CKY, Return to Sleepaway Camp, and the Goat

When I was a kid, my mom allowed me to watch horror movies where people effed and were killed — in some instances, at the same time — because she enjoyed them, but nothing with an obscene sense of humor, like South Park. As a parent myself now, I realize what a weird stance that is. Maybe she felt horror condemned sex and violence, whereas comedy glorified it, made it seem cool. I don’t know. Even wrestling was banned for a short while at the height of the “Attitude Era”. I blame the crotch chopping, as well as the chopping of crotches. My mom never saw the stuff she forbade. She heard about it from other women at church. She was very easily influenced and went through these fleeting religious awakenings where she cracked down on horror, purging our house of things that she deemed ungodly, including the odd VHS and my Magic: the Gathering cards (they promote sorcery!), before easing back to her previous ways. To my relief, she gave up on saving our souls altogether when I was around twelve and just let me do whatever, within reason. Until then, she couldn’t control what I did at my friends’ houses. So, I watched South Park anyway.

I lived next door to a kid who was two grades ahead of me and had three older brothers of varying repute. I thought they were cool. Legend has it, the oldest brother once dragged a Christmas tree under a stranger’s car and lit it on fire just to watch the explosion. I later learned that he was an addict who went to prison on various charges. He passed away suddenly in his late 30s after getting his shit together, leaving behind a young daughter. I’ll never forget when he jokingly invited my brother to shoot people at the mall.

My friend eventually stopped coming by to party with kids his own age. After high school, he joined the Army and served in Afghanistan. He moved away as soon as he could. Last I heard third-hand from my mom, he was dealing with substance abuse issues. I hope he’s getting the help that he needs.

The brother we all thought was the weirdest turned out to be the most well-adjusted. He came out as gay, got married, and, as far as I know, is doing just fine.

Those guys introduced me to lots of angsty hardcore music and equally hardcore pornography. They got me into Atreyu, From Autumn to Ashes, Thrice, and other “screamo” bands. What a phase that was. The X-rated material included issues of Playboy, a Girls Gone Wild VHS, and that horrifying tape they found in their mom’s dresser called Hard & Kinky #30-something (or was it 40-something?) featuring guys with fake garden hose dicks that my friend swore were real, an unfortunate fellow with a natural dick that hooked ninety degrees to the left, and a woman trying her damnedest to make use of the girthiest dildo I’ve ever laid eyes on. The studio that produced this monstrosity was “Leisure Time”. I encourage you to figure out exactly which one I saw and reply with the number. It’s been bugging me.

One of the funnier, non-pornographic things they showed me was the four-part CKY video series, starring the titular band and their friends doing skateboard tricks, stupid stunts, pranks, and skits. These videos were directed by Bam Margera, using one of those fisheye skateboarding cameras, and served as the blueprint for MTV’s Jackass. The bit that stands out the most in my head is the “Skeletor vs. Beastman” song. It taught me that Beastman has AIDs and that he plans on spreading it into every good boy and girl today. You may also be interested to know that he is incapable of taking his furry fur off because it’s made of fur. Yes, the humor is juvenile, but I remember the videos fondly.

I miss those days. I think we all wish we could recapture the magic and wonder we felt as preteens, back when the world was our oyster. That’s why coming-of-age stories hit us so hard. They remind us how easy we had it, how fun life was, before the cold, hard reality of existence set in.

Looking back, CKY the band was one of the better acts of the early-to-mid 2000s. I’m no expert on them, I just like a lot of their songs, most of which turned out to be from their major label debut, Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild (you never knew if the songs you downloaded from Limewire were titled correctly, let alone what album they came from). CKY was a three-piece from West Chester, Pennsylvania consisting of frontman/primary songwriter Deron Miller, guitarist Chad Ginsburg, and drummer Jess Margera, Bam’s older brother. They had catchy riffs and a unique sound owing to the fact that Miller removes the bottom two strings from all his guitars and replaces the G with a wound G. Their music is best categorized as “alternative rock” but was fully embraced by the punk/stoner/skateboarder crowd because of their association with Bam and his merry band of ass jackers. Miller departed or was fired in late 2011, depending on who you believe. He briefly rejoined, then departed for good in 2015. Ginsburg and Margera still use the CKY name. Miller currently records as 96 Bitter Beings.

