In honour of cult UK label 88 Films releasing two Ted V Mikels films in the same week, The Doll Squad and The Corpse Grinders, I woke up with possibly one of my most inspired/ or silliest (depending on what your stance on shlock z-grade movie making is) ideas I have ever had. Not only will I be providing you lovely folks with full reviews of the aforementioned 88 Films releases, but I decided it was time for a Ted V Mikels movie marathon, 6 films in 12 hours. Would I survive with my brain cells intact? Would I ever be the same again? Read on to find out what happened….
The Black Klansman (1966)
I start the day out right with a good piece of social commentary, Ted V Mikels style, in The Black Klansman aka Brute aka a whole bunch of other names (depending on the possibility of offence taken at black people being mentioned levels in any given locality). Apart from the now very un-pc language involved in this flick and the wooden acting, this was actually surprisingly well played out. The black and white cinematography also sets the mood perfectly and aids to disguise some of the low production values involved.
The story follows Jerry Ellsworth (Richard Gilden) a guy who is mixed race but can pass for white (apparently played by a White actor) who hears the news that his estranged daughter has been torched by the Klan back home in the South. We already know this because we actually see the young tyke (for which they cast an especially cute looking little girl) get a Molotov cocktail to the face and rage into an inferno. The Klan leaders are unrepentant and the law will do nothing. So it is up to Jerry to return to his birthplace and infiltrate the Klan to bring them down. Some of the other black residents of the town have been getting jip, despite recently achieving equal civil rights, which the local folk are none too pleased about. One guy gets refused service in a restaurant as the white patrons, up in arms, vote with their feet and leave the place deserted, while the Klan take out their frustrations at the change in the law by capturing and hanging people, burning people and crosses and all that usual other Klan stuff.
While the narrative is quite predictable and things like when the men are talking in the bar they order the women out while they discuss men’s business, or statements like ‘yeah flick off we’ve got trouble’, made me chortle, The Black Klansman actually does serve to make a half decent social commentary piece on racial tensions after the civil rights amendment. If you take into consideration this was actually made around that time, the political climate and the context within which it was made, it could also be considered quite daring for its day. The film also covers mixed race relationships and shows the white bigoted Klan members up for what they really are and their black counterparts in more humanistic terms. Regardless of the exploitative elements the film also does make a stand in a positive way. The climactic scene in particular stands out as reasonably tense and well put together. Mikels made a lot of films covering different themes joined by one thing alone they were all trashy and very low budget, but The Black Klansman is a bit of a wild card if you consider his filmography as a whole, because for some part it actually plays out like a serious film. It must also be said for a Mikels film it is remarkably well assembled and does not seem to travel onto the offbeat tangents some of his other films do. In fact I actually did not have any confusion at all, in any point of the film, trying to work out who the characters were which must count for something.
Don’t get me wrong The Black Klansman is not some important landmark in cinema by any means, it is what it is, but if you consider who made it and when it was made, then it can be graded within these terms as above average (for a Ted V Mikels film- which isn’t saying much). Those who adore the camp elements from Mikels may be disappointed in this one however.
One down five to go, I was confident this would be a breeze, time for a quick coffee and then on with the next title (selected at random). Feeling suitably charged I quickly moved on to a film which the title alone had suggested to me this would be my highlight of the day, and for some reason I was excited enough to engage in a live tweet along at the same time…
Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1972)
Well, now I have already said I assumed by the title this would be my highlight of the day, boy was I wrong and in so many ways. The story of a strange high priestess called Mara (Lila Zaborin ) who gathers together a coven of young sexy nymphs to wreak vengeance on those who wronged her kind back in the old day; I am summarising this as her motive from the ‘historical’ flashbacks we get later in the film (featuring a cameo from the owner of the twirly-tache Ted V Mikels himself). It all starts off perfectly well, she-devils dancing around in leotards, Mara screaming orders from her altar and sticking on a scary omni mask, the weird male assistant with a furry hat who watches from the side-lines, a bit of tribal drumming, a male victim trusted up on a slab for sacrifice. But as soon as those women dance into the centre of the room and plunge their sacrificial spears into the victim everything seems to dissolve into a puerile mess of a film which makes little sense.
