Gobs of Gore in “Goblin” (1993)

Do you enjoy seeing things? What about hearing them? If you answered “no” to these questions, Todd Sheets is the filmmaker for you. He’s infamous for the SOV (shot-on-video) horrors he made with his metalhead friends in the late 80s/early 90s in Kansas City, Missouri. Titles like Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons and Prehistoric Bimbos in Armageddon City. The limitations of video, combined with Sheets’ inexperience, low production values, and fondness for shooting at night in complete darkness ensure his “movies” are challenging watches. Then there’s the content. Gore. Goblin is one of the goriest, a fact I find kind of funny, given its understated title.

Sheets references Lucio Fulci at least three times in Goblin alone — twice by name, once via eye gouging — indicating he was influenced by him, but he has more in common with Andreas Schnaas, another Fulci devotee. You can always tell when a movie was made by a Fulci fan (or a metalhead, for that matter) because the only aspect they focus on is the violence. They channel all their creative energy into staging brutal, tasteless kills to show how extreme they are, meanwhile, drama, humor, suspense, technique, artistry, etc., fall by the wayside.

Regardless, Sheets managed to carve out a steady career for himself alongside SOV alumni David Prior, Donald Farmer, Mark Polonia, Tim Ritter, and others, so he must have done something right. He comes off as a chill dude in interviews with a genuine passion for horror. He’s a name I’ve put off exploring til now, as I’m not big on evisceration or zombies, which pop up a lot in his work. However, I’m coming to realize that Sheets’ movies are quirky enough to warrant a look anyway. I was unimpressed when I watched part of Goblin a year ago. I decided to finish it last week and found it more tolerable, dare I say fun. It just depends on what mood you’re in.

Sheets’ first full-length feature was Zombie Rampage. It started production in 1988 and took a year and a half to complete. By the time Sheets did Goblin in ’90 or ’91, he still had no clue what he was doing or how to make his movies look like he wanted. He was frustrated by this and burnt out on gore. He apparently rarely eats meat and disliked having to use it in lieu of special effects. So, he tasked his friends with shooting the death scenes. He was also discouraged by negative feedback he’d been receiving, including hurtful reviews published by his own distributor J.R. Bookwalter under the guise of a marketing ploy. One disgruntled viewer even threatened to kill Sheets’ mother if he picked up a camera again! He considers everything he did prior to 1993’s Zombie Bloodbath, including Goblin, a mistake and/or learning experience. He recently referred to Goblin as a “steaming pile of garbage”[1].

The movie jumped out at me for a few reasons. Firstly, the artwork is cool. It was done by Bill Morrison, who you may remember as Buddy the armed robber from Zombie Cop. He’s a makeup effects artist, too, and designed the “Sculley” puppet from The Witching. Another reason Goblin jumped out at me is because I love gimmicky 90s villains based on old folk stories, such as Camilla (a dryad), Candyman, the Djinn, and the Leprechaun. Lastly, I used to collect goblin cards when I played Magic the Gathering.

Goblins are mischievous fairy creatures of Medieval belief. Some authorities use “goblin” and “fairy” interchangeably to encompass all teensy magical beings. This can be confusing as fantasy role-playing games make clear distinctions between goblins, fairies, dwarves, elves, gnomes, etc. Etymologists think “goblin” derives from the Greek word “kobalos”, which could also be where “kobold” originates. In German folklore, kobolds are fairies that occupy homes, caves, mines, and ships.

Their Welsh equivalents are the coblynau. “The coblynau are described as being about half a yard in height and very ugly to look upon, but extremely good-natured, and warm friends of the miner.” Wirt Sikes writes in British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, published 1880. “Their dress is a grotesque imitation of the miner’s garb, and they carry tiny hammers, picks and lamps. They work busily, loading ore in buckets, flitting about the shafts, turning tiny windlasses, and pounding away like madmen, but really accomplishing nothing whatever. They have been known to throw stones at the miners, when enraged at being lightly spoken of; but the stones are harmless.”

Many regions have their own versions. England has bluecaps. Cornwall, knockers. Somewhere along the way, goblins became real flesh-and-blood monsters. Magic depicts them as short, comically stupid, green humanoids with pointed ears and noses that reside in mountainous regions. J.R.R. Tolkien and his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit are largely to blame for this shift. One thing Magic‘s goblins retain from their Medieval counterparts is their penchant for mining/digging/spelunking.

What I’m getting at is, the killer in this movie in no way resembles either representation, nor any representation I’ve seen. Not even the cloaked, vegetarian goblins of Nilbog. The killer in this movie is average height with a crusty face, black raccoon rings around its eyes, and long, luxurious hair running down into sideburns. Its skin color switches between black and white, but is most often white. It wears a jacket sewn together from tattered strips of fabric, jorts, and sneakers.

