Some Horror Films by Ted V. Mikels directed or produced by Ted V. Mikels
It has long seemed to me that Poughkeepsie, NY-born director, producer, screenwriter and novelist Ed Wood has gotten a bum rap over the years. The one-of-a-kind filmmaker has, starting with his very first picture in the early ‘50s, garnered for himself a reputation of the very worst kind, even going so far as to be almost universally regarded as “The Worst Director of All Time.” And indeed, with such films as Glen or Glenda? (’53), Jail Bait (’54), Bride of the Monster (’55, and the very first horror film that I can recall seeing, when I was 5), Plan 9 From Outer Space (’57, and the undeserved winner of the “Worst Film of All Time” prize), Night of the Ghouls (‘59) and The Sinister Urge (’60) to his credit, it is difficult to refute the claim of his being a filmmaker of the very lamest kind. But was Ed Wood actually the worst? Indeed not, sez me! In truth, there are any number of other filmmakers out there whose oeuvres are every bit as problematic as Ed’s, and, most importantly, whose films are far less entertaining to sit down and watch.
Take, for example, Al Adamson, who directed two of the very worst films that this viewer has ever seen, Horror of the Blood Monsters (’70) and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (’71). And Brad Grintner, whose Blood Freak (’72) might actually be the single worst movie that this viewer has ever suffered through. And Coleman Francis, whose Beast of Yucca Flats (’61) must surely be placed on anybody’s Worst Films list. And then there’s good ol’ Doris Wishman, aka The Female Ed Wood, whose films such as Nude on the Moon (’61), Bad Girls Go to Hell (’65) and Another Day, Another Man (’66) have to be seen to be believed! All of these directors have created films that are every bit as inept as Ed Wood’s, and, again, are even more painful and less fun to experience.
All of which brings us up to Ted V. Mikels, who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1929 (five years after Ed) and would go on to become a director, producer and screenwriter, just like Ed … and whose films are even more difficult to sit through! Don’t believe me? Below you will find minireviews of five of Mikels’ works, four of them in the genre of horror (and thus perfect for this Shocktober season, despite their awful qualities) and one of them more of an action/adventure film. Mikels directed all but one of them, The Worm Eaters, for which he acted as producer. Watch any one of these truly unique and god-awful films and I think you will agree with me: Ed Wood got a bum rap!
The Astro-Zombies (1968): Word on the street has it that The Astro-Zombies is one of the worst films of all time, right down there with Plan 9 From Outer Space, Robot Monster and The Beast of Yucca Flats, and for once, the word on the street is right! This movie really IS an incredible stinker in every conceivable department, and is a fairly bewildering experience to sit through. I for one could not figure out what was going on throughout much of the film, despite the inanity of the proceedings. Tura Satana, so bodaciously kickass in Russ Meyers’ Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, does add some sodden spark to the proceedings, but John Carradine is reduced to mumbling techno gibberish in his zombie lab, and Wendell Corey, in his last film role, probably wished that he was dead (he died right after filming was completed!). It’s hard to believe that Wayne Rogers was involved as a producer and co-writer of this mess. Oh, Trapper, what were you thinking?!?! Horrendous acting, crappy editing and amateurish directing by Mikels, combined with a mishmash of a plot involving skull-faced, radio-controlled, synthetic cadavers (or something like that … I’m really not too clear on this point), Mexican secret agents, the CIA and mutilation murders, all combine for 90 minutes of semipainful head shaking. The film is an absolute must for all connoisseurs of bad cinema, but all others really should be warned away. This movie really is BAAAAAAAAD!
The Corpse Grinders (1971): It’s been nothing but trouble lately, for the two managers of the Lotus Cat Food Co. The gravedigger who’s been supplying them with their food’s main ingredient — freshly disinterred human cadavers — has been pestering them for monies due, and a suspicious doctor and his hotty blonde nurse have taken to snooping around the premises, after the cats that consume their product have begun to turn into maniacal killers. Anyway, that’s the setup for Ted V. Mikels’ shlock classic The Corpse Grinders, a distinct improvement on his previous horror film, 1968’s The Astro-Zombies (one of filmdom’s all-time worst), but not by much. That previous film had boasted a nearly incomprehensible plot and was truly a mess; The Corpse Grinders at least has a story that hangs together, outlandish as it may be, although the acting, scripting, editing and camera-work are all fairly inept. By any objective standard that one might wish to use, this film is hopeless garbage, but STILL, somehow, it manages to entertain, what with its one-of-a-kind plot, a few scantily clad women, some grotesque characters (a one-legged mute secretary in a fright wig; the gravedigger’s wife who talks incessantly to her doll) and some mild gross-out scenes (a cat dissection; bloodied-up cat attack victims; the freshly ground “meat” — in actuality, probably hamburger meat or Play-Doh — being pushed out of the grinder) that should gross out only the most squeamish. And, at only 71 minutes in length, the film grinds by fairly quickly. Thank goodness!
Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1973): I think I may be turning into a cinematic masochist. After suffering through two of Ted V. Mikels’ abominations — The Astro-Zombies (1968), one of the world’s worst, and The Corpse Grinders (1971), which is marginally better but still decidedly crummy — I had to rent out the Mikels-produced 1977 effort The Worm Eaters, another incredible stinker. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but no, I then had to go out and rent Mikels’ 1973 witchcraft epic Blood Orgy of the She-Devils, and I guess I got what I deserved. In this one, a coven of hotty SoCal witches is led by a high priestess named Mara (Lila Zaborin). What little plot there is to speak of deals with the coven sacrificing the occasional male chump to Satan, some foreign agents who ask Mara to kill a U.N. ambassador with her voodoo powers, a (surprisingly well-done) seance ceremony, and a college professor who battles the high priestess. As usual in a Mikels film, the acting, scripting, lighting, editing, directing and FX are all rock-bottom deplorable, but at least — unlike, say, The Astro-Zombies — the story is comprehensible here, outlandish as it may be, and Zaborin intones her lines with great intensity. Some gratuitous scenes of witch torture from what I gather is supposed to be the 1600s only make the picture weirder than it would have been otherwise. Anyway, perhaps Michael Weldon, in my beloved Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, puts it best concerning this movie: “From the man responsible for Astro-Zombies, so don’t expect quality of any kind.” I guess I’m a hopeless case, though, because now I’m searching out Ted V. Mikels’ other 1973 masterpiece, The Doll Squad…
The Doll Squad (1973): Perhaps it would take a trained psychotherapist to figure out why I persist in renting out movies by director/producer Ted V. Mikels, after so many repeated disappointments. From bad (Blood Orgy of the She Devils) to worse (The Corpse Grinders), from rock bottom (The Astro-Zombies) to repugnant (The Worm Eaters), the man has let me down time and again. Yet I had to go take a look at his 1973 offering, The Doll Squad, despite all that, AND despite the fact that I’ve never been a fan of the overrated ’70s TV phenomenon Charlie’s Angels, which this flick supposedly served as inspiration for. Well, the good news is that this Mikels effort may be marginally better than those others; the bad news is that, well, this is still a Mikels film, to which he brings his patented … what’s the opposite of “touch of gold”? Touch of crap? The story here concerns an ex-government agent, played by Michael Ansara, who’s been blowing up U.S. rockets and is threatening the world with bubonic plague, and the efforts of Doll Squad leader Sabrina (Kincaid, not Duncan) and her kick-ass babes to stop him cold. Though the film’s first 15 minutes or so, featuring the gruesome murders of two of the Dolls, are promising, the picture quickly deteriorates into the typical Mikels mishmash of lousy direction, poor editing and awful FX. Though the Dolls are pretty fierce in action, more than willing to shoot their foes in the back or when they’re already unconscious, most of that action is confined to murky, hard-to-follow gunplay. Francine York, it must be allowed, is pretty good as the head Doll, and quite a package to look at, as is everyone’s favorite pussycat, Tura Satana. A larger budget and a more accomplished filmmaker might have been able to salvage what on paper must have seemed a pretty reasonable entertainment. As it is, if I ever rent out another Ted V. Mikels movie, someone, please, institutionalize me!!!
The Worm Eaters (1977): One of my beloved movie bibles, The Time Out Film Guide, calls Herb Robins’ 1977 gross-out horror comedy The Worm Eaters (produced by the renowned cinematic shlockmeister himself, Ted V. Mikels) “a truly disgusting film.” Reason enuff for any aficionado of bad cinema to rent it out in a flash, right? Unfortunately, this movie is not so much disgusting as it is truly awful, and every element of the cinematic arts — acting, directing, scripting, photography, editing, scoring — is rock-bottom deplorable here. “Director/writer” Robins himself plays Umgar, a clubfooted worm breeder who talks to his little squirmy darlings, calls them by name, and takes decided action when some slimy land developers try to push him off his turf; namely, he puts his pets in the local town’s food. Thus, we are treated to various loudmouthed (every character in this flick seems to scream his or her lines obnoxiously), truly ugly personages eating spaghetti & worms, hot dogs & worms, ice cream & worms, cake & worms, and even worms & worms with his/her mouth wide open and in delectable close-up (see some examples in this preview). For some reason never explained, these folks then turn into worm people themselves, and squeak and slither for the rest of the picture, supposedly hilariously. But not a single gag is the slightest bit funny here, many details go unexplained, Umgar’s phony German accent is almost incomprehensible, the film’s theme song is offensively and annoyingly catchy, and the net result is a film far worse than just about anything in the Ed Wood oeuvre. I’ve seen a lot grosser films, truth to tell, but none much worse; still, I wouldn’t want to watch The Worm Eaters while scarfing down a bowl of linguini marinara!
So there you have it … five masterpieces of unqualified dreck that will surely make you appreciate the stylistic foibles of Ed Wood all the more! Happy film viewing … and don’t forget the popcorn and Tylenol!