nothing Petrovich doesn’t know) that DeMarco is transmitting instructions to the Astro-Man. It takes him all of about ten seconds to figure out that they can thus find DeMarco by isolating his radio transmission and tracing it back to him. This plan is about a hundred times smarter than anything the braintrust at the FBI / CIA / Whatever has come up with.
Instead, our heroes are having Janine go through the records of the criminals whose brains DeMarco had used, since she worked for him during that period. This line of inquiry seems a bit weird, since I’m not sure what they expect to glean from it. And, in fact, after Janine decides the Astro-Man’s brain might have come from one especially deranged individual—she has a whole little story about this, which I will spare you—the whole thing indeed goes nowhere.
Oh, they pretend that it does. Noting Janine’s rather ephemeral connection with the killer (he saw her just before he died), they now deduce that the Astro-Man was seeking her when it sought out the lab and killed Lynn. Thus they decide to have her stay there late, and use her as bait to see if they can draw the Astro-Man back again. Frankly, the identity of the Astro-Man’s brain has little to do with this plan. Obviously he wants something there; otherwise why would he have come to the lab in the first place? The fact that this entire bunch of guys is being outwitted by Juan, of all people, isn’t exactly reassuring.
And again, I’m not really following their reasoning here. Petrovich explains their theory to Janine, that this man’s defective brain might be running around in one of DeMarco’s Astro-Man bodies. “That would explain why he came to the lab,” Petrovich muses. Really? Does it? Why would it do that? It knows where DeMarco is, because it escaped from his house. What would it be seeking here? The answer they give, again, is that he’s looking to kill Janine. Why? Uhmâ€¦defective brain. It’s obvious, right?
Janine gets that they want her to act as bait, and seems at best bemused by the idea, as if they were asking her to be party to some wacky sitcom scheme. “Honey, Chuck and I will be right outside the door,” Porter promises. (Remember that for later.)
Back to Satana’s. Juan is monkeying around with a radio frequency direction finder. My attention, though, was mainly drawn to his oversized Oliver! cap, which is made from some sort of fur. (!!) They spend a certain amount of time explaining how they will use the RF finder to locate DeMarco’s lab. Blah blah. Plus Tyros continues to be a pain in Satana’s neck. Gee, I wonder how that will work out for him?
Back to DeMarco’s lab, where they are still working on the second Astro-Man. “The time has now come to test our new brain,” DeMarco notes. “We must feed this memory circuit through the emotional quotient rectifier to determine if there’s any residual impurity.” Well, obviously.
This leads into a time-wasting sequence where they supposedly do just that, a process that naturally features a series of blinky lights and goofy sound effects. “I’ve introduced into the console the electrolitic [sic] limiters,” he continues, “which should disallow interference with the [something] patterns functioning in the body mechanism.” Please, tell me something I didn’t know.
“Before we can recall our first creation,” he adds, “we must attempt to override his emotional index by stepping up the voltage and transmission frequency.” Yes, yes, and the reason the apple hit Newton on the head was because of gravity. Yawn. In any case, when his latest attempt fails to reassert control over the missing Astro-Man, he notes they will have to prepare their new subject for “brain transfer and total Astro-mobilization.” Ah, now it’s all coming together.
This is the time-wasting part of the picture (more so than the rest of it, I mean), as they burn off running time before the big climax. So here we cut to thirty or forty seconds of Satana and the guys driving around in a car with their RF finder, searching for DeMarco’s signal.
However, that pales before the ennui-generating capacity of the next scene, which involves the growing ‘tension’ as Janine sits in the lab acting as bait. Except for a single extraneous and admittedly overlong cutaway to the baddies still driving around in their car, this scene in total lasts an entire six straight minutes. It’s made up mostly of shots of Janine looking increasingly nervous, Janine looking in a microscope, shots of various pieces of lab equipment, shots of the aforementioned Visible Man model, shots of the fake brain in the cake dish, more shots of the Visible Man model, shots of the door, shots of the clock to indicate the passage of time, etc.
The only real laugh during all of this, meanwhile, is when we cut to Chuck and Porter. As we learn, their apparent idea of standing guard “right outside the door” turns out to mean, “We’ll station ourselves outside the building entirely, out by a hill somewhere, and listen in through a bug, and thus quite possibly will maybe be able to get back into the building in time to perhaps could be save you when we hear you’re being attacked.” Good plan, Ace. (And again, the fact that Juan came up with a far superior scheme in about five seconds isn’t helping any.)