Goblins.
Credit: scryfall.com

Not goblins.
Credit: Kings of Horror

If Sheets insists on calling it a goblin, it’s technically a hobgoblin. Sikes notes the difference. “In the English ‘hobgoblin’ we have a word apparently derived from the Welsh hob, to hop, and coblyn, a goblin, which presents a hopping goblin to the mind… but should mean in English simply the goblin of the hob, or household fairy.”

Interestingly, “Hobgoblin” was the original title, but Sheets changed it to avoid confusion with Rick Sloane’s highly enjoyable Gremlins cash-in Hobgoblins. The killer in this movie bears no resemblance to those creatures either. Anyway, here’s what happens.

A scrawny guy with a gnarly mullet/mustache combo (co-writer Jerry Angell) is very upset at someone named Virginia Woods for making him chop thistles. He decides he’s had enough and heads to a small barn or shack for a beer. Hands push him into a chair. The hands grab a hedge trimmer and saw open his stomach. The hedge trimmer is silent. There are many lingering shots of the poor guy’s organs and watery blood spurting out. The organs were meat scraps from a supermarket, the stuff they send off to rendering plants, mixed with ropes and hunks of cotton. Sheets used them at the suggestion of Herschell Gordon Lewis, who he called up for advice and developed a friendship with.

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

A young couple is moving into an old farmhouse. Two other couples are helping them. We’ve got homeowners Larry & Tammy (Jenny Admire), Jerry (Mike Hellman) & Sherry, and Jeff & Jodie (Tonia Monahan). It took me two watches to get the couplings and names sorted out. All three men have long hair. They find a mysterious suitcase in the basement containing a journal, crucifix necklace, and clothes. Jodie flips through the journal. Within seconds, she’s absorbed its entire contents.

“Hey, guys, listen to this.” she starts. “Twenty years ago, this guy practiced, like, black magic. Says here that he was trying out a spell to help his crops grow, but something went wrong and he, like, brought up this demon from Hell that he couldn’t control.”

Credit: Kings of Horror

The credits replay this part with the caption “Tonia learns how to read on the set!” There’s also a close-up of her rack that reads “Tonia’s enormous talent at work!” I hope she okayed being roasted like this.

Cut to a married couple sitting in a loveseat. The wife gets up to do dishes. The husband goes to the store.

That night, the six friends eat a stale frozen pizza they claim was home-cooked by Tammy’s mom. A Body Parts poster hangs on the dining room wall behind them. The friends hear a bang from outside, which turns out to be their husky unnamed associate Deric Bernier. Admire, Hellman, Monahan, and Bernier were in eight of Sheets’ movies apiece. Mike Hellman handled lighting and “special make-up effects” here as well, whereas Jerry Angell received credit for “additional gore scenes”. The thing about these low-to-no-budget productions is, everyone had to wear many hats.

The demon appears in the neighbors’ kitchen. It backhands the wife, who spins away, spitting blood on a wall. The demon grabs a power drill from her stovetop. I keep mine there, too! The wife is still spitting blood on the wall. She collapses and lies there awaiting her doom. The demon lowers the drill toward her eye for thirty-two seconds. When he finally inserts it, guts pile up on the dead woman’s face (all humans store their guts in their eyes). The demon crouches over her corpse and rips some more entrails out of her abdomen. Lastly, for no discernable reason, it turns on the stove. The husband gets a fire poker shoved up his ass while generic thrash metal plays.

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

The friends hear another sound. They assume it’s neighborhood kids messing around. So, they head outside with a Halloween mask to scare them off. Jeff climbs a ladder backward to the roof with a panicked look on his face and is grabbed from behind by the demon, which disembowels him while he’s alive.

Jodie changes skirts. It doesn’t show her panties, let alone butt cheeks. I’m assuming Monahan wore the wrong skirt to her death scene and this part was added to right that wrong. I love how Sheets went to the trouble of fixing this minor continuity error, but none of the major ones. Jodie goes searching for Jeff. She starts climbing the ladder. A sickle is jammed in her ‘gina. She spits up a large volume of blood. That’s not how anatomy works. The demon reaches into her hole and pulls out a mile of intestines. Jodie just stands on a rung without falling, fighting, running, or screaming.

The rest of the friends decide to go look for Jeff and Jodie. Jerry spots them “playing possum” on the lawn. A closer look reveals the horrifying truth. The girls run screaming past [unnamed], who’s grabbing something to eat from the fridge. Big dude + food = comedy. The guys follow the girls down to the basement and somehow wind up at ground level by a storm door. The couples formulate a plan while [unnamed] dramatically cowers in fear. They conclude the killer is inside the house, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They decide it’s too risky to drive away because their cars are parked by said house, so they walk to the neighbors’. Larry uses a phone to call 9-1-1. The police react to his story with skepticism. He hasn’t even mentioned the demon. The line goes dead. The group heads upstairs to the kitchen (?), sees the husband and wife, and nopes out of dodge. None of these layouts make sense.