As with all the films in this list I am not going to bother much talking about things like actors, because for the most part they are interchangeable, or production values because there are none to speak of. In fact one of the things which makes Ted V Mikels work so difficult to follow in many cases is the lack of acting talent; leaving most players to meld into one and thus causing confusion. This factor was at a particular all time high during Blood Orgy as apart from Lila Zaborin as Mara (in her one and only acting credit), who was recognisable by Cruella De Ville make-up, being 30 years older than anyone else and her wailing, screeching and hideous overacting, with reference to the other female cast members I really did not have a clue who half of them were most of the time. But no matter, because the plot was as confusing so I am not sure if that it would’ve helped much if they had, had some Academy Award nominee in there.
At some point near the beginning a business man who doesn’t believe in witchcraft rocks up and hires Mara for some sort of industrial espionage, witchy style, but double crosses her, and then people get resurrected from the dead, a ghost appears during a séance and Mara speaks in native American Indian to her audience ‘no go in big sky boat’ or words to that effect and no one seems freaked out, a weird bloke turns up who knows all about the occult and shoots blue lasers from his hands, and a woman gets strangled for what seems like no apparent reason. I am telling you all this to try and convey how much of a mess the plot really is, and for want of a better story they could have really delivered on the title… but no, no orgy either. There is some blood and gore, but nothing that can save the piece. Not a smidgeon of nudity either.
This whole film by two thirds of the way in was making me itch, maybe I was being too ambitious with this marathon? Maybe choosing this as a follow on from The Black Klansman was not a good choice? Whatever it was I did not like it, and when the credits rolled it was like taking off a tight pair of shoes.
At this point I was feeling very disheartened and I didn’t think I could bear another film like Blood Orgy of the She-Devils. My head was literally aching with both the monotony and the prospect of having to actually write about it, twin that with having to find ‘witty’ comments to stick on my tweets, I was really in need of a pick me up. There was only one thing that could save the day at this point…
The Astro Zombies (1968)
Just when I thought I was losing the will to live The Astro Zombies rolled in like a breath of fresh air to save the day. Could this be the perfect when it’s so bad it’s good movie? Well I think it would have a pretty good stab at the title. This was just the sort of pick me up I needed when I hit a slump with the last film; the opening scene bashing straight into the action as a man sporting what I can only describe as a motorbike helmet fashioned into a skull shape with latex, stalks a woman in her garage and caves in her head with a hammer. As blood splashes onto her snazzy vintage vehicle all I can think is so far so good, at least there is blood this time! There is so much to love about The Astro Zombies it is one film that every cult film addict needs to have in their collection, shlock 50’s vibe, check, sleazy 60’s air, check, 70’s pimp fashion, check; not to mention the boasting of not one but two cult legends among the cast John Carradine and the wonderful Tura Satana.
The Astro Zombies offers a 50’s sci-fi type take on the age old Frankenstein theme, John Carradine plays Dr. DeMarco a mad scientist who is collecting bodies to resurrect in his lab turning them into what he calls ‘Astro Men’. They are somehow controlled by brain waves to do his bidding. Literally every word uttered out of Carradine’s mouth is pure scientific sounding babble which I doubt has any relevance to anything in the real world. The best thing about this is he delivers it all without even batting an eyelid; acting like a pure professional this guy might as well be spieling off Shakespeare, he treats his role with utter seriousness. In line with all good doctors he is accompanied by an assistant, the mute and obviously sexually frustrated Fanchot ( William Bagdad); for a lab guy this dude seriously needs a bath. Then of course there is the beautiful Tura Satana who puts on her best resting bitch face for her part as the seething black widow agent Satana. Unlike The Doll Squad in which she was grossly underused Tura really gets a chance to shine in the movie, although she is not the central star (not that there really is one, it is more of an ensemble affair), she does get a good share of some cracking scenes.
