The Astro-Zombies (1968)
Director: Ted V. Mikels
Writers: Ted V. Mikels & Wayne Rogers
The year was 1968. The Tet Offensive began. Civil rights riots are breaking out across the country and authorities are murdering protestors. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated. Student riots break out in Paris. Andy Warhol is shot and wounded. Robert Kennedy is assassinated. Russian and her allies invade Czechoslovakia. Police clash with anti-war rioters outside the Democratic National Convention. Richard Nixon is elected president. The Zodiac Killer begins a killing spree. Along with King and Kennedy, 1968 took out Neal Cassady, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yuri Gagarin, Helen Keller, and Marcel Duchamp.
It was also the year I was yanked, crying and screaming, from the womb. Talk about being born under a bad sign.
On the plus side, however, there were good music and movies released that year, if that makes a difference. Johnny Cash performed his Folsom Prison concert. Pink Floyd released A Saucer Full of Secrets. The animated Yellow Submarine premiered. The Doors released Waiting for the Sun. The Beatles released the White Album. Elvis's Comeback Special aired on NBC. The Stones released Beggars Banquet. In addition to all that, Yes, Led Zeppelin, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper Band, Rush, King Crimson, Queen, and Deep Purple all formed.
1968 also brought us the first live television broadcasts from orbit from the Apollo 7 mission, the first interracial kiss in the Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren," Laugh-In, The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O, and The Banana Splits Adventure Hour premiered along with the US premiere of The Prisoner.
In film, we saw the premiers of John Cleese, Robert De Niro, Ian Holm, Anthony Hopkins, Malcolm McDowell, Martin Scorsese and George A. Romero. Plus, our movie screens were gifted with Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella, The Producers, If…., The Lion in Winter, Hell in the Pacific, Witchfinder General, Rosemary's Baby, Dange: Diabolik, Hang 'Em High, The Great Silence, Destroy All Monsters, Vixen!, Ice Station Zebra, Hour of the Wolf, Bullitt, Fando y Lis, Where Eagles Dare, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Night of the Living Dead.
Walking that fine line between social chaos, political turmoil, and edgy, dangerous cinema is Ted V. Mikels' cult classic, The Astro-Zombies. This film tells the twisted tale of discredited scientist Dr. DeMarco, played by the brilliant John Carradine, who has created a synthetic man, designed for use in the space program. Unfortunately it requires a human brain and the Doc's first attempt used the brain of a psychotic killer.
Bad luck, that.
So now there's a solar-powered synthetic zombie (of sorts) running around murdering women. The CIA and an International Spy Ring are both on the hunt for Dr. DeMarco, they both find him, then the bad guys all die and order is restored to the universe. Of course, if the CIA agents weren't hanging out in a nightclub watching topless dancers all the time, they may have cracked the case without all the loss of life.
Our spies are much more on the ball, as Juan (Rafael Campos) figures out a way to triangulate the radio signals that keep the Astro-Zombie functioning. Then he and his boss, Satana (the ever-glorious Tura Satana) confront Dr. DeMarco as he is putting the finishing touches on a newer, saner Astro-Zombie.
There's a lot that should work wonderfully in this film, but unfortunately it truly was Bad Friday. The only redeeming feature of this film is Tura Satana. I'd have gladly just watched her slinking around murdering people with a sexy gleam in her eye for ninety minutes. Instead we are subjected to long, poorly delivered reams of exposition, a monster with a paper-mache head and solar panels — which leads to the most absurd moment in the film, when the Astro-Zombie has his power pack knocked off and is forced to run home holding a flashlight to his head to keep his solar-powered legs moving — and Dr. DeMarco's hideous mute assistant, Franchot, with his very own side-project — a half-naked lady (strapped to a table) he seems intent on turning into a zombie of his own.
Shades of Deadgirl, there. How different would Deadgirl have been if the sex slave zombie had looked like this, wool jacket and all?
I know that this film has a cult following. So much so that thirty five years later, Mikels was convinced to make a sequel/remake, and followed that up with a third film in 2010. I really can't see much here to inspire that sort of enthusiasm. Sure, if it was packed with even more Tura Satana, maybe. I suppose that this is her biggest exposure (so to speak) aside from the incomparably better Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, so I'll give it a slight recommendation for that.
And what the hell, here are some more Tura Satana pictures to help inspire the resurrection! Who wouldn't come back from the dead for her?
For more of Paul's Easter Zombie Movie Marathon, check out the previous entries:
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.