Something I took notice of as a youngster was CKY’s connection to horror. For one, the name used to be an initialism for “Camp Kill Yourself”, in tribute to camp slasher movies. The full name was quietly dropped as they gained mainstream attention, similar to how WWE no longer stands for “World Wrestling Entertainment”. Miller is a huge horror fan and his lyrics reflect that. I can’t be the only one who hears “Attached at the Hip” and thinks Basket Case, in which Siamese twin brothers are surgically separated against their will. Ok, I very well could be. I view everything through Basket Case-tinted lenses. More substantively, CKY’s signature song, “96 Quite Bitter Beings”, off their first album, Volume 1, is about a group of friends who stop in the fictional town of Hellview and are set upon by its murderous residents. Here it is with the lyrics:

With my perceptions in a mix down twenty miles through the sticks
To the cloudy town of Hellview, population: 96
Excessive vacancy, well maybe, in the shadow of an eye
All the strangers passing through and where the rules just don’t apply

At the fork turn left, a store, but on the right stay free from sight
Cause 96 quite bitter beings like to stack the bodies high
The only way to ever leave is overflooded by the storm
And entanglement in Hellview brings you fear in fifty forms
They’ve deleted all the tourists at the bottom of the lake
And not one supports the cause to leave the blood stay in the veins

Here, three miles back is where we are
All we ever wanted was an answer
Civilized are close but way too far
All we ever wanted was an answer

Footprints giving clue to where we are
All we ever wanted was an answer
Civilized are close but way too far
All we ever wanted

That riff is monstrous. The last line of the second verse, “And not one supports the cause to leave the blood stay in the veins”, doesn’t strike me as proper English, but for that reason is memorable. The story continues in “Escape From Hellview”. The friends build a fire as night falls. After it dies, they’re chased off into the darkness. The narrator avoids being hung, but his friends aren’t so lucky. While running away, he assures himself “If it’s the last thing I will do, I’ll be the one that will escape from Hellview.”

The fire dies on its own, leaving us to ourselves but not exactly alone
I think that something is out there waiting, anticipation has grown
The air as black as can be, can’t even see that my hand is in front of me
I’m overhearing a whisper, “They won’t escape until the blood is set free”

So turn back, the silence is deafening
Turn back, don’t let them see you again
They make the rounds at the midnight hour
And on the clock it’s just a minute away

So we’re hours awake and our only mistake is we bleed
And the hunger for the living helps them hunt it with the greatest of ease

Now I’m finding my friends, hanging from trees, made a bed of a barbed wire fence
I’m on the loose with my neck in the noose, but hey, I enjoy the intense

Turn back, the silence is deafening
Turn back, don’t let them see you again
They make the rounds at the midnight hour
And on the clock it’s just a minute away

So we’re hours awake and our only mistake is we bleed
When the hunger for the living helps them hunt it with the greatest of ease

No experience could ever match the sight of when is a person is through
If it’s the last thing I will do, I’ll be the one that will escape from Hellview
And I will!

“I enjoy the intense” (“intense” being the accepted spelling) is another weird lyric. It’s grammatically incorrect too. Plus, the notion that our narrator could find any kind of enjoyment in a situation where his friends have been killed and he’s running for his life is rather hard to believe.

I recently found out there is a third entry forming a trilogy. That entry is “Hellions on Parade” off Carver City, a concept album set in a sinister fishing town not unlike Hellview. Look it up if you’re curious. I don’t care for anything after An Answer Can Be Found. Hellview is first mentioned in “Thanks For the Ride” (which was likely titled in reference to Creepshow 2) by Miller and Margera’s previous band, Oil.

But wait, the connection gets even stronger. Miller is married to the child star of Sleepaway Camp, Felissa Rose. He used her iconic snarling face as the cover of the 1999 single Disengage the Simulator. Miller literally paused the movie and took a picture of his TV. He was put in touch with Rose when he heard Return to Sleepaway Camp was starting production and the rest is history. They have three children together.