“Double homicide? Look, we’ve already been out there tonight for a sisterectomy, a case of severe butt-rot, and a leprechaun bite.”
Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

Amidst the chaos, the demon grabs [unnamed] and rips his chest open with its bare hands. The demon is now in a plain white T-shirt. It twists the guy’s ear off and pulls intestines out of the wound. Again, that’s not how anatomy works. A great deal of this movie consists of the demon playing with innards. A cruddy metal song accompanies the gruesome visual. Music was done by Sheets’ band, Enochian Key. Gustav Holst’s composition “Mars, the Bringer of War” is also used liberally.

The group barges into a third house owned by Great Value Heather Langenkamp, whose real name is Dorothy. These houses all look identical. Larry explains that two of his friends were killed by a “thing” (he hasn’t noticed [unnamed] is missing), even though he never actually saw it. Dorothy believes him. She says the demon, which she calls a goblin, was boarded up in a well and must have escaped. Larry admits he removed the boards earlier. He says he got his friends into this mess, and he’ll get them out. He and Jerry order the girls to stay put, one of which is apparently pregnant and unwilling to raise the baby by herself. “We’re gonna get some tools,” Larry begins, then turning to face the camera, “and fix that goblin’s engine.” That’s not even clever. They leave.

A moment later, the goblin tricks Dorothy into opening her front door by imitating a human voice and pulls her outside. The men are now running back to the house being chased by the goblin. They just barely make it inside. Dorothy follows them in. I guess she didn’t die. Everyone shuffles up a flight of stairs to an attic, then walks through a door to a basement (?), where they arm themselves with baseball bats and golf clubs. The blueprints must have been drawn by M.C. Escher.

A sheriff dressed as a cowboy walks into an office. His receptionist (Veronica Orr, Morgana from The Witching) tells him, and I quote, “I got an address on that call. You know, I got an address on that call.” Takes from two different angles were used. The audio for both was kept in.

Credit: Kings of Horror

The sheriff asks where the call came from.

“Well, it wasn’t easy.” the woman responds. “It wasn’t easy, but they stayed on the line just long enough to… trace it… 1375 Northeast Neverland Lane.”

The sheriff recognizes the address as “the old Romero house… where all those murders happened”. Ok, can we stop naming things after esteemed horror directors? Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder.

Our protagonists dash back to the first house to consult the journal. However, it offers no answers. They barricade the door with some chairs. What happens next is impossibly pointless and boring. Todd Sheets wanders around in the dark with a flashlight for eight minutes straight. He’s wearing a leather jacket and short shorts. He enters a house. He says hello eleven or more times. It becomes a joke. He threatens to call the police on whoever’s not answering him while trespassing in their home. He’s mutilated for a further two minutes. Ten minutes total. That’s 13% of the runtime right there. Afterward, the protags watch as the sheriff arrives and is killed. The goblin lets him off easy. No disembowelment. I’m pleasantly surprised.

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

Larry and Jerry devise an elaborate plan involving a lawnmower and shooting fire through a hole. Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. So, instead, they attempt to run down the goblin with a rototiller. The goblin just sort of takes it and chases them with it. It’s not even on. The blades never move.

Pregnant Sherry unbarricades the door to run to the cop car. Tammy yells at her, then runs to the cop car herself. The goblin appears out of nowhere and pounds on the glass. Tammy uses the car phone to call the receptionist who repeats her lines. “Get your fucking ass out here now, I’m gonna die.” she pleads in a whiny voice. The receptionist is unhelpful. She admonishes Tammy for using profanity. But at least she only does it once. The line goes dead.

The guys are back in the house. Dorothy reports that she carefully read the diary twice (!) and found a solution. To kill the goblin, all they need to do is expose its heart and place the crucifix necklace from the mysterious suitcase inside. If the farmer who conjured the goblin knew this, why didn’t he do it?

Larry heroically buzzes through the goblin’s ribcage with a circular saw and plunges the necklace inside. Watery blood shoots out of its forehead for some reason while it shakes. I think it’s supposed to be melting.

Larry announces the goblin is dead. Blood drips from the ceiling, signaling all is not well. An exterior light flickers. Two zombies stir. A random male voice that doesn’t belong to Larry or Jerry warns Sherry that “anyone that is killed by the goblin will return to life as an evil entity, a member of the undead.” and advises her to “go get some knives”. Sherry grabs several knives from a drawer.

Larry is suddenly rambling about a virus that reanimates corpses. Sherry shouts to James that zombies are getting into the house; there is no one named James. By this point, I knew something was wrong. Turns out, the footage is actually from Zombie Rampage. Three zombies in matching plaid shirts tackle a guy in a plaid shirt for gimmick infringement. They rip his skin off. Someone has a gun. A forearm is bitten. People scream. The end. Minus the recycled footage and credits, Goblin is only about sixty-four minutes long. So, average length for an SOV movie.

Overall, it’s an amateurish, one-dimensional gorefest that lacks substance. It’s full of plot holes and continuity errors. The acting is not. Like I already said, the picture is too dark to see. What can be made out is drained of color. The dialogue is inaudible. I won’t say its heart is in the right place, because it’s really nasty and gross, but everyone involved tried their hardest and their love of horror shines through. If you can look past all these problems, you might have some fun. If you can’t, I don’t blame you, it’s pretty rough stuff.