Mikels nails it this time on every level, there is gore, there is violence, there is a terrific climax with a machete wielding maniac, great cheesy effects by Gary R Heacock (who was also involved in Mikels The Corpse Grinders) including a machete through the head, with another one through a neck, and even a sleazy 60’s style erotic dance number slap bang in the middle featuring a woman adorned only in psychedelic body paint swaying around to some tribal drums. The story is messed up, as to be expected, but who cares right?! It has mad skull men turned into a zombies, and a creepy mute assistant who likes to tie up bikini clad women and terrorise them. That is not even mentioning the fact that Carradine’s lab looks like it is constructed from cardboard and furnished with random factory equipment (which it probably is). The best thing about it though is it is really fun, a true psychotronic movie and one which really lightened up my waning mood. They don’t make them like this anymore that’s for sure!
Onwards and upwards and on a high my next title is something of a wild card, a later title from Mikels and a relatively rare one at that. My biggest concern at this moment is, will this ruin my mood? I don’t think I could take another ‘Blood Orgy’ experience right now, halfway through my marathon that could be disastrous…
War Cat (1987)
What can I say other than this film is so obscure it only currently has one review online, and that is from an IMDb user. After reeling from the crazy world of Astro Zombies, I find myself here WAR CAT, the tale of a bunch of mercenary survivalists that hole up in the desert and capture young ladies, and the particular young lady who becomes their undoing. I had big hopes for this one as it is stated on its tiny little entry on the aforementioned IMDb that the BBFC refused to certify this in 1987, but then knowing the 80’s BBFC I should have known that was no measure of potential gore or violence. OK it is violent but in a very cheap trashy way, and so much so is the tongue in cheek, high camp factor at play here there is very little to get offended by. As with most of the Mikel’s fodder I have sat through today the plot is lined with ridiculous inconsistencies, so it is difficult to keep up at times. Here is the best I can do for a summary…
Jannina Poynter is Tina Davenport, out to take a break in a supposedly isolated retreat, although there seem to be loads of people milling around and a town nearby, when she attracts the attentions of some local men. The men around these parts are a bit oversexed and like to express this in a rapey way toward women. Tina is having none of it and a late night snooper gets an elbow crack to his windpipe and the law called on him for his troubles; Tina is one girl that you do not want to mess with. There are some bikers involved with the plot, they are quite stereotypical bikers who rape and pillage around the local area and refer to women folk as ‘momma’, they shoot people and spin around on their bikes pulling wheelies in the desert. Then there are the soldiers, some Vietnam vets, who are headed by ‘the major’. I found myself wondering who was funding their operation because they carry rocket launchers, bazookas, appear to have unlimited ammunition, and apparently have half the US army’s weapons in their makeshift armoury. After capturing some bikers and killing one of the ‘mommas’ the mercenaries set their sights on Tina, and she soon ends up captured and stuffed in their camp prison. It is insinuated that the soldiers like to take liberties with the womenfolk, they can’t get much action hauled up in that dusty old camp, but we do not see this as it happens entirely off camera. After a confrontation with The Major where Tina calls him out with the phrase ‘I know why you wouldn’t take me last night, it’s because that gun is the only prick you have!’, she is left to run and be hunted down by the pissed off veterans.
This is when the magic happens, three quarters in, and a very entertaining three quarters if you go by the trashy dialogue, the film turns into one part I Spit on Your Grave with a huge dollop of RAMBO the female version. As soon as Tina gets out in the desert and slaps on a bandana those guys are totally fucked. She pits her wits against them, blows them up with grenades, slits their throats, kicks them off the top of mountains. To add to this as the final climax erupts some very 80’s sounding metal starts to play in the background which sets it up perfectly just as the shit hits the fan and things start exploding left, right and centre.
This film is relatively hard to find and as far as I can see has not had a proper DVD release. I suffered a weathered VHS rip with hardcoded Dutch subs to see what this was about, a print which is so dark in places you miss a lot of the action, so it would be good to see this get the same upgraded treatment many of Mikel’s other titles have had. A total piece of irrelevant nonsense with a chick commando in the central role, there isn’t much else you can add to that, apart from this has just the right level of cheese and trashy action that trash lovers will love it, just a shame about the print quality. All this aside it was definitely a highlight of the day.
