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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.