With H2’s release date rapidly approaching, I think now is as good a time as any to review 1968’s Astro Zombies. This particular movie has, occasionally, been sited as the first “slasher” movie. For that reason alone, it should garner at least some curiosity. More importantly, perhaps, Rob Zombie, writer and director of the upcoming Michael Myers disaster/masterpiece ( or "disasterpiece" as I am sure Tower Farm will hail it) used the title of this movie for an album back when he was directing music videos for his band White Zombie.
Regardless of whether you are fan of Rob Zombie’s work (and I am), it is hard to fault this guy’s tastes in movies. From Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! to Plan 9 From Outer Space he has been an outspoken fan of sleazy exploitation movies from the get go. So, it is difficult to imagine that any movie with his stamp of approval would not, at least, be entertaining.
The movie opens with a sequence in which a woman is driving around listening to a very cool guitar-driven instrumental that would fit in on a Los Straitjackets album. The car she is driving , I am sure, appeared very sporty and modern when this film was made. But, to my eyes, it looks like the sort of jalopy that one might find cruising Ridgewood Ave. in Daytona Beach at 1am looking for drugs. Of course, I could be wrong. Someone driving Ridgewood at that time of day might not be looking for drugs, at all. I mean, he could simply be looking for a prostitute.
Anyway, back to the movie. What I like about this scene is that, between the music, the car, and the woman's hair, the movie is immediately dated. I would not be surprised if viewers thought it looked old fashioned by 1974.
Okay, so it is easy to figure the direction of this movie… right? I mean, it seems like a run-of-the-mill slasher movie. Guy in mask stalking curvy women. Well, remember, we are not even to the third minute of the movie, yet. And we are about to go on a very strange journey, indeed.
Next we find out that there has been a series of “mutilation murders” that the government has been tracking because… are you ready for this?... there may be a link to the murders and a top secret government project involving mind control. From what I can tell, hooking a brain up to a car battery and making it jiggle somehow proves to the suits in the room that it is possible to transmit the thoughts from one person into the head of another person. Seems like a leap to me.
After this perplexing scene,director Ted V. Mikels ups the ante by taking us to a very tacky and filthy looking club where the smoke is so thick just watching the action made me wish I had taken a puff of Ventolin before I popped this movie in the player. There, we find none other than Tura Satana as some sort of leader of Mexican covert agents purchasing top-secret US information from a Russian spy. If you look closely at the picture below, you will notice that it is not a stirrer that is in Satana's martini... it is just her long cigarette. Gross.
I know that last paragraph didn’t make any sense. I don’t need you to believe me. But, I am telling you the truth. Tura Satana is working with Mexico to steal US secrets from the USSR.
Next, we find out that John Carradine is playing an “astro-scientist”, which by any account means he is playing Dr. Frankenstein. He even has an Igor-like assistant, who I think Carradine calls "Renfro" at one point. These two work in some sort of musty basement/laboratory, using state-of-the-art equipment like tubes and lightbulbs, to reanimate corpses. This, in some way that I just cannot understand, is related to some sort of “memory bank” experiment where the goal is to collect the minds of the world’s great thinkers and preserve their thoughts. I don’t see how making a zombie will achieve that goal. But, I am not an astro-scientist. I am sure that if I were one, this would all make total sense.
This movie then goes into some sort of weirdo striptease scene where I recognized the drummer as being the movie’s director, Ted V. Mikels! Why this is even in the movie is anyone’s guess. Where Alfred Hitchcock would insert himself into scenes in his movies, Mikels would insert scenes of himself into his movies!
Now, I could lie to you and tell you that I don’t want to ruin the ending. But, truth be told, I simply cannot explain it. This movie makes no sense. It ends with a shot of toy robots fighting each other over the words “the end”. No end credits. Nothing. Suddenly, it is just over.
Wow. What a great movie. Unfortunately, the pacing is a little slow for my taste. So, for that reason, and that reason alone, I will dock the movie one finger.