Astro Zombies (1968) is director Ted V. Mikels' best known film, although it's not his best film. Mikels wrote the screenplay, along with Wayne Rogers of TVs MASH. The film is a bit of a confusing mess but required viewing for any Mikels fan. The film appears to show elements typical of a 1960s spy film but then cuts to elements of horror and science-fiction. It's only redeeming value may be the scenes of buxom beauty Tura Satana lounging around in colorful sexy evening gowns smoking phallic cigarettes against the backdrop of bad 1960s furniture and décor.
Doctor DeMarco, played by cult actor John Carradine, is conducting secret experiments in his laboratory with the organs of murdered victims. He is testing a new thought wave transmission machine in an attempt to create Astro Zombies, which are super-human men who cannot be destroyed. DeMarco is assisted by his mute hunchback side-kick Franchot, played by William Bagdad. Franchot conducts some of his own experiments on beautiful young women with his spare time. Franchot is the stereotypical, cliched lab assistant that we can trace back to the Universal horror films of the 1930s.
Apparently, lovely Satana is the head of a spy ring who is determined to track down DeMarco and steal his secrets so she and the spy ring can build a race of super-human zombies bent on doing their will. This is where part of the confusion takes place in the film. At first, the viewer is lead to believe that Satana and her henchmen are working for DeMarco, at least this is how I viewed the film. It isn't until several minutes into the film that we realize that her operation has no ties to DeMarco, but is trying to track down DeMarco himself.
As film critic Welch Everman points out in his 1993 book – Cult Horror Films (Citadel Press), one of the most ridiculous scenes in the film shows an Astro Zombie running away from a rape scene with a flashlight inserted into a portal in his head. Apparently his brain was charged with battery power, and the flashlight serves to recharge his brain as he runs from the rape scene. It's an unintentionally funny scene, but nevertheless funny and ridiculous.
A continuity error shows Satana and her two sidekicks – Juan (Raphael Campos) and Tiros (Vincent Barbi) pulling into an underground parking structure to confront some CIA agents. As the car pulls into a parking spot, the camera shows the car overlapping two parking stalls. When the scene cuts back to the parked car, it is pulled perfectly into one parking stall. These odd bits of continuity problems make for interesting cult movie viewing.
Watch for a scene in the film of shirtless director Mikels playing drums on stage with a painted nude dancer against a psychedelic backdrop. Much of the music used in the film is the same library music used in the 1950s science-fiction classic - Missile To The Moon (1958). Astro Zombies was also titled Space Vampires, although there are no vampires in the film. Happy viewing!
-- Steve D. Stones