Finally, shortly after midnight (meaning she’s been sitting around the lab for the last six or seven hours), she gasps as the doorknob begins to slowly turnâ€¦and it’s Porter. Whew! What an unexpected false scare. You’re a regular Hitchcock, Mr. Mikels.
Closing up operations for the night, Porter gives Janine a ride home. Because its so obvious what’s about to happen, they don’t even bother to hide the fact, and so when they arrive outside her place, we see that the Astro-Man is watching from inside. (How did it know where Janine lived? Why ask why? It just makes your head hurt.)
I have to say, this film has some of the worst day-for-night photography I’ve ever seen. Which, if I mean be so bold, is saying something. The amount of light exposure changes as radically from shot to shot as in Plan 9 from Outer Space. As the Astro-Man peeks out the window, for instance, it’s supposed to be around one in the morning, and yet it looks like dusk outside. Luckily, though, the loud cricket sounds confirm that it is supposed to be dark out, no matter what our eyes are telling us.
Luckily, Janine invites Porter inside, the little tramp. Unluckily, when she finds the lights aren’t working, he heads back out to examine the exterior fuse box. Oh, the suspense. By the way, good work, Brainiac. By which I mean Porter, of course. His whole plan tonight revolved around the fact that he figured a homicidal maniac was after Janine. Then, when he returns her home in the middle of the night and learns that hers is the only house on the block without power, he doesn’t find it remotely suspicious. Sherlock Holmes, he ain’t.
So Janine heads to her bedroom and strips down to her slip. (Other than the nightclub dance scene, the film is devoid of anything approaching nudity.) Meanwhile, Porter tinkers with the fuse box. Naturally this is all dragged out for, you know, The Suspense. Finally, though, she is assaulted by the Astro-Man. She screams and screams, but Porter doesn’t hear her because he’s outside. Luckily, though, she is the beneficiary of the Heroine’s Death Battle Exemptionâ„¢, and so survives much longer than anyone else so attacked.
Thus she is eventually saved when Porter finally deigns to notice her screams. He runs inside, bursts into the room, and promptly gets his ass handed to him. However, he fortuitously—to say the least—accidentally manages to dislodge the Astro-Man’s battery unit during the tussle. Starved of energy, it flees, powered only by Porter’s flashlight, which it holds up to the solar collector panels on its head. (This is why they earlier established that DeMarco’s artificial heart could be powered by “manmade light.”)
And yes, this is as completely retarded as it sounds. First, it looks stupid as hell to have your monster running around mashing a flashlight into its forehead. Second, you’re telling me you can power an entire Astro-Man with a couple of ‘C’ cell batteries?! And indirectly, to boot, via the flashlight beam they generate? Whatever, dude.
Thus, through sheer luck, they now have a way to find DeMarco’s lab. Porter figures that without its power cell, it will have to return there for a replacement. He calls Holman and has him mobilize a number of cops and agents to watch for the Astro-Man and follow it once it’s been spotted. With this, all the film’s various plot threads are finally set to converge. This is good, since it indicates the movie may finally end at some point.
Meanwhile, back to more footage of Satana and the Gang, still driving around. They finally stop, as Juan manages to get an exact fix on DeMarco’s whereabouts. However, and I hope you’re sitting down, once he does so he and Satana find themselves betrayed by the resentful Tyros, who is tired of taking Satana’s crap. Needless to say, though, Tyros pulls his gun while he’s standing—and I’m not exaggerating here—about six inches away from Juan. Seriously, they’re standing right next to one another.
And does he immediately shoot? Of course not! First, there’s the mandatory gloating. Needless to say, things quickly go awry. First, not only is Juan right up in his grill, but even Satana is close enough to kick away his gun. She does, and Juan pulls his novelty-sized pig-sticker, and it’s goodbye Tyros. Again, though, the good side is that they are starting to tie up the various plot threads. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Inside, the bikini girl on the table is still writhing, and still while remaining weirdly silent. I guess the idea is that she’s meant to be a subject for Franchot’s side experiments. However, just as he’s about to switch out her blood, DeMarco interrupts him. (Franchot has already given her a shot, however, so maybe she’s still supposed to be dead.) “Come here!” DeMarco. “I require your assistance with more important work.” Wow, way to harsh on a guy’s self-esteem there, Doc.
Again, with things (finally) starting to happen, DeMarco is ready to activate the second Astro-Man. This one must be more advanced, though. Instead of the staid brown corduroy jacket the original one wears, this model is attired in a swank black sweater adorned with a natty white ‘V’ pattern on the chest. It looks like the sort of thing a spy on a Speed Racer cartoon would wear.