Goblin was produced by J.R. Bookwalter and issued by Video Outlaw, a subsidiary of Bookwalter’s main label Tempe Video. It also appeared in the 50-movie, 12-DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares”, which is now out of print and going for sixty-plus dollars on eBay. I watched it on the Kings of Horror YouTube channel.

The version they have is apparently not the original. Bleeding Skull’s review, which is based on the Video Outlaw VHS, contains a screenshot of an alternate title card and mentions a scene where “the goblin is summoned from his pit of hell — aka a jacuzzi”. I’m interested in checking out that version and what else Sheets has to offer. Dominion looks more my speed.

Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

References
1. Sovhorror. “SOBs Who Love SOV – Ep 14 Goblin (1993).” Online video clip. YouTube. August 20th, 2020. Web. June 15th, 2022.

“Dracula in Vegas” (1999)

This review is long overdue, so let’s get down to it. Join me as I take a look at perhaps the cheapest vampire movie ever made.

Directed By
Nick Millard

Version Reviewed
Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD ©2017, Region: 1, Standard: NTSC

Total Runtime
~1 hour, 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Synopsis
Eastern Transylvania: a young man named Max (Maximillian Grabinger, director Millard’s teenage nephew-in-law vacationing from Munich) is parked in a car with his girlfriend. Max has a thick German accent. He pronounces vampire “wham-pire”. He’s worried his girlfriend will forget him while he’s away at college in America. She assures him she won’t. “I will give you something to remember me by.” Max insists, sprouting a pair of plastic dollar store vampire fangs. His mouth is already bloody. He lunges at his girlfriend while growling. The shot of him lunging repeats for some reason.

“Max, stop biting me!” the poor girl pleads. Her screams become moans of pleasure, taking the sexual nature of vampirism to a comical level. It sounds like she’s cumming 💦

Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

Max walks in his front door carrying a handful of mail. He bounds up the stairs with a skip in his step. He explains to his dad (comedian Sam Gartner) that he’s been accepted to Harvard, Yale, and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. One of those things is not like the other. He can’t decide between Harvard and Yale. His dad informs him he won’t have to; he’s going to Las Vegas because it has 1) an active nightlife, 2) a surplus of beautiful women to feast on. Max reluctantly agrees.

Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

He packs a duffel bag while his mom (Flora Myers), who’s a good twenty/thirty years older than her husband, cries in the corner. She instructs Max to watch out for “cocksuckers” and warns him against biting AIDS-infected whores. Contracting HIV is something a real vampire might have to watch out for. I’m not sure how that would affect them, but I’ve never seen it brought up in a vampire story before, so that’s novel.

Note: there is zero truth to the legend that Nick Millard’s mom, Frances Millard, starred in pornos in her eighties. That was Flora Myers. They’re two different people.

Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

Max arrives in Las Vegas and stops at an airport slot machine.

Millard says from behind the camera “Hey, kid, you’re too young to be playing the machines.”

Max responds “I may look eighteen, but really I am three-hundred years old.” He saunters off and makes his way around town to piano music taken from Millard’s horror film Criminally Insane. He arrives at his dorm (Millard’s bedroom) where he meets roommate Paul, who looks twice his age. Their mattresses are laying on the floor. Max lights a cigarette. Paul asks him where he’s from. Max replies Germany, which is three countries away from Romania where we met him. Paul guarantees he’ll see some wild stuff in Las Vegas. Max says he likes wild stuff. Paul says they’ll get along fine. Fade to black.

Max is now in a classroom of less than ten students. Millard is giving a boring lecture on his favorite author, Ernest Hemingway. Max is busy admiring a blonde. He introduces himself after class. Her name is Christine (April Leigh). She tells him his accent is cute.

Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

Max returns to his dorm room, announcing he’s met the love of his life. Paul warns him that all girls in Las Vegas are gold diggers. The phone rings. It’s Max’s father, reminding him to bite necks.

Max heads to another casino and sets his sights on a waitress. More ambient music from Criminally Insane plays. Max follows his target onto the street, up a stairwell. He spins her around for a nibble. Her screams of “no, no, no” turn to “yes, yes, yes” as he sinks his fangs in deeper.

Cut to Max prancing around a graveyard. He strikes up a conversation with a ghoulish gravedigger, the best actor so far. Max picks up Christine for a picnic. He leads her blindfolded into the cemetery. She is not amused. She tells him it’s too somber a place for a picnic. So, they head somewhere else. Max pulls out a half-empty two-liter of 7up, an apple, a banana, and two wadded-up produce bags I assume contain sandwiches. He says he just really likes cemeteries. Christine tells him there’s a sweetness about him, and leans over to kiss him. They go on a merry-go-round with a bunch of kids. Next thing you know, they’re holding hands in the hallways of UNLV.