Credit: Magnet DVD

Return to Sleepaway Camp is what the kids these days call a “requel”. It was filmed in 2003 in New York by original writer/director/producer Robert Hiltzik and features original cast members. It disregards all the previous sequels and picks up twenty years after Part 1. I’ve read that officially it was a remake, because Hiltzik only retained remake rights. I’ve also read that it wasn’t, because the sequel rights had reverted back to him many years earlier. So, I’m not sure what to believe. If anyone knows how to navigate those legal waters, it’s Hiltzik, a practicing lawyer.

Return began taking shape after Jeff Hayes, the webmaster of sleepawaycampmovies.com, tracked down Jonathan Tiersten, then Rose, then Hiltzik, then others, and organized a reunion for the 2001 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. Motivated by all the newfound attention/support, Hiltzik dusted off an old script titled Sleepaway Camp 2 that he wrote and shopped back in ’86, and reworked it to include a few familiar faces. It materialized in time to ride the momentum of Anchor Bay’s Sleepaway Camp “Survival Kit” box set and tie in with the twentieth anniversary of his original, the irony being it took five years to come out. The good news is, they made the twenty-fifth anniversary.

Me, waiting.
Credit: Magnet DVD

I was disappointed to learn that it wouldn’t be starring Pamela Springsteen of Parts 2 and 3, who I felt was the stronger, superior Angela. I’ve since come to appreciate Rose’s version of the character. Warning! Everybody deserves to see the original unspoiled once. If you haven’t, click away now! Spoilers ahead!

Newspaper clippings shown during the opening credits inform us that Camp Arawak has been reopened as Camp Manabe by someone named Frank Kostic (Vincent Pastore, The Sopranos) and surviving head counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo, reprising his role). Kostic was the last name of the previous owner, suggesting he and Frank are related. Manabe can be rearranged to read “Be a Man”, the title of “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s rap album, as well as an obvious reference to the shocking end of Part 1, where shy little Angela Baker is not only revealed to be the killer, but a biological male. For this entry, her last name is Thomas.

Isaac Hayes, the famous songwriter who voiced Chef on South Park, plays the chef in his final film role. A tiny sheriff hangs around to give talks on the dangers of smoking. He wears sunglasses 24/7 and speaks with a voicebox, like Ned Gerblanski.

Credit: Magnet DVD, southpark.fandom.com

The movie kicks off with shirtless boys lighting their farts in a cabin. Main character Alan (Michael Gibney) walks in. He’s twice their size and could eat them. He makes fun of someone named Pee-Pee for wetting his bed, threatens to punch him, and takes his lighter. When he fails to light an emission as big as his bunkmates’, he grabs an aerosol can and shoots flames at them.

In the dining hall the next morning, Alan makes a big stink about how bad he thinks the food is. Dickhead counselor Randy wrestles him to the ground for not eating his chicken. Ronnie breaks up the fight and allows Alan to get something else from the kitchen. Ronnie is every bit as fit as he was in the first film, like they froze him or went back in time to retrieve him. Assistant cook Mickey gives Alan a choice of egg salad or tuna salad. Alan instead grabs an ice cream sandwich. This angers Mickey, who throws eggs at Alan. Alan sells them like gunshots and gets highly emotional. He retaliates by throwing a knife, which embeds in the wall a few inches from Mickey’s face. Frank, having caught Alan’s outburst, orders him back to his bunk.

Credit: Magnet DVD

Besides Ronnie, everyone at this camp has a foul mouth and hair-trigger temper. Alan brings out the worst in them. That’s because he’s a whiny, insufferable douchebag. He blames his obnoxious behavior on rheumatic fever, however, his preppy step-brother Michael believes he just uses that as an excuse. He could be autistic. He’s bullied nonstop regardless, and in turn, bullies others. He makes fun of his fellow campers, flings food at them, pulls their hair, ruins their games, steals their candy, and lies. He’s also disgusting. He wears the same dirty outfit all movie, adding stains every scene. Ironically, his catchphrase is “Your ass stinks!”, which he turns and shouts many times in a taunting manner while running away from his enemies. The constant merciless torment he takes outweighs what he gives, but in my opinion is well deserved. I don’t feel any sympathy for him.