Satana and Juan arrive on the scene just in time to witness them, and hear lots more ridiculous ‘scientific’ dialogue. Meanwhile, DeMarco is (slightly) nonplussed to find strangers suddenly ordering him around at gunpoint. However, and they also ask him questions, and lord, does that man like to talk.
About a minute later, the first Astro-Man crashes the party, still holding that flashlight to its noggin. I have to admit, this would make a hell of a Duracell commercial. Outside, meanwhile, the cops are surrounding the place. (Here shots go from the dark of night to broad daylight and every exposure in-between. Even Mikels must have been embarrassed.)
Chuck arrives and heads in, with Porter and Janine driving up soon after. Porter tells her to stay behind, but she insists she doesn’t want to be left alone. And so he reluctantly takes her with them as he approaches the house. Why not leave her with some of the cops? Well, you know. Then she couldn’t be dramatically imperiled one final time. (Oops, sorry.)
There’s still time for plenty of yakkity-yak between DeMarco and Satana, though. Then the Astro-Man barges in and they get on with it. DeMarco immediately installs another power cell in the thing, despite the fact that it’s an uncontrollable killing machine that’s been running around loose all this time.
Chuck pops his head into the basement, exchanges shots with Satana, and withdraws. Meanwhile, a battle of the henchmen ensues, as Franchot and Juan face off in a knife fight. The latter’s skills don’t look nearly as flashy as I think they are supposed to be, but he manages to kack the hunchback. Man, those guys can’t catch a break.
Things don’t go much better for Juan, though. The first Astro-Man, as soon as he’s revived, grabs a machete that was just lying around on top of a cabinet. Juan manages to get by him, but only to get mowed down by the cops when he runs outside. Say what you will about this movie—and I have—but it packs a downright hilarious amount of mayhem into the film’s final four or five minutes.
Outside, Porter has left Janine standing alone on DeMarco’s lawn as he makes to investigate further. Yes, that’s much safer than leaving her back by the car. Dumbass. Then the Astro-Man, in best Frankenstein Monster fashion (well, OK, nothing close to ‘best’ Frankenstein Monster fashion, but you know what I mean), bursts outside for his inevitable climatic rampage.
Seeing that bullets have no effects on the thing, a couple of cops decide the smart thing to do is run up and engage the machete-wielding monster hand to hand, with predictable results. However, we do get a rolling decapitated ‘head’ that, through the miracle of my DVD player’s slow-mo features, we can see is a hastily decorated Styrofoam head, the sort you keep wigs on.
Then the Astro-Man stumbles across Janine, who not only doesn’t seem to have noticed any of the commotion—screams, gunfire, etc.—and also doesn’t percieve the approaching Astro-Man until he’s about a foot away from her. This in apparent observance of the fine old cinematic tradition that holds a character can’t see something, no matter how close it is, until it actually enters the camera shot.
Porter hears her screams, intercedes, and is knocked out in literally one second flat. However, DeMarco is attempting to end the madness by tossing the inevitable Secret Switch in his basement that will permanently deactivate the Astro-Man. Satana warns him not to try it, but he proceeds anyway. Thus Janine is saved again when the Astro-Man falls to the ground just as he’s about to kill her.
Satana shoots DeMarco as she promised. This makes absolutely no sense, because it’s not the actual Astro-Man she wants, it’s the secret to making them, which DeMarco has. However, this is again the end of the movie, and they have only left themselves about five minutes to kill off any number of characters. However, after pumping some bullets into him, she more or less just stands there as the dying scientist throws a final switch.
This activates the second Astro-Man. “I’m Satana,” she tells him. “You must obey my commands.” I’m not sure I follow the logic there, and neither does the Astro-Man, who being “morally pure” knows a commie rat when he smells one. He grabs Satana and pushes her into a live electrical panel, conveniently frying his own circuits in the process.
Watching all this are Chuck, Porter and Janine, who, need I point it out, have done absolutely dick this entire movie. Seriously, they didn’t accomplish a single damn thing but stand around until such a time as all the villains killed each other off. Save only Juan, every single miscreant—Sergio, Tyros, Franchot, DeMarco, Satana and both Astro-Men—were killed by one another. Good work, guys. You make me proud to be an American.
Still, they turn out to be better film critics than action heroes. “Horrible,” Janine concludes. “And there you have it,” Chuck concurs. And really, that about says it. Oh, except for the Hero’s Obligatory Final Philosophical Declaration on the Meaning of It All. And thus the film ends with Porter musing, “There’s one basic element of human life that can never be removed: emotions.”
