Ted V. Mikels
Tubi TV version
1 hour, 25 minutes, 16 seconds
A text crawl informs us that “evil intruders” from an asteroid many times larger than Earth have “come to force their intentions upon us.”
(Aren’t asteroids, by definition, smaller than planets?)
A badly-rendered CGI spaceship piloted by reptilian humanoids wearing monk habits lands in a desert. Three of the extraterrestrial occupants look like papier-mâché alligators made by middle-schoolers. The fourth is less saurian, with a metal eye reminiscent of Kano’s from Mortal Kombat. His name is Zekith.
Before we go further, let’s recap what happened last movie. As you may remember, one Dr. DeMarco (played by John Carradine) resurrected the corpse of a killer by implanting it with a skull mask, three solar panels, a battery pack, microchips, a mechanical heart, and synthetic blood, with the goal of transforming it into a mindless, remote-controlled astronaut. Things took a turn when DeMarco’s “astro-man” broke out and slashed several people, but thankfully the day was saved by a second “morally pure” astro-man that nobly sacrificed itself in the process.
Zekith and his minions say stuff, but it’s hard to hear cos their voices are fucky. One of them sharpens a machete on a grindstone and gives it to an astro-zombie. Zekith beams a heat lamp at the solar panels on its forehead. It sits up. Zekith chants “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Nine or so astro-zombies storm the streets of Las Vegas, machetes raised overhead. They hack and slash at the necks of some hapless people dining on a restaurant patio without breaking stride.
You probably have lots of questions. Like, why would a so-called “advanced” alien species use 34-year-old Earth technology to conquer… Earth? And why would they send such a small army of minions to wipe out a global population of six-billion people? Do any of them realize how long that would take? Lastly, why choose to equip those minions with bladed weapons, instead of something more devastating, like ray guns? I don’t know either. All I know is this sounds like the worst takeover ever. But that’s what’s going on here, so I’ll do my best to shut up and suspend disbelief.
An FBI/CIA agent (that’s right, he does both!) named Jeff watches coverage of the mayhem on TV in his office while reporter girlfriend Cindy (Brinke Stevens, Repligator, Mega Scorpions) heads out with a camera crew to interview people as they run for their lives through a parking lot. She’s entirely too smiley to be covering mutilation murders.
Back in his ship, Zekith whips up a new batch of zombies. They run past a fence by a loading dock, slashing more necks as they go.
An overweight goth named Malvira Satana (Tura Satana, sorta kinda reprising her role from the first film, except as that character’s sister), watches on with a pair of binocs. But what is she planning?
Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
On the opposite end of the country, United States President Ward Pennington sits down with a roomful of intelligence personnel, including Jeff and an “asteroid tracking specialist” (totally a job), who basically bring us up to speed on the plot of the cult classic original. Good thing we already went over that. A General Kingston is tasked with putting together a crack team of scientists to investigate the now-nation-wide problem (Boston is suddenly under attack as well). In the background, a stenographer bats her hands up and down without moving a finger. One guy suggests that everything they’ve discussed about undead cyborgs and possible alien involvement be kept confidential. Ya think?! The President echoes his sentiments, stressing, “If this gets out to the public, it could cause unmanageable controversy.”
Here’s where things get confusing, by which I mean more confusing. A Dr. Mikacevich (Mikels with a godawful combover, using his birth name) questions the animate, disembodied head of that Dr. DeMarco I mentioned above in the hopes of acquiring all its scientific know-how (Wait, if he can preserve human heads, why can’t he make astro-zombies?). Before Mikacevich can learn anything useful, Malvira walks in and shoots him and maybe unplugs the weird head thing. Later on, Malvira cons several foreign ambassadors into thinking she has the astro-zombie technology by having her henchman Zokar dress up in a cheap Halloween mask and murder two hostages. Instead of running out the front door, or dialing 9-1-1, the ambassadors try to out-bid each other for Malvira’s nonexistent info on behalf of their countries’ secret service agencies.