Throughout the movie, he’s tricked into smoking a joint full of cow manure, shot at point-blank range with paintballs, given a wedgie so powerful it rips his waistband, sending him into the lake, and forced on stage in front of the whole camp in his underwear. Smoking the joint causes him to collapse by another boy’s crotch, earning him the nickname “Blowjob”. In his infinite anger/embarrassment, Alan yells things like “I hope you die!” and “I wish I could kill [you]!”, setting him up as the killer.

Even his own brother gets in on the fun. Alan often retreats to a small clearing with a log bench next to the water where he keeps an old briefcase stocked full of crumpled soda bottles, cups, and snacks that he leaves open, exposed to the elements. He considers the frogs there his only friends. One evening, Michael skins all the frogs and frames Alan for it so his crush thinks he’s psycho.

“Who did this to you?!”
Credit: Magnet DVD

Soon, the people taking pleasure in Alan’s misfortune start piling up dead. Return reverts to the mystery format of Part 1, keeping the killer’s identity hidden. They obviously want you to think that it’s Alan, however, his body type is completely wrong. The killer is thin. He or she wears a baggy, dark grey hoody and gloves. Who could it be?

Ronnie convinces himself that it’s Petey, a female counselor, because she’s always running to Alan’s aid. Another possibility is Angela’s cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten, back in action). He works nearby, visits Angela every few weeks at the looney bin, and is suspected by some fans of helping her carry out the original murders. Michael is violent enough to skin frogs. Maybe it’s him. And why is the cop still hanging around?

One of my favorite parts is when Ronnie accuses Petey of secretly being Angela with a fiery intensity. I get the feeling he’s never actually been this angry in real life. He just seems like a sweetheart. His theory rests on the fact that “Petey” is almost “Peter”, Angela’s birth name. Does he really think she’d be dumb enough to apply for a job as a counselor using her own name? Oh, wait, that’s literally the plot of Part 2.

“You know, it’s funny, Petey…”
Credit: Magnet DVD

“Every single time Alan gets in trouble, there you are. Johnny-on-the-spot!”
Credit: Magnet DVD

The kills are inventive and well done, though perhaps a bit too elaborate. Some stretch credulity. For example, a pothead named Weed is tied to a chair, forced to ingest gasoline, and given a joint as a fuse. When it burns down, he explodes. His eyeballs go rocketing out of his head.

Later, Randy is also tied up so a noose made of fishing line can be lowered onto penis. The other end is secured to his Mini Jeep. His girlfriend is chased toward the vehicle, prompting her to speed off. Randy’s penis takes a cue from King Missle and detaches from his body. The girlfriend then runs into a strand of barbed wire stretched across the road. The barbed wire coils perfectly around her head as she crashes. How did the killer know this would happen? There are so many variables at play. Wouldn’t the barbed wire just hit the rail in the back and fall to the ground?

Right?!
Credit: Magnet DVD

Lastly, a boy is shown reading a porno mag. A stake erupts from the pages, barely missing his face. He looks down and sees a circular hole in the floor through which the stake must have been thrust. He and a friend peer through it six times (!) before he’s impaled. Why would anyone do that?

Skipping ahead here, Sheriff Jerry sheds his disguise, revealing himself to be an escaped Angela Thomas. She explains that she did all the murdering on behalf of Alan. Be honest, Ang, you would have done it regardless. Notice how a man being exposed as a woman is an inversion of the original where a girl is exposed as a boy. While clever in that sense, this twist is a highly predictable, lazy attempt to please fans, and as a result, lacks the raw shock value of the original’s. Plus, it leaves me with questions, like where did Angela learn to design and apply prosthetics to her face? A post-credits scene showing her drop a car on the real Sheriff’s head gives us a glimpse of how the movie would have looked with her in her natural form. Angela as the killer is fine, but there were much better ways to incorporate her.

KiDs CaN bE sO mEaN.
Credit: Magnet DVD

Partly due to the ending, Return was seen as a disappointment by many upon its belated release. It’s currently the the lowest rated entry on IMDb, not counting the fourth, which only amounts to a few minutes of test footage padded with clips of 1, 2, & 3. My wife, an even bigger fan of the series than I am, watched it once with me when we met and hasn’t spoken a word of it since. I enjoy it, however, it’s probably my least favorite — again, not counting the fourth.