Then came this…
Ten Violent Women (1982)
Another amazing title, another let down, Ten Violent Women doesn’t even feature Ten Violent Women and represents yet another Ted V Mikels venture which left me with a huge question mark above my head by the end of it.
There is so much to say about what is wrong with this flick that I could be here all day, so I will try and condense my complaints into something more palatable. First off the women, yes they are violent in a bitch slapping, hair pulling kind of way, but again they are pretty generic and interchangeable. Lead Sherri Vernon, who has been in four Mikels films for her sins, plays Sam, the level headed tough cookie chick who gets everyone through their trials and tribulations. While the rest of the gang, bar one, stand out as much as those nonspecific plants you get dotted around shopping arcades. The main problem with Sherri Vernon as the lead is she can’t act, she is supposed to be all snarly and streetwise but she just reels off her lines without one hint of emotion (honestly she might as well be reciting her shopping list), the rest of the girls are equally abysmal. The only gang member with any redeeming value was Sally Alice Gamble as Sheila, now she was actually quite fun in a hard faced, blatantly camped up kind of way, it’s a shame she makes a sharp exit about a third of the way through. In fact so much so had I been concentrating on her performance I had not even invested any time in focusing on the other girls only to find myself left in a muddling puddle of who is that (?) later on.
Stand out members of the cast were Georgia Morgan as the evil Miss Terry and her sidekick the revolting creature that is Madge (played by Jane Farnsworth). Miss Terry was a particular highlight, her butch face caked in so much make up you would imagine it was plastered on with a trowel, she actually provided a brief respite from the monotony in her scenes. Similarly the moustached bible bashing Madge was so gross to look at that it aided in giving you something else to focus on other than the wooden chunks of dialogue being spieled out by the rest of the team. Above everyone else in the cast there was one star that strangely shone, managed to get out their lines in a naturalistic way and actually appeared to exhibit a bit of attitude and that was Ted V Mikels himself; appearing here in a small role as a crimelord (or whatever he was). It is not really so surprising though when you consider that the bulk of the cast were only ever in this film, apart from Sherri Vernon who only appeared in Mikels films and therefore Mikels had the heads up as he was probably the most experienced person on set.
Then we get to the story. Now in all fairness the first 40 minutes or so trundles along nicely, we have a botched crime caper, an unrelenting pimpy funk soundtrack to speed things along, the acting is substandard (as expected) but there is a nice sort of retro sleaze air to the proceedings. As the girls travel from one disaster of their own making to another things grind to an abrupt halt when they get busted and end up in prison. The girls have remarkably got to this situation after ditching their mining jobs (not that they look like people who have endured years of manual labour in the first place) in order to rob a jewellery store, in the process pissing off a bunch of Arabs and stealing coke from a gangster. The problem with Mikels work in general is this, he was a true independent there is no denying that, and he made the films he wanted and stuff everyone else, and that’s something to be applauded, but there is also a problem with this, because it would seem he was so narrow-minded in his vision of making the films he wanted to see he did not spare a thought to what anyone else would find entertaining in them. If we look at this in the context of other micro budget independents the problem becomes clear; HG Lewis added in lashings of gore, Andy Milligan had the weirdo factor and he was a king at doing trash camp on a shoestring, if we go beyond this to later on, Fred Olen Ray had copious amounts of naked women in his films. Ted V Mikels had none of these factors. Sure his films got slightly more gratuitous as time went on, but never enough to please trash fans, he simply was not graphic enough. So what we are presented with here is in essence part women in prison film with none of the concepts that are associated with this particular brand of exploitation, even the women take showers in their underwear. There is the odd pair of boobs and one lesbian scene that is filmed in complete darkness, so I am not even sure if that qualifies as a ‘scene’ and then some flogging at the hands of an old woman with her face painted on. A few women wander about in their underwear that is about it.
I may be being unfair, there are some moments of silliness that ensures this is not a complete turkey but for the majority of the time it just meanders from scene to scene without much really going on, which makes for a missed opportunity on Mikels part. I did not consider this a total waste of my time, it had that bizarre curiosity value to it, but that is about it and I cannot see it being a film I would make an effort to revisit again.
