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

The Wildest Hairdos in Horror, Vol. 1

Below are in my opinion a few of the wildest hairdos in “horror”, used here in a loose sense to include all manner of cult, exploitation, horror, drive-in and B movies. Personally, I’d love to see some of these looks make a comeback, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which ‘dos are dos and which ‘dos are don’ts. I tried to cut deep with these picks, so you probably won’t find them on other such lists, if indeed there are any. Major spoilers below.

I may update this post with higher quality screen shots as I come across them.

Carl Root’s Unibrow — Blood (1974)
Credit: Exploitation.tv

From my Blood review: “It looks like someone just picked up a fistful of rabbit hair from the carpet and mashed it into his forehead. The actor here is a cabaret pianist by the name of John Wallowitch. I’ve Googled pictures of him, and he doesn’t actually have one of these. In this high-def screen shot from Exploitation TV, you can even make out Mr. Wallowitch’s real eyebrows underneath the hot mess. My question is whose idea was this, and what did they think it would add to the movie? Like, why?” Something else I’ve just noticed is that his hair wasn’t greyed all the way and is brown toward the bottom. A double whammy.

Tim’s mustache — Blood Shack (1971)
Credit: Shriek Show DVD

As a huge fan of Blood Shack, this makes zero sense. When the killer’s hood is pulled back and we finally see who it is, he has a painted-on mustache and diamonds on his cheeks like a half-assed clown. It isn’t explained why, and the makeup does nothing to conceal his identity. My question again would be why?

Frank the cop’s mustache — Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Credit: Tubi TV

This one’s fascinating as Frank the cop starts the film with an actual mustache, then re-appears toward the end with whatever this is on his face. The reason for Frank’s sudden change in appearance is simple. The actor shaved off his ‘stache for another role, not realizing he’d be needed for pick-ups. The real mystery is what materials they used and why director Robert Hiltzik chose to draw attention to it by shooting in close-up. I always thought it looked like football player eye black some with pubes mashed into it, but that would be flat, and upon closer inspection, this does have some depth to it. Fan theories include electrical tape, clay, and even strips of felt. Your guess is as good as mine. I haven’t picked up the Sleepaway Camp Blu-ray yet, but I’ve read it’s impeccable. Maybe the hi-def picture quality sheds new light on this mystery.

Judy’s side pony — Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Credit: Tubi TV

The crushing weight of such a voluminous side pony would surely throw a lesser woman’s spine out of wack, but years of swimming, playing volleyball, and tilting her head to give bitchy looks has given Judy supernaturally strong neck muscles. Sadly, they don’t protect her vagina from curling irons. Not pictured here is the shirt she wears with her own name on it. Have you seen the meme going around claiming Judy’s side pony died for our sins? Well, it’s true. Pay your respects in the comments below.

Bobby’s mustache — The Manson Family (2003)
Credit: Dark Sky Films DVD

It doesn’t translate the best in this screen shot (the interview scenes look to have been shot on video to resemble archival news footage), but writer/director/actor Jim Van Bebber is wearing a laughably fake biker ‘stache that flaps around while he talks. The worst part about it? Photography started in 1988 and ended in 2003, meaning Van Bebber had fifteen years to grow an actual ‘stache for this scene and did not. There’s no excuse for this fake one.

Ricky’s hair — My Sweet Satan (1994)
Credit: Dark Sky Films DVD

Credit: Dark Sky Films DVD

Van Bebber sports an even more bizarre hairdo as Ricky Kasslin in My Sweet Satan, based on the real-life murder of Gary Lauwers by teenage Satanist Ricky “Acid King” Kasso. Van Bebber’s head is shaved down the middle with a zig-zag pattern in back. Most of the hair on his right side is short, but one part is long. He has three rattails in back and two on his left side, all tied into braids. Some of his hair has a red tint to it. Kasso did not have this haircut; Van Bebber just wanted to look like this.

King Vladislav’s hair — Subspecies (1991)
Credit: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment DVD

Alright, I know I said I was going to be impartial, but this is just bad. The actor underneath this abomination is the legendary Angus Scrimm, famous for playing “The Tall Man” in the much loved Phantasm series. Anyone watching this movie should already know who he is and that he was bald. It was part of his gimmick. Nothing about the character he’s playing here really necessitates having this hairstyle, making the decision to slap such an obvious terrible wig on him even more baffling. In a post on a site called the Classic Horror Film Board, member Red Gargon describes it as a “cumulus cloud of cotton candy” and that sums it up perfectly.

