Astro Zombies Blu-ray review
Release Date: October 11
Astro Zombies is arguably the most famous piece of cult, underground cinema from schlock maestro extraordinaire Ted V. Mikels (The Girl in Gold Boots, The Corpse Grinders), who unfortunately just passed away on October 16 at age 87. It’s ironic that only days earlier, Kino Lorber released a wonderful Blu-ray edition of Astro Zombies (also known as “Space Zombies” and “The Space Vampires”), which we had the fortunate opportunity to preview.
Made for around $40,000 bucks in 1968, Astro Zombies centers around a disgruntled scientist (horror legend John Carradine) who creates a race of weird monsters from the body parts of human victims. When said creatures break free and start a killing spree, the CIA gets involved in the case. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! icon Tura Satana co-stars as a voluptuous spy.
The titular outer space-undead come in the form of men in a Halloween-style alien/robot-style mask that, despite its inherent cheesiness, is quite memorable and has become a mainstay at horror cons. The film also includes a cameo from Mikels himself as a nightclub bongo player during a body-paint go-go hot chick dancing scene. The movie is chock full of fun whip-pan transitions between scenes and, despite its budgetary handicaps is a lively and colorful romp.
While Kino is known for supplying great new scans for all their Blu-ray releases, Astro Zombies is an exception to that rule. The picture occasionally crackles and pops, turns into a grainstorm and, most distractingly, fluctuates in-and-out of being tinted pink. This may or may not be the company’s fault, as the movie’s low budget/neglected nature may make this the clearest way its ever been presented, but those buying the disc should know going in it’s not going to be a crystal clear image from front-to-back. When it doesn’t resemble the Zapruder film it is, of course, totally watchable and throughout most of the running time quite good-looking for such an obscure piece of trash cinema.
An absolute highlight of the disc has to be the inclusion of a full-length RiffTrax commentary featuring Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. They provide plentiful zingers like, “This movie has a plot, right? It’s not just ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ with ugly guys?” Without a doubt Kino should continue to make a track like this available whenever humanly possible.
The second commentary comes from our own Editor-in-Chief Chris Alexander, who fondly recalls first seeing the picture on the rotation of WGRZ Buffalo’s “The Cat’s Pajamas” on a Saturday morning. Having made friends with Mikels and done his homework, he takes us through the history of the movie, it’s unfortunately being sold out from under the director and other little odds and ends. It’s a great alternative to the “MST3K” style of talking down to the movie, which Alexander definitely does not approve of.
The third and final commentary comes from the late Mikels himself, who continued making movies (including Astro Zombies sequels!) right up to the end. The elderly director is surprisingly spry and lucid, full of enthusiastic love of the actors he worked with and fond recollections of his past, including making films and working in theater from a very young age. He also has great anecdotes about the resourcefulness necessary in low-budget filmmaking of that era. He talks of cobbling together lab equipment with materials from an Army surplus store, getting shots from the open door of his van and cutting a scene with Peter Falk (!) out of the movie. (Much of the film was shot in and around Falk’s property in LA since he was a friend of producer/co-writer Wayne Rogers of TV’s “M*A*S*H*”.) He even points out a group of police officers who arrived on set to question them and unknowingly wound up in the film. Mikels has an endearing habit of describing the scenes we’re watching that shows a real engagement with the material. You can tell he truly lived to make movies and loved every minute of it.
Kino has also included four original theatrical trailers: Son of Blob, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, Deranged and, of course, Astro Zombies. Any fan of Mikels and this film is in for a treat, and anyone new to this movie can enjoy it with either a cynical, historical or earnest filmmaker commentary. It is a fitting tribute to a worthy director of weird cinema.