And so to the finale, to be honest my review of this one may be a little tainted as I have really had enough at this present moment. Experiencing yet another ‘brilliant title, shit film’ come down I wade into the last feature of the day…
One Shocking Moment (1965)
So to the end of my day with Ted V Mikels I come back to one of his earlier efforts One Shocking Moment, another suggestive title which at this point in time I have hardly any illusion will live up to its name. A nudie cutie with a plot, or that is how it is purported to be by some online reviewers with one even tagging it ‘the Citizen Kane of Nudie Cuties’- I am not even sure what they fully mean by such a spurious claim because this certainly is not the message I took away from it. The film does have a plot I will give it that, it is coherent in terms of a Mikel film and plays along the lines of a sort of dramatic narrative with lashings of boobies thrown in at any opportunity. Nudie Cuties for a modern audience are often considered nothing more but relics, being tame by the standard of today, but nevertheless serve as an important reminder of just how far things have come in the cinematic world in a relatively short space of time. Inherent in this type of film is an innate sexism which was a product of its age which with a modern mind set proves to be archaic and difficult to understand. I guess to appreciate a film like this you have to understand the context, this film shows (again for the time) graphic scenes of BDSM with a woman flogging a man as he cowers on the floor, for a 1965 audience this would have been quite eye opening. If you take into consideration that Mario Bava’s S&M laden piece, The Whip and the Body, came out two years before this and the American print was cut to shreds to edit out all the sexual violence, it puts things into perspective. Whatever the resonance of the time however I feel One Shocking Moment is only shocking for its blatant display of male sexist attitude but then it is only to be expected as a product of its time.
Meet Cliff (Gary Kent as Philip Brady) and Mindy (Lee Anne) an all American goodie goodie couple from small town USA. Cliff scores a ‘swell’ job in the big city of L.A and the two head off to set up a new life. Don’t get too comfy folks because this picture perfect hearts and flowers image is about to be smashed, yes we learn in the first five minutes Cliff is actually an asshole of the highest order. Mindy is a poor sweet blonde who just wants to please her husband, she loves to caress coffee pots and talks endlessly about preparing Cliff’s dinner. Mindy is the sort of kind and patient girl that men must dream of, in fact she’s so great she doesn’t mind when he has a bit of banter about their new next door neighbour the equally blonde exotic dancer Joanie (Maureen Gaffney) ; he would love to go there of course and doesn’t bother hiding the fact his slobbering tongue is practically dropping on the floor. They are only in the door of their new apartment all of 2 minutes and Cliff is already exclaiming to his bubble headed wife’ you ought a saw the doll we saw walking into the apartment across the hall!’, to which she replies ‘I sure wish I could make some coffee’. I think you get the idea.
So the story goes on with the two visiting Joanie’s place of work and meeting the owner, and Joanie’s sometime lover Tanya (Verne Martine) . Now this is where the film gets interesting because the Tanya character actually has a spine and some serious balls (hence where the whipping comes in). As the plot meanders on Cliff doesn’t change his ways, starts banging his secretary and attends a swinging party at the neighbours which ends in that ‘shocking moment’, and Tanya tries to corrupt Mindy (Mindy who just wants to go home to her small town life). So that is that, on the plus side it was fairly well made for a Mikels feature but it just did not do it for me, I just wanted to give good old Cliff and Mindy a slap most of the way through it. It puts in on the nudie front but the characters are so annoying that it removes any sense of mild eroticism.
So there you have it ladies and gentleman, 6 Ted V Mikels films in 12 hours! I honestly think at this point I am ready for a nervous breakdown, there is only so much shlock one person can take in a day and I am sure I just about reached my limit! A mixed bag of films and a demonstration that Mikels could really turn his hand to anything, whether he did a good job of it is a matter of opinion, but at least he had a good go. I have to hand it to the man however, he really didn’t give a flying fuck when it came to making the films he wanted to make, and to hell with everyone else. The fact that he managed to maintain a career over 40 years and still carry on doing his thing is something to be admired. They don’t make films like this anymore, and they certainly don’t make filmmakers like Ted V Mikels that’s for sure!