Fuad Ramses’ eyebrows — Blood Feast (1963)
Credit: Something Weird DVD

From my Blood Feast review: “You can’t talk about Blood Feast without mentioning [Fuad’s eyebrows]. You just can’t. I don’t know if it’s ever been said what they used to gray the guy’s hair. To me, it looks like his eyebrows were coated with silver enamel paint. They’re completely unnatural looking, yet, Lewis focused so closely on them that we see every hair, pore, and sun spot on Mal Arnold’s face in perfect detail. I guess he knew there was no hiding how bad they looked.”

Director Ted V. Mikels’ mustache
Credit: The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels, Tubi TV

Schlockstar Ted V. Mikels came up with some truly memorable stories and characters over his fifty-three career as a writer/director, but none are more interesting than him. Following the success of his drive-in cult classic The Corpse Grinders, the Saint Paul, Minnesota native moved into a sprawling 27-room castle in Glendale, California where he built a functional torture dungeon and lived with multiple young beautiful women for ten to twelve years. Although he insisted nothing “funny” went on, stories of late-night S&M games persisted, making their way back to fellow exploitation director Don Farmer, who filmed Cannibal Hookers there. Mikels’ most recognizable features were his genuine boar tusk necklace and Salvador Dali-esque evil guy mustache, which he started at 22 and maintained for sixty-five years, never once shaving off until his death in 2016. Mikels revealed to a mustache forum (I guess those exist) in 2011 that he was partly inspired to grow said ‘stache by famed magician Leon Mandrake, who he briefly toured with at 17. What a life.

Dr. Owens — Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2002)
Credit: Tubi TV

Speaking of Mikels, his good friend Wendy O. Altamura pops up in probably my favorite movie of his. Credited only as “Shanti”, the Las Vegas psychotherapist plays a remote viewing expert (someone who psychically sees past and/or distant objects). Her look consists of a buzzed head, curly sideburns, drawn-on eyebrows, tons of make-up, six earrings, and a head wrap. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable opening up to this woman. She looks really intense.

this character — Neon Maniacs (1986)
(exposure boosted for clarity)
Credit: Archive.org

Technically, he’s not so much a “character” as an extra who appears for three to four seconds outside of a club at the start of the movie. Another slightly more fleshed-out character rolls by in a van and yells “Punk assholes!” at the crowd of people, prompting this guy to flip off the camera. Maybe he’s one of those straightedge vegan punks; his scalp resembles a vegetable garden. I’m waiting for Mario to come along and pick the sprouts and throw them at Shy Guys. I especially love how his sprouts all appear to be varying lengths and thicknesses, and were tied using multicolored hairbands. His nose and ear rings really tie it together. Extra points for the pink squirrel’s nest on the right.

Manny Fraker’s hair — Death Wish 3 (1985)
Credit: MGM DVD

As the leader of New York’s most dangerous street gang, Manny Fraker has an image to uphold. He shaves his head down the middle to make room for a long red line that forms part of a “not equal to” sign (≠) he paints on his forehead. He keeps his remaining hemispheres of hair slicked back to each side. All the members of his gang wear this symbol. The funny part is that it’s been used by white supremacist groups in real life and the gang is mostly made up of minorities. Fraker may be a cold-blooded killer, but one thing he’s not is a racist.

Osso — VigasioSexploitation Vol. 2 (2011)
Credit: Vigasiosexploitation.com

In the very first scene of this movie, a leather-clad prison escapee with tape across her nipples named Osso is frozen in place by a boobed Grim Reaper and told to become the leader of an invisible motorcycle gang. Osso agrees, and is magically gifted a handlebar moustache that matches her frizzy orange pig-tails. It only gets weirder from there.

Michael Myers’ blonde mask — Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
(image enhanced with AI for the hell of it)
Credit: YouTube

Michael Myers’ mask is one of the most iconic images in all of horror. While it changes perceptibtly from movie to movie, it’s always been white with brown hair. That’s why it’s so weird that a blonde mask (reminiscent of the one Ben Tramer wears in Part 2) pops up in two shots in Halloween 4. How does this happen, and why was it left in the movie? In Back to Basics: the Making of Halloween 4, makeup technician Ken Horn says when he was first hired for the film, he was shown a pink mask with white hair (not blonde). Knowing the mask wasn’t right, he ordered replacements from the son of the man who designed the original William Shatner mask John Carpenter altered for Part 1. Apparently, the replacements also came in pink and white, and nobody checked to make sure they were good until shooting began. Director Dwight Little says he “thinks” the inclusion of the pink and white mask was a mistake, implying he may have done it on purpose. He theorizes that somebody ran to the prop truck at 4 in the morning and grabbed an unaltered mask and everybody must have been too tired to notice. Then, he just brushes the whole mistake off, saying there wouldn’t have been time to reshoot it even if they did notice. I guess that explains the mask, but it doesn’t excuse it.

