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

Ted V. Mikels’ “Mark of the Astro-Zombies” (2002) — “By Comparison, We Are Mentally Retarded Children.”

Directed By
Ted V. Mikels

Version Reviewed
Tubi TV version

Total Runtime
1 hour, 25 minutes, 16 seconds

Synopsis
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.

“Sup?”
Credit: Tubi TV

Strap yourself in.
Credit: Tubi TV

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.

So, yeah.

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.

Jason wishes his machete game was this strong.
Credit: Tubi TV

Stupid towel.
Credit: Tubi TV

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?

[continued below]

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.

What even are you?
Credit: Tubi TV

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.

FIN

_________________________

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…”[1]

I don’t believe him, nor do I blame him, not for one minute.

Save some punani for the rest of us, damnit!
Credit: The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels, Tubi TV

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.

If nothing else, the artwork is awesome.

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.

Credit: Tubi TV

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.

Random Trivia
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.

Body Count
33 humans, 4 aliens, countless astro-zombies.

Bod Count
1 pair of butt cheeks.

Overall Enjoyability
5 useless stenographers out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
N/A

Recommendations
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

References
1. The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels. Directed by Kevin Sean Michaels, narrated by John Waters, Alpha Video, 2008.