Dude, you have just officially blown my mind.
Dr. DeMarco’s explains elementary memory extraction science to Franchot: “A 10.6 will erase every vestige of memory from the subject’s brain. He will lose mobility, he will be totally helpless. A vegetable, so to speak. A 10.2 will leave his motor movements in the retention cells. His brain may call on them again. Now, Franchot, we place the degaussed circuit in the programmer, and reset the programmer at exactly 10 and 2/10ths seconds. This time we must not fail to remove the emotional characteristics. Our only hope of recovering our original creation is to be sure this brain is a pure, calculating machine. Now, 20,000 volts, and five hundred thousand cyclesâ€¦.”
Lab Assistants in Love:
Janine reacts with mock chagrin to Porter’s octopus impression: “Dr. Porter!”
Porter: “Where do you get this ‘Dr. Porter’ bit? It’s after 5:00, right? It’s Eric, remember.”
Janine, waving a caliper: “Would you believe a pinch on the nose!”
Porter: “Would you believe a pinch on theâ€¦.”
Janine, scandalized: “Eric!”
Onlooker Petrovich: “The young are never satisfied with anatomical experiment on plastic models!”
Well, duh II.
DeMarco fills in Franchot on how his artificial heart operates: “We must utilize a solar energy storage cell. Otherwise, any time there’s no light, there’s no heartbeat. With the storage cell continuing the flow of current, the pump works uninterruptedly. You see, part of the electricity generated by the solar battery is held in reserve until required. The cell operates on any source of light, the sun or even manmade light.”
A Good Cast is Worth Repeatingâ€¦and so is this one:
At the very beginning of the film, our hopes are temporarily roused when the name Jack H. Harris appears on the screen. As a producer, Mr. Harris oversaw the making of several very enjoyable B science fiction pictures: The 4D Man, The Blob, Dinosaurus!, Equinox, Schlock, Dark Star, etc.
That’s the man himself, however. The credit here is actually for Jack H. Harris Enterprises, Inc., which has a rather less illustrious history. A distribution company, the firm at that time distributed a mix of American genre fare (Monte Hellman’s cult actor-heavy cowboy picture Ride in the Whirlwind (1965)) and sexy foreign films. 1968 not only saw them release Astro-Zombies, but also the French skin flicks Le Bal des voyous and Claude Chabrol’s Les Biches.
Meanwhile, any hopes raised by the appearance of Jack Harris’ name are quickly dashed when the more ominous moniker Ted V. Mikels makes several appearances. Mr. Mikels previously appeared on this site via his inane ‘musical’ crime extravaganza, Girl in Gold Boots. Although once one of Mr. Mikels more obscure titles, that film’s profile rose after a later appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Forgive me for being petty enough to note that I had reviewed the film before its appearance there.)
Prior to that, Astro-Zombies was Mr. Mikels’ best known work, due to the fact that it was once a late-night TV staple. Even so, Mikels boasts many other titles well loved by bad movie aficionados, including The Corpse Grinders, Doll Squad (a film Mr. Mikels would continue to claim ‘inspired’ the TV series Charlie’s Angels), Blood Orgy of the She Devils, and so on. Before the Internet and the advent of home video, Mr. Mikels was, by dint of regular TV play, nearly as revered by the nascent bad movie community as Larry Buchanan.
Sadly, Mr. Mikels’ returned to the game early in the 21st century, churning out sequels to his two most famous ‘Z’-grade titles. Shot with a video camera and featuring ‘special’ effects apparently perpetrated on some kid’s home computer, Mark of the Astro-Zombies and The Corpse Grinders 2 (both 2002) struck this reviewer as literally unwatchable. (And, if I may say so, I think that verdict has some weight behind it.)
As such, they were on a par with Jon Thor Mikl’s unspeakably dreadful Intercessor, a similarly late in the day, shot-on-video ‘sequel’ to Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare. These guys not only couldn’t go home again, they were apparently forced to maintain a several mile distance from those residences by some sort of cinematic restraining order.
A more amusing name also appears in the credits, one that for a while lent the film a certain cachet with stand up comedians. The co-writer and one of the executive producers of Astro-Zombies was none other than Wayne Rogers. Although I’m sure this name doesn’t mean much to our younger readers, Mr. Rogers later gained tremendous fame as the co-star of TV’s long-running M*A*S*H*, back when the series was actually trying to be funny. (Although it was deemed at the time to have achieved this goal, latter day reruns increasingly suggest this state of affairs was largely illusory.)