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
Max phones home with the news that’s he’s met a wonderful girl and has a 4.0 grade point average. His father is very upset to hear that he’s only bitten one neck. His parents are worried and fly in to check on him. Max picks them up from the airport. His mom voices concern that Christine could have AIDS in the least respectful way possible, spewing lines such as “Her pussy is all worn out!” She commands Max to bite Christine’s neck and get it over with already.

Max creeps up Christine’s stairs to her room where she’s sleeping. Her house looks identical to Max’s back in Germ-vania. He moves in to bite her, but manages to restrain himself. Instead, he just blows her a kiss and then leaves.

Somewhere along the way, Max got a job polishing caskets. His boss tells him it’s time to go home. He works off the clock for another hour because he loves it so much, expressing hope that one day he’ll be promoted to a sales position. That evening, he stalks a third coed around campus, cornering her in a hallway. She doesn’t even scream.

A man-hating feminist type from Max’s Literature class stops by his room to let him know she’ll be keeping an eye on him in regards to the recent attacks. Apparently, she noticed how weird he is. Max trails her to the library and jumps her in one of the aisles. She later shows up on his floor mattress, acting all sexy, begging to be bitten again. Max’s mom drops in while he’s gone and ends up sleeping with Paul.

And she’s out here bad-mouthing whores? Smh.
Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

The spirit of a dead vampire who looks exactly like Max (because it’s Grabinger wearing teashade sunglasses and black lipstick) visits him in a dream with a warning. He says he too fell in love and stopped biting necks. The lack of blood weakened him enough to be killed by a vampire hunter (TJ Fournier). This is shown in flashback. The scene ends with the spirit repeating “You are doomed, doomed, dooooooo-” as the camera zooms in on his mouth. Afterward, the spirit takes up residence under Christine’s bed.

“You’re gonna marry that bitch?”
Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

A woman ascends a staircase, the camera tight on her ass. This is followed by a nearly identical shot of her doing it a second time. She’s a friend of the feminist. She’s heard great things about Max’s neck game. She wants him to bite her. Max obliges.

Toward the end, Max gets a call from his uncle Felonious (comedian Perry Todd), urging him to come to the set of his latest art film. The “set” is a high-end hotel room. The “film” is a porno — 70s footage of two topless women groping some lucky dude’s bulge. The wood panel walls don’t match the hotel’s. The location sound drops out in favor of moaning. It looks like Felonious says “more emotion” and “bravo”. Max points out the obvious, that what he’s watching is porn. Felonious claims the sex is symbolic, allegorical. He admonishes Max for not realizing. “Does your generation even know what a good film is?!” he asks rhetorically. Oh, the irony. I have to believe Millard based the character on himself. Surely, the parallels between them were intentional.

Next, it’s Christine’s turn to blindfold Max. She brings him to a church. When he sees where he is, he runs out the door with limp wrists like Roger the alien.

Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD, Deviant Art user Buffy2ville

The ending is anticlimactic and makes little sense. Max is brought to his knees by the sun and nearly dies in a patch of grass, despite withstanding the sun the whole movie. Christine walks up, revealing herself to be a vampire too. How come she can step foot in sunlight and churches? If you actually expect an answer, I pity you.

_________________________

Nick Millard is a treasure trove of no-budget weirdness. He’s been making movies without money or a high level of talent for six decades now. As I’ve written before, it’s inspiring how he does it his way, on his terms, with no regrets, no matter how bad the outcome. He views his career in three stages — erotica, genre, drama. He likes to say that he started out in the gutter (erotica), stepped up to the curb (action/horror), then stepped up again to the sidewalk (drama). Roughly fifty-seven of his titles have played theatrically and/or been on home video. He’s sitting on at least thirty more that have never seen the light of day. Click here for my list.

Millard is a character too. I interviewed him in 2016 for this blog. Every answer he gave me was typed out in all-caps stream of consciousness. During our correspondence, he asked me if I knew his nephew Royal Farros, who acted in some of his movies. I said no. Immediately after the interview, he threatened me with a lawsuit. Over time, he started believing I was Royal based on my Facebook profile picture of Frank the Cop from Sleepaway Camp. I guess they look similar. In 2019, Millard wished me, i.e. Royal, a happy birthday, except on my profile’s birthday, and in February of this year announced to me he created a whole new film genre he calls the “French Riviera” genre. For context, he lives there. Or did. At some point, he unfriended me. He accepted my subsequent friend request.

He’s eighty-one now. I’m tempted to chalk his erratic behavior up to old age, but the truth is he’s always been odd. He grew up on European art movies, idolizing Federico Fellini, reading everything Hemingway wrote, and somehow turned those experiences into his body of work. He takes himself pretty seriously, considers himself Orson Welles, but his parsimony makes it hard to agree. A decent chunk of his post-erotic filmography was shot in his Pacifica, California home with a camcorder, using folded tinfoil for knives, washcloths for masks, dolls for fetuses, and turkey basters for abortion devices. He often incorporates footage from his previous movies, partly because he is proud of them, but mostly to pad the runtimes.