I have to believe the massive delay contributed to its lukewarm reception. Like I already said, the movie took five years to come out, with numerous causes being cited. One was a total retooling of the CGI used to enhance Weed’s demise. When you wait that long for something to come out, your expectations subconsciously rise.

In my opinion, the main problem is that it was tailored toward diehard convention-going fans and recycles too many aspects of the original. The first kill where the egg-throwing cook is deep-fried headfirst in oil is nearly identical to the first attack in Part 1 where the pedo-rapist chef is scalded with boiling water. Also, there’s a black chef who disappears halfway through and a cop with fake facial hair. Were these similarities added so Hiltzik could point to them as proof of it being a remake, or because he thought we were clamoring for them? I’m guessing the latter. When I watch Return, I can’t help but visualize Hiltzik making that stupid, expectant Peter Griffin face, saying You liked this stuff, right? Well, here it is again!, then being crushed when I shrug my shoulders.

Credit: Family Guy, Fox

The original had a heavy focus on repressed/taboo sexuality, so I feel like this one should have further explored that to be a “true” sequel. Frustratingly, besides the symbolism of the stake through the porno mag (fittingly titled “Polecats”) and Randy losing his cock, there isn’t much going on here.

Let’s end on a positive note. The things I love most about Return to Sleepaway Camp are Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, and Paul DeAngelo. Rose does a great job in her limited role. Conversely, the men’s acting hasn’t improved. In fact, it’s gotten much worse. But it’s good to see them again after all these years and I hope it’s not the last time. I challenge you to keep a straight face when Ricky sees his cousin unmask and momentarily becomes a hair metal singer: “Angelaaaaa!”

Credit: Magnet DVD

Another part I love is the opening theme song. It’s one of my favorite movie themes ever. The credits list it as “Return to Sleep Away Camp” by “Goat and Friends”, courtesy of “Goatboy Productions, Inc.” It was obviously written for the movie, which always makes a theme cooler. To clarify, the names and events in the song are unrelated to those in the movie, just loosely inspired by them. I wasted little time ripping the song from my DVD and burning it to several different CDs so I could listen to it in my car. I would have bought it, were it ever available. Myself and many other fans were eager to hear more from Goat and Friends.

Problem is, there was zero information about them online. Even what they’re saying is a mystery. Their lyrics are harder to crack than Zodiac’s 340 cipher. There’s just enough layering and distortion to make it nearly impossible. This is the best I could do. I isolated the vocals using Audacity, but it only helped so much. I’m reasonably confident about what’s in black. The orange I’m unsure of. Let me know if you have any ideas.

Sleepaway
Sleepaway Camp
Sleepaway

Yo, yo, school is out
Hooray, finally over
Sleepaway Camp, gonna try to get over
Joan in Math is looking over my shoulder
Please show me sweet time
Making new friends and having relations
Great way to spend our summer vacation

Who all they want live by day one
Mob to check the people (sleepaway)
Then we heard a great big sound
A monster killed little Edie

Sleepaway camp
Fun in the sun (we’re just having fun)
Sleepaway camp
Fun for everyone (every single week)
Sleepaway camp
Only just begun to party (keef satisfies)
Sleepaway camp
Party all summer long, c’mon (sleepaway is great)

Sleepaway
Sleepaway camp

First time, ok
First time for some
I’m away from home
I’m on the run
Gimme love, first time for everything
First time for everyone
Yo, gimme death, gimme death
Look what ya done
And you want a buzz
So have your fun

Roll, roll, roll your head
Gently down the street (sleepaway camp)
Mary, hurry, Mary, hurry
Your life looks bad to me (but don’t do the tramp)

Sleepaway camp
Having some fun (we’re just having fun)
Sleepaway camp
Fun for everyone (every single week)
Sleepaway camp
Only just begun to party (keef satisfies)
Sleepaway camp
Party all summer long, c’mon (sleepaway is great)

[repeat without parentheses]

Sleepaway camp
Don’t do the tramp, hey

You can still download most of the music from the first three movies from the soundtrack section of sleepawaycampfilms.com. Webmaster John Klyza co-founded Hayes’ site before starting his own. I messaged him back in 2011 requesting that he add “Return to Sleep Away Camp” and he did so within a few days or weeks. His post included a lo-res ad for an album/shoe release party with an image of hands folded in prayer and the word “Goat” in big letters. While I had Mr. Klyza, I asked him if he had any updates on the band. All he told me was at first he couldn’t find much info on them. I took that as a cryptic hint and just kind of concluded the band was a one-off, in-joke side project by one or more of the members of CKY, seeing as they cameo in the movie.