For three years, Mr. Rogers played Trapper John McIntyre (the character later was the subject of a bizarre spin-off, set decades after the Korean War and starring Pernell Roberts). Rogers was originally supposed to be the program’s co-star, but increasingly became a mere sidekick of Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce. Rankled, Rogers left the show, one of a raft of character replacements occurring around that time. McIntyre’s sideman niche was filled by Mike Farrell’s B. J. Hunnicut.
Astro-Zombies‘ cast boasts several names of interest. For instance, this sadly proved the last appearance for actor Wendell Corey. Mr. Corey had been a busy character actor since the last ’40s, and was moreover a one-time President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (!!) That was from 1961 to 1963, when, ironically enough, he was mostly doing episodic TV work. Soon, though, he was forced to appear in a series of genuinely awful sci-fi cheapies,* including Cyborg 2087, Agent for H.A.R.M. and Women of the Prehistoric Planet (the latter two themselves MST3K subjects).[*This is sort of ironic, given that his career was busiest in the 1950s, and yet he failed to appear in even one of that decade’s myriad science fiction films.]
In this latter phase of his career, either due to age, illness, or maybe just an advanced case of Bo Svenson ‘I Don’t Give a Damn Anymore‘ Syndrome, Corey was best known for mumbling his lines in such an egregious fashion that half the time you couldn’t make out what he was saying. In any case, and even though he never really had a great movie career—he did, however, have a major role in Hitchcock’s Rear Window—you have to wince a bit at the fact that this was his last film.
Tura Satana went on to also star in Mikels’ later The Doll Squad, but is far better known for playing murder-happy nutbag Varla in Russ Meyer’s legendary Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Despite almost always being described as “exotic” looking—and I guess she is, compared to, say, Tuesday Weld—Satana has Eurasian features that I personally don’t find all that amazing. She’s a striking woman, though, if somewhat limited in the acting department.
Ms. Satana retired from the screen following The Doll Squad (1973), presumably because she obviously had little prospect of a decent acting career, especially as age caught up with her. In the end, her fame—such as it was—rested on her three films for Mikels and Meyer, a couple of teeny parts in real movies (Irma la Douce, Our Man Flint), and a few TV appearances. Mikels lured her out of retirement to appear in his videotape travesty Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2002), and I guess it’s up to her fans to argue whether her reappearance was pleasing or merely wince-inducing.
Tom Pace (Eric Porter) was part of Mikels’ stock company, having played Buzz in Girl in Gold Boots and the male lead in the later Blood Orgy of the She Devils. Like many actors he, he basically appeared in films for Mikels and otherwise did TV guest appearances. For Joan Patrick (Janine), for example, this was her lone movie part following a string of episodic TV appearances. Perhaps reading the wind, she retired from acting after her role here.
Rafael Campos, who got the special “as Juan” credit, started his career with a bang by playing one of the kids in the original Juvenile Delinquent movie, The Blackboard Jungle, joining such actors as Sidney Poitier and Jamie Farr. Mr. Campos continued to work steadily throughout the ’90s, although his career can be summed up in the names of his characters: Morales, Chavez, Carlos, Rafael, Perez, Garcia, Valdez, Fuentes, Paco, Miguel, Felipe, Juarez, Santiago, Juan, Pepe, Chico, Santos, Mendoza, Manny, Ramon, Jesus, Gomez, Rojas, Sancho and more. Many of those names, actually, appear in credits more than once. And as was usual for ‘exotic’ looking actors of the day, he also was occasionally drafted to play an American Indian or an Italian.
Victor Izay, aside from Carradine and Corey, has the most successful career. He began screen acting back in 1960, and still works today. For instance, he was in the recent movies Wild Hogs and Employee of the Month. Again mostly working in TV, Mr. Izay still had numerous film roles to his credits. For the Jabootuite, of especially interest was Doc, a rare ‘good’ authority figure in Tom Laughlin’s three Billy Jack movies. Like any others here, he also appeared in several films for Mikels.
As for the late, great John Carradine, well, I won’t attempt to sum up his astounding career here. You could write a book about the man. In fact, somebody did, and it’s a doozy. Dig up a copy or add it to your Christmas wish list.
Thanks, as ever, to the persnickety Mr. Carl Fink and the astute Mr. Bill Leary, who once more boldly threw themselves into the briar patch of my bumbling prose and wrestled through the thorns therein.