Liz Renay (The Thrill Killers, Desperate Living) shows up as an alien abductee who describes and draws grays, which are different than Zekith’s kind. She relates the same rambling story about “ugly nincompoops” giving her hickeys three times in a row. Her character’s name is Crystal; one woman still calls her Liz.
General Kingston sends one of his contacts to enlist the remote viewing services of a psychic (played by an absolutely insane-looking woman known only as Shanti). In the meantime, the rest of the experts develop weird swirly-shaped marks on their necks (hence the title) while modem sounds play. This somehow immobilizes the experts, allowing them to be snatched up and taken back to the ship where they’re turned into zombies. Sheesh.
When good-natured Kingston fails to reach his new team members by phone, he drinks at least two pots of coffee. The President doesn’t seem too concerned. “Scientists and doctors all keep pretty busy. There’s a lot of demand on their time.” he states matter-of-factly. The tide finally turns when a third race of aliens (!) shows up to vanquish the first. Their leader, ASTP-73, calls the President with a crystal ball. He just accepts it, like, “Oh, this is aliens? Thanks, we were screwed! Bye.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.
That’s about it.
Mark of the Astro-Zombies is the first of three sequels to Mikels’ 1968 film The Astro-Zombies, considered to be one of the worst of all time (I can think of much worse). It was followed by M3: Cloned in 2010 and M4: Invaders From Cyberspace in 2012, and thank goodness for that. I got around to them recently. It was love at first sight. They became instant favorites. “Weird” and “bad” are the only traits that I look for in movies these days, and all three tick both, so hard the pencil tip snaps. These are the kinds of movies I set out to review when I started this blog. I feel like they’ve resparked my passion. Life has new meaning.
To be honest, I never gave Ted Mikels a fair shake before. Something about his signature boar tusk necklace and Dali-esque evil guy mustache rubbed me the wrong way. Now that I’ve finally ventured into the wild world that is his filmography, I don’t want to leave. I just wanna know why it took me so long to get here.
Mikels is probably most well known for his drive-in classic The Corpse Grinders, written by fellow schlockmeister Arch Hall Sr., about cats who develop a taste for human flesh and attack people after being fed pet food made from dug-up dead bodies. It apparently made Mikels rich — so much so that he moved into a 27-room castle (!) in Glendale, California where he filmed several movies and lived with four to seven young women at a time (!!) for ten to twelve years (!!!). As strange as that sounds, he insisted, “There was nothing funny going on. It was just an honorable way of caring for people…”
I don’t believe him, nor do I blame him, not for one minute.
Mikels’ other notable works include Strike Me Deadly (1963), The Doll Squad (1973), and Ten Violent Women (1982). He also produced Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things for contemporary Bob Clark, whose followup was the hallowed holiday horror Black Christmas.
In 1985, Mikels ditched the mack daddy lifestyle and moved to Las Vegas to open a film school, or because he was offered six figures and a studio by a company based out of Salt Lake City. Different sources say different things. Either way, his career took a nosedive and never recovered. By the mid-to-late 90s, his production values had plummeted. He was shooting in digital, using the same cast of non-actors and volunteers over and over again.
Even though Mikels had fallen off big time by this stage of his storied career, Mark of the Astro-Zombies might be his crowning achievement in terms of overall entertainment value. I’ve already re-watched it five or six times.
I have to be in the mood to enjoy his old Hollywood movies. They’re fairly boring and talky. I would call most of them hybridized spy movies, chock-full of international intrigue, espionage, and good old-fashioned double-crossing. Every bit of them is both poorly explained and explained in great detail. Figure that out. The highlight of the first Astro-Zombies for me is when a topless woman painted to look like an uncooked piece of bacon dances while guys in suits balance forks and spoons on a cup. It’s just not very eventful.