Credit: sleepawaycampfilms.com

Then, I dug a little deeper and found out that Goat and Friends might actually exist. There was a skate-punk band known variously as “The G.O.A.T.” and “The Goat & the Occasional Others” in California from 2007 to 2014ish. They only released one album, The Goat Speaks, the year after the movie finally came out. The cover is the same image from the ad posted by Klyza. Once you know what you’re looking at in the ad, you can make out the words “& the Occasional Others” below “Goat” to the right. Every member of the band was a skateboarder. It consisted of Shane Heyl on vocals, Kevin “Spanky” Long on guitar, Andrew Reynolds on guitar, Beagle One-ism on drums, and Atiba Jefferson on keyboards/bass. Reynolds was a playable character in the first seven Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games, the third of which features “96 Quite Bitter Beings”. Coincidence? As you’ll soon find out, yes.

While “GOAT” today is a popular acronym for “greatest of all time”, it carries a different meaning for Heyl. “When I used to live in Arizona… I would wake up the next day from a good time and my socks would be super-glued to the bottoms of my feet.” he told Thrasher Magazine in 2009. “I guess it was from skating and drinking so much — all the toxins would seep out of the soles of my feet, and when it dried out, I would have to rip the skin to get them off. I was able to twirl the socks around the bottoms of my feet without them falling off. It was pretty nasty. From that, the homies came up with the name Goat Foot.”

It was looking promising. The name was a near match, the timeline synched up, and one of the foremost experts on all things Sleepaway Camp believed it to be the right band. That should have sealed it. However, I still wasn’t convinced. The movie theme has at least two singers, maybe three, and a tighter, heavier, lo-fi garage rock sound than the album. Why the change in direction? Did it feature additional musicians? Is there a meaningful distinction between “friends” and “occasional others”? If so, who are the friends?

My recent re-watch renewed my interest in solving this little fourteen-year mystery, so I Googled the company “Goatboy Productions, Inc.” I’m pretty sure I did that before, but to my amazement, it now leads to the Vevo channel of a New York-based artist named Goat, real name Andrew Scott Rosen. He provided the song “Great Life” for I Know What You Did Last Summer. I double-checked the end credits of that movie. They list him as “Goatboy”. I listened to a few of his songs and in my opinion his voice was a much closer match, but his music was further away than ever. The geography made more sense too.

His Discogs profile links to an old website that’s no longer online. I pulled it up using the Wayback Machine. It was last updated May 23rd, 2007, before the movie came out and contains no mention of it or the song.

I contacted Goat’s official channel “Goat Music” and waited. It seemed like a long shot. Not 24 hours later, I received a response confirming that Goat was indeed the artist who wrote, produced, and recorded the song. I was kind of surprised. It’s a huge departure from his usual style. Being able to switch it up like that is the mark of a truly talented musician. The person I spoke to was very gracious and helpful. I asked if he happened to have access to a list of personnel for the song so I might finally know who the “friends” are. He assured me he’d talk to Goat and follow up with as much information as possible. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting. If and when I do get those details, I’ll update this post. Until then, I’m seriously grooving on “Miracle”.

As it turns out, “Goat” holds a special meaning for Rosen as well. It’s “a reflection of his positive attitude and outlook on life: Good Of All Things”.

Stay positive ✌️ Peace

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

Long Live The Spottishes!