His movies are, well, they’re not “good” by traditional standards, but I find them strangely addicting. I’ve gotten countless hours of entertainment out of them, so, in that sense, Nick Millard is a great filmmaker.

The idea for Dracula in Vegas came about when he took Grabinger to see the Bonnie and Clyde death car in Primm (formerly State Line), Nevada. Grabinger asked if they could make a movie where he played a young Clyde. To avoid the 105-degree heat, Millard instead wrote a vampire story he could shoot mostly at night — his second, after Satan’s Black Wedding.

It was shot on video in model homes without permission on Monday mornings “when no one was there except the receptionist” and guerilla-style around town. The stake Bizarro Spirit World Max is killed with in flashback was snapped off an election sign Millard ordered his nephew to steal out of a yard because, by his own admission, he didn’t want to spend three or four bucks on a piece of wood. The fangs are the kind you receive from a capsule vending machine for being well-behaved at the supermarket.

Notice how there are no back teeth.
Credit: Olive Films/Slasher // Video DVD

The special effects consist of fake blood. There is zero suspense. Millard describes Dracula in Vegas as a black comedy. It was obviously meant to be funny and self-satirizing. I almost get the impression that just this once, Millard wanted us to laugh at it, not with it. Almost.

The acting, as usual, is interesting. What Grabinger and Gartner (the dad) lack in skill, they make up for in enthusiasm. Leigh, on the other hand, is so stilted, she may have been held at gunpoint. Myers’ hypocritical slut-shaming dialogue is hilarious in how unexpectedly vulgar it is. Could her AIDS talk and Max’s struggle to stop giving strange women orgasms be an overt pre-It Follows commentary on the dangers of casual sex? I doubt it.

Overall, this glorified home movie is fun — not as hypnotic as Death Nurse or Butcher Knife, but fun nonetheless. To enjoy it, you have to possess an appreciation for SOV horror allowing you look past its low-res picture, tracking lines, missing audio, and other technical shortcomings. You must also lower your expectations. No judgment here, but if your idea of a good time is the latest addition to the Conjuring Cinematic Universe™, Dracula in Vegas will suck the life out of you.

To be honest, it’s a tad underwhelming. The thought of watching an unattainable movie is always more exciting than actually doing it. Dracula in Vegas was only released on VHS once in a very limited quantity by the mail-order company Incredibly Strange Filmworks, based out of Jamestown, Missouri. Until its August, 2017 DVD release by Slasher // Video, it was so mythically rare, I couldn’t find a single review on the web. There were two user “reviews” on IMDb, but they didn’t offer any details and in my opinion were written as jokes without having seen the movie.

Slasher // Video was an awesome boutique label. They put out six or seven DVDs, then partnered with Olive Films to put them back out with new artwork. From there, they released a few more. Their 2-disc special edition of Boardinghouse is exploding with special features. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the gold standard by which to compare DVDs. Their catalogue includes four of Nick Millard’s titles — this, Death Nurse, it sequel Death Nurse 2, and The Cemetery Sisters. I can’t thank Slasher // Video enough for introducing me to them.

“It was all because of Death Nurse.” owner Jesus Teran told me in 2017. “The way it happened was back in 2009, a video store had a lot of rare titles and it closed down all of a sudden. My girlfriend at the time told me about it, so I went there to buy all the films I could get. Death Nurse was in my pile of VHSs to buy. After getting home with about 100 or so movies that night, it wasn’t there. Someone took it from my pile. I tried finding it online, but whenever it came up on eBay, it ended up being $275 or more. I decided to find out who to contact to get the distribution rights and in 2011, I acquired them.

I’m not afraid to release what I know will not make any money back, or possibly break even at best. A lot of companies will not touch what I release because it’s not on 35mm/16mm, or they won’t work with Beta Sp., etc. I feel that if a movie only has a specific element available to work with, it is more important to put it out than to never have it released. That would mean Shock ‘Em Dead, Victims!, and a few others I’m working on at the moment go unreleased. I don’t care for that snobbish attitude.”

Sadly, it seems Slasher // Video is no longer in business. Their website is down and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated since December of 2019, right before the world caught fire. Their final release was the exploitation throwback Streets of Vengeance. They never did get to Victims!.

Extra features for Dracula in Vegas include commentary with Nick and Irmgard Millard moderated by Jesus Teran, an interview with the Millards (17:56), a photo gallery, and a trailer.

Body Count
Everybody who’s bitten turns into a vampire, and the dead vampire lives on as a ghost, so… 0.

Bod Count
2 pairs of breasts.

Overall Enjoyability
3 stolen election signs out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
Amazon.com.

Recommendations
A Polish Vampire in Burbank (1983)

The Glory of “Corpse Grinders II” (2000)

Reverse trigger warning: No boobs or blood. This movie is wholesome.