“Boy, that must have been one heck of a movie!” — “Astro-Zombies M3: Cloned” (2010)

Directed By
Ted V. Mikels

Version Reviewed
Tubi TV version

Total Runtime
~1 hour, 43 minutes, 50 seconds

Synopsis
A video package of clips from the first two movies reminds us what’s happened thus far. It’s established that Part 2 occurred twenty years after Part 1, placing it in 1988, instead of 2002, when it came out.

An astro-zombie sprints through a field, sidestepping laser blasts from above. A well-aimed explosion knocks it to the ground. A close-up of its moving hand lets us know it’s not dead.

Cut to: present day — twenty-two more years later. An old woman wearing a bathrobe and shower cap wanders around her backyard, calling out for a lost cat named Leo. While she does this, an astro-zombie (I think it’s supposed to be the same one — where was it for twenty-two years?) sneaks into her home through her sliding glass door. The old woman goes back inside. She finds her cat. She feeds it a can of Lotus brand cat food (the same brand from Ted Mikels’ second-longest-running series, The Corpse Grinders). The voiceless intruder comes up behind her and slits her throat with a big, fake machete.

So… what does “M3” stand for? Mark 3? Mach 3? Is it a play on top-secret government programs like MJ-12 and MKUltra?
Credit: Tubi TV

Next, we jump to a book signing in Las Vegas, Nevada, where an author summarizes his latest work about astro-zombies and reptilian aliens to an audience of one person. The author comes off as a typical, paranoid conspiracy theorist, but everything that he talks about happened last movie, so he’s actually some kind of genius investigator, I guess. Two MIBs (men in black) walk in and try to intimidate him. They insist that a copy of his book be made out to a Malvina Satana — not Malvira Satana from Part 2, Malvina, with an “n” — the leader of an international spy ring, who’s only ever shown in hologram form, and is played by repurposed footage of Tura Satana (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) from the cult classic original. This movie came out in 2010. Ms. Satana died in early 2011. It’s my assumption that she was supposed to appear, but had to pull out due to poor health. The awkward hologram workaround may have been Mikels’ way of keeping her involved in spirit without having to rewrite too much of the script.

Almost three hours Northwest of there, at a “bio-terrorism conference” being held in Area 51 ⁠— you know it’s legit because the word “bio-terrorism” was hastily scribbled on an otherwise blank whiteboard in the background ⁠— a General Ivan Mikacev (Ted Mikels himself) announces the reopening of the Astro-man Project to assist the United States military in some sort of ongoing war with a country or force that he never specifies. “I want thousands of these creatures, these monsters.” he commands. “I want tens of thousands. No! I want hundreds of thousands!”

Mikacev’s plan is to excavate astro-zombie remains from the desert, extract DNA from them, and make clones. I have two problems with this:

1) The astro-zombies disintegrated in urban areas, leaving only their shoes, gloves, and helmets behind.
2) They were made from human corpses. Therefore, their DNA will be human. Astro-zombies don’t become their own species til Part 4.

As the briefing comes to a close, secret agent WQ9 (Shanti, Owens from Part 2, now wearing a trench coat) and a guy who says one line all movie just kind of arbitrarily decide that a spy has infiltrated their ranks because they don’t recognize everyone who attended. WQ9 voices these concerns to a senator (Robert Southerland), who in turn calls the Doll Squad for assistance in weeding out the potential mole.

The Doll Squad is, for those of you in the dark, a highly trained group of Kung Fu-kicking females that first appeared in Mikels’ 1973 film of the same name, which, by the way, came out three years before the suspiciously similar Charlie’s Angels. Its leader, Sabrina (Francine York), calls and assigns the mission to a big-breasted woman named Queen, who is immediately betrayed by her best friend Peaches the drag queen. Peaches tranquilizes Queen from behind, hands her over to the Men in Black, and is promptly killed in return.

Hol’ up. What’s going on here?

[continued below]

Pictured left to right: Fake boobs, faker boobs.
Credit: Tubi TV

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
I don’t know either.