Mark of the Astro-Zombies follows the same basic formula, but the execution and outcome are flip-flopped this time. Instead of being relatively well-made and boring, it’s amateur and exciting. Mark of the Astro-Zombies is more in line with the SOV slasher flicks of the 80s. Dirt-cheap; fast-paced; slapdash; insane.
You’d expect a director to do less with less money, but somehow Mikels did more. There’s so much going on here. Just a quick tally — 9+ astro-zombies, two kinds of aliens, a go-nowhere subplot concerning a third kind of aliens, Brinke Stevens, butt cheeks that don’t belong to Brinke Stevens, a neverending parade of machete kills (eleven in the first ten minutes alone), several CG explosions, subtitles out the wazoo… Mikels threw a lot at the screen here.
Let’s talk about the subtitles. They’re everywhere. It’s a problem. Excluding credits, 228 words appear onscreen. That’s 2.7 a minute. Even inconsequential characters like the secretary who pretend-types in the background are accompanied by names and job titles the first time we see them. It’s so completely unnecessary. Also, I spotted two typos.
Another problem you’ll notice is nonsensical dialogue. Check out this back-and-forth from a scene where Jeff and Cindy meet up.
Cindy: “This is so scary. I mean, who are they and what do they want? Why all the killings?”
Jeff: “Well, from what we’ve determined so far, a force of seemingly indestructible beings could cause an overwhelming blow on victims of the military action.” What does this mean? Someone tell me.
Cindy: “By ‘large force’, do you mean an army? Could they function as soldiers?” Jeff never said the word “large”.
Jeff: “It’s certainly a possibility. We need to find out where they’re from, and what — or who — motivates them.”
Cindy’s eyes widen. She pulls her head back in amazement. The camera zooms in dramatically. “Wow!” Her reaction makes no sense at all whatsoever. Why does she act so surprised that Jeff wants to find out what’s happening? Isn’t that exactly what she’s been doing? She’s a reporter. Like, what?
Jeff: “How wow.”
If you haven’t put two and two together yet, the acting here isn’t great. Brinke Stevens wins best performance by default. There’s a good chance Sean Morelli (Jeff) was tranquilized prior to shooting. Liz Renay sounds like she’s improvising her lines.
Then you’ve got the Romanian emissary who shows up at Malvira’s in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals, and barks “I’m from ROMAAAAANNNIA!” like a drunken frat boy (Mikels was half Romanian; I’m guessing this was a joke).
My favorite actor would have to be Robert Southerland (Gen. Kingston), because he comes off as a genuinely nice guy. Runner-up is John Waite M.D., Las Vegas psychiatrist, for providing the quote from the top of this page: “By comparison, we are mentally retarded children.” Try Facegramming that in today’s sensitive social climate.
It might not sound like I’m praising this movie. Quite the contrary. I love it. If I was a shrink like John Waite, I’d prescribe Astro-Zombies 2, 3, & 4 to every person who stepped foot in my office. They contain curative properties that reverse all known ailments, especially boredom, anxiety, and depression. Don’t believe me? Hit ’em up for yourself. Let me know how you feel! They’re available right now on the free streaming app Tubi TV.
Mikels hired Satana for the first time from a strip club she worked at, after watching her knock down a security guard while defending herself from a customer.
33 humans, 4 aliens, countless astro-zombies.
1 pair of butt cheeks.
5 useless stenographers out of 5.
I Got My Copy From
these other belated cult movie sequels:
Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002) — 39-year gap
Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008) — 25-year gap
Hobgoblins 2 (2009) — 21-year gap
Slime City Massacre (2010) — 22-year gap
Manos Returns (2018) — 52-year gap
I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu (2019) — 41-year gap
Critters Attack! (2019) — 26-year gap
Grizzly II: Revenge (2020) — 44-year gap
Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2 (2022) — 41-year gap
1. The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels. Directed by Kevin Sean Michaels, narrated by John Waters, Alpha Video, 2008.