Landau and Maltby will never be employees of the month. They murder their boss, the owner of Lotus Cat Food, and send him through its grinding machine, clothes and all, to cover their tracks. Then, they take over, paying a gravedigger named Caleb to provide them with dug-up dead bodies in place of meat byproducts. However, they cheat Caleb and end up killing him too, plus his wife for good measure. Soon, they’re strangling hobos to meet the growing demand of their customers. Because of this, cats across California develop a taste for human flesh and revolt, having disliked us already. After multiple poorly staged cat attacks, a Dr. Glass and his nurse/girlfriend Angie decide to investigate. With the help of a detective who waits until the literal last minute to act, they manage to shut down the factory.

That’s the plot of the minor drive-in classic The Corpse Grinders (1971), directed by Ted V. Mikels (Strike Me Deadly, The Astro-Zombies) from a screenplay written by Arch Hall Sr. (Eegah). I’m always surprised by the lack of necrophilia, given its title. Mikels was an eccentric man who enjoyed a lengthy career in schlock. His old Hollywood movies tended to be kind of boring. Ironically, his personal life behind the scenes at that time was anything but. A polyamorous sadist, Mikels lived in a castle-like home with many beautiful women. Just call him “Dr. Sex”, a character from one of his movies. For some reason, once he moved to Las Vegas and switched to using a video camera, his output really got fun.

It would be unfair to use the following adjectives to appraise The Corpse Grinders — good, exciting, expensive, hearable. It made a boatload of money, though, on a burial-themed triple bill with The Undertaker and His Pals and The Embalmer dubbed “The Final Dimension in Shock”. One thing I do feel comfortable calling The Corpse Grinders is realistic. Mundane. Granted, it has its weird moments. A woman strips down to her underwear to drink beer on her couch, the murdered businessman’s wife is a little too cheerful considering her husband is missing, and the grinding machine is laughably cheap. It was constructed from plywood, old lawnmower parts, and a bicycle wheel. But, by and large, the movie is based in reality.

That’s why nothing could have prepared me for the sci-fi insanity of Mikels’ belated SOV sequel The Corpse Grinders II (2000), except perhaps the equally crazy Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2002). There’s a lot to unpack in the text crawl alone. “In a galaxy many light years away, there is a planet called Ceta.” It tells us. “Its inhabitants emulate their ancestors, the cat-worshippers of Egypt and Atlantis. There is a shortage of food and water on Ceta and the cat-people struggle for survival against the elements. The dog-people of the neighboring planet Traxis wage war against Ceta and have plans to invade.”

Credit: Tubi TV

A Traxian.
Credit: Tubi TV

A Traxian in profile.
Credit: Tubi TV

Why would these dog-people invade when no resources stand to be gained? Also, are they too descended from Earth? If not, how did they evolve to resemble our dogs? The chances of that happening are whatever the number preceding infinity is to one.

Before we can work out the answers to these questions and more, we’re tossed into a Star Wars-ian dogfight — pun intended — between the two factions, featuring the worst CGI I’ve ever seen, and stock footage from something I don’t care to research. Three Cetans in hideous tunics and headdresses watch the battle unfold on a hologram in Ted Mikels’ living room. The only catlike characteristics they display are big goofy elf ears. They announce to a small group of frightened, meowing citizens that they will venture to Earth, where legend has it they came from, in search of food.

Credit: Tubi TV

They land their craft in the Mojave Desert. Astronomer/possible ufologist Professor Mikoff (Ted Mikels himself) just so happens to witness it. He’s quickly escorted away by two Men in Black and brought before ASTAPP, Awareness Suppression to Avoid Public Panic, a branch of the US Department of Public Information. They politely ask him what he saw, then release him. Mikels’ character is pointless and slows down the pace applying for grants. He doubles as an analytical chemist when called upon to inspect samples of Lotus’ product, but nothing really comes of that except the astute observation “these ingredients are only found in human flesh”. At the end, he leaves Earth to further his research.

Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

One of the Cetans, Felina (Shanti, pictured above), gets out and wanders through town, somehow concealing her ears. She’s given a free sample of Lotus cat food by Ed Wood’s one-time girlfriend Dolores Fuller at a grocery store and determines it’s just what her people need to survive. She and her fellow travelers fax ASTAPP requesting their spaceship be loaded with it. The way they figure, they can afford as much as they want because they possess the ability to convert lead to gold, and humans love gold. Is it just me, or is this a bad plan? It’s not sustainable. They should bring seeds home to grow their own food.

Besides the space opera nonsense, the plot is identical, down to the names. The nephews of Landau and Maltby — referred to as “Landau” and “Maltby” for simplicity’s sake — reopen the family business without rebranding. Before even trying to operate legally, Landau (Mikels regular Sean Morelli) convinces Maltby (one of the killer kids from Bloody Birthday all grown-up) to stoop to the same measures their uncles did, as if various agencies won’t be keeping a close eye on them. They continue their streak of big-brain decisions by hiring homeless alcoholics and indigent senior citizens to run their factory. Next, they strike deals with the caretaker of the cemetery from Part 1, unbelievably also named Caleb, to supply fresh cadavers, and the owner of a funeral home to “embalm” said cadavers with beef, chicken, & pork-flavored concentrate. Fish will be ready tomorrow, Maltby assures him. This time, the caretaker’s wife is played by Liz Renay (below, Desperate Living).