By this point, the Astro-man Project is well under way, though. A Sgt. Woolridge (Scott Blacksher, Zokar from Part 2) heads up a dig site where inmates are used to unearth the inexplicably undestroyed skeletons of our title creatures. Once a few have been found, Woolridge lines up the inmates and executes them while shouting stupid jokes: “Why’d the chicken-shit convict cross the master sergeant? To get to the other side. Maybe you won’t find things as funny in the next world!” BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

General Mikacev’s unkempt, alcoholic twin brother Peter (also Ted Mikels) watches all this unfold from a distance, then digs up a leg bone and hobbles off to conduct his own research.

Meanwhile, inside the Experimental Wing of the government’s Bio-terrorism Department, the granddaughter of the man who invented the cybernetic assassins, one Stephanie DeMarco, looks through a microscope, shakes vials of green stuff, and performs other stereotypical scientific procedures. She has an intact astro-zombie on a hospital bed which is later explained to have come from the desert. It sits up and stares at her, which fills her with such excitement that she tells a nearby security guard to go look. “I’ve given life to a creature that’s been long deceased! Do you have any idea what it’s like to play God?”

The astro-zombie instinctively hacks the poor guy to pieces with a machete that was already in its hand for some reason. I wanna know who gave it a goddamn machete. We all know what they do with them. A man named Randy Peterson walks in. He’s all Yo, shit, let’s get this cleaned up.

“My bad.”
Credit: Tubi TV

That evening, Randy goes home to his wife, who just so happens to be a member of the Doll Squad, and breaches national security by telling her all the details of his day, including the unforeseen murder.

Over the next week or so, Dr. DeMarco spends most of her time and energy trying to civilize her test subject like Dr. Logan does with “Bub” in Day of the Dead by reading it children’s books and having it listen to classical music, all while struggling to pinpoint a mysterious defect in the central nervous system of the creatures.

Unbelievably, Crazy Peter cracks the code first. At thirty-six minutes, he discovers that astro-zombies can only understand backward talking (?), which is contradicted nine minutes later when Dr. DeMarco asks her pet zombie if it can understand what she’s saying and it nods yes.

Both scenes can’t be right. Is Crazy Peter supposed to be wrong, or did Mikels fumble this part of the plot? That’s for you to decide.

Around this same time, the mole mentioned back at the start is revealed to be some random old guy named Lancaster. He checks into Dr. DeMarco’s Cloning Room after hours and (accidentally?) activates the machine, causing it to spurt out several fully-formed astro-zombies in seconds.

Dude… no…

That’s not how cloning works whatsoever. It doesn’t just replicate matter.

Ehhh. You know what? Fine. It does.

The dozen or so death-dealing drones, which are exact copies of each other, yet come in all different shapes and/or sizes (!), break loose and rampage through town. The Doll Squad is sent in to eliminate them, equipped only with blowguns and darts that explode upon impact. Who will survive? I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that it’s probably not one of the top hundred things you’ll see coming.

_________________________

M3: Cloned is the second of three sequels to schlockstar Ted Mikels’ 1968 film The Astro-Zombies. It was preceded by Mark of… in 2002, and followed by M4: Invaders From Cyberspace in 2012.

While it’s not my favorite of the series, I do enjoy it immensely. I’ve watched it five or more times, and I’ll be the first to admit that it makes no damn sense. A lot of its hard-to-follow-ness stems from the fact that several key characters heel-turn, switching from “good” to “bad” for no reason besides further complicating an already incomprehensible narrative. There are swerves upon swerves, to the detriment of all logic and reason. Was this written by WCW booker Vince Russo? Because it feels like an episode of Monday Nitro from the late 90s or early 2000s.

Let’s look at WQ9, for example. She starts off working for a senator. Then, she’s revealed to be an MIB. The Men in Black are employed by the Department of Defense, and ⁠— in direct opposition to that ⁠— are also in Malvina Satana’s back pocket. As you’ll remember, the mole that WQ9 has investigated turns out to be someone named Lancaster. Well, the funny thing is, he reports to Satana too.

This means that a big chunk of the action is pointless and counterproductive for all those involved. When you break it down into even simpler terms, here’s what happens: the Men in Black (WQ9) have a chick from the Doll Squad (Queen) called in to identify one of their own (Lancaster), then kidnap her ass to prevent her from doing it. What fucking sense does that make? Government agencies thwarting themselves. That’s some next level bullshit. How deep does it go?