The Spottishes are an elderly couple introduced at the end of Kim Henkel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation and one of the funniest parts of the movie. By this point, Renée Zellweger is the only protagonist left. Her friends have been killed, mostly by Leatherface’s… brother?… Vilmer (played insanely by Matthew McConaughey). It’s still dark (presumably dawn, as the low-key amazing 1993 song “Blue Moon at Dawn” by Austin alt-rockers The Coffee Sergeants begins playing) when Zellweger’s character, Jenny, makes her escape from the family’s death house. Vilmer takes a moment to psych himself up for the subsequent chase scene. He stands on the porch shouting his own name while Leatherface takes off on foot. The very next shot, it’s daylight — six, maybe seven o’clock in the morning, the sun rising over the treetops. How long has Jenny been running?

The Spottishes are driving an RV down a forested dirt road. It doesn’t look like a road intended for traffic. I assume they’re inside of a campground or national park of some kind. The retirees are drinking bloody Marys, addressing each other by their last name. Who drinks this early, while driving, no less? The lawbreakers clink their dumbbell-shaped glasses together. “Thank you, Mrs. Spottish.” Mr. Spottish says to his wife.

Jenny suddenly comes charging out of the treeline a few yards ahead. “Stop! Stop!” she pleads, waving them down. She falls back to bang on their door. Leatherface is now at her heels. He’s looking stunning in a sheer black robe, breast apron, wig, and lipstick.

Mrs. Spottish instructs her husband to ignore the young woman, then quickly changes her mind when she sees what she calls a “monster with a chainsaw”. She helps Jenny board the moving vehicle, calmly saying “Step on it, Mr. Spottish.” I love how she can’t be bothered by any of this. It’s easy, I guess, if you’re already drunk.

This is her enhanced with AI. It’s more horrifying than anything in the movie. I regret nothing.

Just when it seems like Jenny is out of the woods, both literally and figuratively, Vilmer comes roaring into view in his wrecker. Leatherface is standing on the back, screaming, waving his chainsaw. Vilmer pulls up alongside the RV, allowing Leather to swing at the driver-side window. The RV loses control, swerving into one of those stunt poles disguised as a pile of branches and rolls over. Jenny hops out unharmed. Vilmer and Leatherface ditch the truck, deciding to run after Jenny. The visual mirrors the end of Tobe Hooper’s original, which Kim Henkel co-wrote, where Sally is chased down the cannibal family’s neverending driveway by the Hitchhiker and Leatherface.

It’s unclear if the Spottishes live. They don’t look ancient enough to disintegrate on impact, so I suspect they do. I hope they do. I have to believe.

A death list I found. You’re damn right they’re debatable! How do I delete somebody else’s website?

A plane that’s been circling overhead swoops down, hitting Vilmer in the back of his dome with a wheel, killing him instantly. Was this a planned hit carried out by the French Illuminati who employ Vilmer to show people the meaning of horror (yeah, the plot’s crazy), or a spontaneous act of heroism? Either way, it echoes the 18-wheeler obliterating the Hitchhiker. This whole ending is one big tribute. I like to imagine the plane is piloted by Cattle Truck Driver, back to finish the job. I can picture him saluting Jenny from the sky. The plane is the same color as his shirt. I’ll bet you that was intentional.

Leatherface stops in his tracks at the sight of his dead relative and has a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, a black Limousine has appeared on the road. It honks, signalling Jenny. She hops in, and is shocked to see the man from the French Illuminati with three pierced growths on his stomach and tribal designs engraved in his flesh that she ran into earlier. The man apologizes, giving some vague speech about the experiment being a failure that only raises more questions, and offers to drop Jenny off at the nearest police station or hospital. Jenny accepts.

There is no catch. She’s free. She made it through the ordeal, corsage completely intact. While recounting her mad tale to a cop (played by the original’s Grandfather, John Dugan), she makes eye contact with Marilyn Burns, being pushed on a gurney by Paul Partain. This haunting triple cameo is awesome, however, I’m disappointed we don’t see the Spottishes clinking bloody Marys together from hospital beds. The last shot is of Leatherface twirling his saw in the hot Texas sun, a final nod to the masterful original.

This movie gets a lot of hate and that baffles me. I just read an old review calling it “retarded”. It’s one of my favorite sequels, not just from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. If you can’t enjoy it even the tiniest little bit, Hell, you’re an asshole. Respectfully. I’ve been meaning to upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray to hear Henkel’s commentary, but haven’t done so yet. What do you think of this entry? Let me know in the comments section below. I won’t bite your head off.