The meeting with Caleb is held knee-to-knee in his tiny-ass kitchen. This visual cracks me up.
Credit: Tubi TV

A third kind of alien, a typical Strieber-esque gray, teleports into, then right back out of, Liz Renay’s bedroom. This strand of the story is picked up again in Mikels’ retroactively related Mark of the Astro-Zombies (Astro-Zombies M3 establishes that Mikels’ works exist in a shared cinematic universe). Renay screams in terror. Annoyed husband Caleb chokes her to death because fifty bucks is fifty bucks. He later blames her for dying. I swear I’m not making this up.

Credit: Tubi TV

Production of Lotus brand cat food resumes. The drunks load some cases into a van. A few yards away, in plain sight, the MIBs surveil through binocs.

When a Dr. Glass gets bitten by his nurse/girlfriend Angie’s cat, he decides to look into the new food they’ve been using. However, he quickly gives up and their strand of the story is dropped altogether. For no discernable reason, Col. Packwood of ASTAPP (I bet Mikels packed wood and tapped ass) launches his own investigation. He stops by the factory, introducing himself to a kook tasked with wrangling the company’s free-roaming cats as being from “the government agency”. While poking around, he discovers the horrifying truth. Maltby is more than happy to meat him.

“I’m from the government agency.”

“I’m Tim. I’m the caretaker here. I feed the cats and do the other things.”
Such inspired dialogue. What are these other things?
Credit: Tubi TV

After, like, one day, stock is so valuable that an “unnamed entity” offers to buyout the company. A shareholder meeting is held. Felina puts in a bid (she might be the unnamed entity, that part is kind of unclear). Alas, the shareholders agree not to sell. Among them is Flora Myers! She was a pornographic actress and friend of auteur Nick Millard who appeared in his once-mythically-rare outing Dracula in Vegas. She was not Millard’s mother, despite a longstanding rumor to the contrary and the fact that she shares an IMDb page with her, which is missing this movie. Interesting: Millard, like Mikels, fled Tinseltown for Sin City. Seems all the best do.

The mother of the vampire herself!
Credit: Tubi TV

Meanwhile, the Men in Black visit the factory looking for Packwood. Landau says he was never there. The MIBs just accept this and breach national security by announcing they need four-hundred cases of cat food for aliens. They proceed to hand Landau and Maltby a $10,000 advance, because they consider them “trustworthy”. A short while later, the MIBs teleport back with instructions for delivery, explaining it’s easy to harness “dimensional forcefields” when you know how the pyramids were built. They refer to Landau and Maltby as “Earth people”, implying they are a fourth kind of alien.

Hilariously, there is no resolution, nothing tying the loose ends of this cat-batted yarn ball together. Landau y Maltby are forced to hire additional drunks to handle the workload, but get the job done. Nobody busts them and they’re seen as heroes, true patriots. The Cetans blast off with forty-cases of canned cadavers that won’t last them long. Their war-torn planet is still out of food. And water. I love it. Maybe Mikels was leaving the door open for a Part 3 (he eventually produced one shot in Spain, though it doesn’t follow this story).

Something to keep in mind is that Mikels was North of seventy, past retirement age, when he set about sequelizing his properties, so I consider the sequels bonuses. I don’t judge them too harshly, I’m just thankful they exist. The only criteria I grade movies on anyway is fun-ness, their ability to make me laugh or ask “What the fuck?”, and they certainly do that. Now, are they good? No, of course not. By mainstream standards, they’re some of the worst stuff imaginable. But their hearts are in the right place, and that’s all that matters.

If you grabbed a handful of movies from different genres, cut them apart, and combined all the scenes that seem dumb or weird out of context, taking special care to ensure the result was in no way coherent, then turned down the budget, effects, acting, etc. with a magical knob, you’d have something close to The Corpse Grinders II. It’s triple cheap, quadruple confusing, and thoroughly entertaining. It’s so bad it’s great, an outrageous B-movie party on the level of Troll 2 with production values approaching a Death Nurse that nobody ever brings up. It deserves to be celebrated. It’s what being human is all about, what consciousness was intended for. Let’s start our own extrasolar colony dedicated to worshipping Corpse Grinders II. Dibs on leader. Nevermind, that’s too much work. Let’s hold a bi-monthly conference. I love this flick. As mentioned above, there are so many wonderful moments within. I couldn’t get to them all if I tried. Some I plan to examine more closely in future posts. Until then, you can watch for yourself on Tubi TV.

This random woman breaks out in “Amazing Grace” at a funeral, but gets the lines wrong. She’s never seen again. I feel like that summarizes the movie quite well.
Credit: Tubi TV