Credit: The Simpsons, 20th Century FOX

Of course, unnavigable stories are nothing new for those of you that have seen the first two astro-installments. Now that I think about it, M3: Cloned echoes them in a big way.

Its overall tone is that of the 1968 original in the sense that it’s boring and talky like that one. Between all its setup and pseudo-scientific mumbo-jargon, it fails to harness the manic energy of the 2002 followup. Plus, it doesn’t help that its action scenes are mostly clumped together at the end. To put it into perspective, the astro-zombies don’t even embark on their customary killing spree ’til the seventy-nine minute mark, or 76.8% of the way through the movie.

Visually, M3: Cloned resembles Mark of… Their production values are nearly identical, they share quite a few props and locations, and they seem to have been shot with the same low-grade digital camera. The most obvious carryover, though, is the cast, comprised of amateur actors, doctors who want to be actors, and Ted Mikels’ friends. In keeping with the confusion, everyone plays a new role, including

Credit: Tubi TV

That’s right, JOHN WAITE IS BACK! The man, the myth, the legend, who spake those immortal words, “By comparison, we are mentally retarded children.” has graced us once again with his presence — but this time, he’s not here to expand our consciousness with philosophical insight. He plays the part of a journalist, posing tough questions. “Do you consider [astro-zombies] to be human, and if not, are they at least as intelligent as humans?” he queries. I think the real question is, are any of us truly human in the face of such greatness, such… Waite-ness? You may find yourself pondering this while his segment transpires. Invariably, the answer comes back — a resounding fuck no.

Respect.

As much as I love John Waite, I have to give the award for breakout performance to Volmar Franz as “MIB Enforcer” for the way that he shuts down the author, Leonard Bullock: “Roswell was a weather balloon. The alien autopsy ⁠— the work of a Hollywood charlatan. There has never been any kind of extraterrestrial testing at Area 51. And, just so it doesn’t screw up your day, Mr. Bullock, Sasquatch was a Kodiak bear, the chupacabra’s a mangy dog, the Loch Ness monster’s a fat sea otter, and we work for the Department of Defense in the Red Flag Division!”

“So watch your ass, fuckface.”
Credit: Tubi TV

Oh, and before I forget, big shout to the man who played “Convict Enforcer” for abandoning his Irish accent halfway through. Thanks for the laugh.

Another postive… the CGI has been greatly improved upon this time, which is good cos there’s quite a bit of it toward the end. Every time an astro-zombie gets hit with a dart, it blows up in a fiery blaze (that in one instance knocks out a car window, sending shards of computerized glass toward the screen). The effects still don’t land anywhere close to convincing, but they’re definitely better than Mark of…‘s Windows-95-game-found-in-a-cereal-box graphics.

One thing that sticks out to me as a negative is the relative unimportance of the premise. War just ain’t a big deal when extraterrestrials have already attempted to take over the planet. If I was Mikels, I would have switched the ideas for Parts 2 and 3 so the series progressed in this order:

1. Astro-zombies are created
3. Astro-zombies are re-created for war
2. Aliens invade Earth using astro-zombies
4. Astro-zombies themselves invade Earth

The only thing missing from this series is time travel…

5. Something involving time travel

You’re probably thinking: Ugh, there’s no way I’m watching this. He’s been telling me for the last however many paragraphs that it’s bad and boring, not to mention confusing. Yes! That’s precisely what I’m saying. It’s objectively awful in almost every way. But it’s also entertaining as Hell, and I still recommend that you watch it if you’re into weird movies like I am, which you probably are or you wouldn’t be here to begin with. Astro-Zombies M3: Cloned is available now on the free streaming app Tubi TV. You can’t beat the price.

I still have more Ted Mikels material to wade through, but I’m fairly confident this was his first and last crossover. By incorporating the Doll Squad and Lotus brand cat food, he established that his characters all coexist in a shared “cinematic universe” not unlike Full Moon’s, or Marvel’s. Kind of a shame that he passed away back in 2016 before having a chance to expand on that universe. The world could have used another mash-up where Astro-zombies have Blood Orgies with She-devils, or receive Text Messages From the Dead. Maybe some enterprising young filmmaker will take up the mantle.

‘Til next review, keep on slashin’.

A cartoon I done drew.

Body Count
30 humans, 16 astro-zombies.

Bod Count
0.

Overall Enjoyability
4 Russo swerves out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
N/A

Recommendations

Further Reading
The Merits of Sin: The Astro-Zombies aka Space Zombies (1968) (USA)