Wednesday 25 August 2010

Solar Powered Corpse With Lingerie Fetish

Astro Zombies 1969 US
Directed by Ted V. Mickels
Image Entertainment DVD Region 1

I’m feeling a little ambivalent towards Astro Zombies after my first viewing. I was expecting it to be bad... that’s where the fun of watching this kind of movie comes from as far as I’m concerned. But it was a lot less entertaining, if truth be told, than most of the B-movies I’ve seen recently. And of course, there’s the few odd little moments which induce a big grin as most anything made badly on a low budget does.

I’m not sure how I’d really summarise this particular movie because I was having a really hard time following the plot on this one. The one active Astro Zombie in the movie is not from out of this world and in the strictest sense of the term it’s not even a zombie. He is, as far as I could work out though, at least a reanimated corpse... a reanimated corpse with a giant metal skull for a head and a strange propensity for grabbing at young female victims with the intent of stripping away their outer garments and, apparently, stabbing them repeatedly through their lingerie.

The story follows two separate factions: The CIA headlined by Wendell Corey and a criminal faction headlined by Tura Satana of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Both factions are after one Dr. DeMarco played with perhaps a little less gusto than usual by John Carradine, an actor not unfamiliar with mad scientists and movie monsters from his Universal horror days. The reason he is in demand is because he, with the help of his immensely and unbelievably hilariously gurning lab assistant (very much in the Igor mode), has perfected a process, where you extract... um... stuff... from the brain of a dead body by attaching an old funnel and hooking it to some wires so you can record it on a small circuit board which you place (literally place, it doesn’t connect to anything) in a metal box inside an obscurely named piece of machinery. Blood also needs to be extracted and somehow this helps create a metal, skull-faced astro zombie. Ooh... and there’s also mention that the creatures brains are solar powered... this becomes important later. But of course their only successful astro-zombie went psychotic and escaped and started murdering local women... which is why the CIA are looking for the good doctor since they are familiar with his work.

The movie starts off with a gorgeous woman driving down a highway... there are lots of shots of driving in this movie... just as there are lots of very long and interminable sequences of John Carradine babbling absolute gobbeldygook technical jargon and painstakingly unscrewing things and trying to look desperately scientific. It’s like the director really needed to pad this movie out big time to get it up to feature length for exhibition purpose... so why cut away from the boring stuff when you don’t have enough script to keep the action going... anyway I digress...

The woman is driving down the highway and after a while she parks her car in her garage where we know the monster is hiding. It has to be said that this young lady’s acting talents do not match her obvious charms and as she looks around the garage because, presumably, she thinks she’s heard something... you can kinda see the director standing behind the camera and pointing at the different places where she has to turn her head to look at before the monster grabs her... and of course the monster does grab her and then proceeds to undo her clothing a little with much vigour... almost like they don’t want you to realise that her clothing has come undone as anything other than by accident... and then, down they go below camera and said monster begins to repeatedly stab her. Blood and screams ensue. The blood splashes against the side of the car repeatedly in this film's one attempt to pull off something like an artistic shot... and the screams go on for quite a while than you might normally think necessary. This monster can’t be a very dab hand with a knife... he must keep missing every major artery for her to carry on quite that much.

Cut to the credits sequence of some Japanese made Black clockwork robots battling a model tank to the sound of machine gun fire. I’ve seen this done somewhere before but I can’t think where... and before you ask the question... no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the movie. Unless the writers who happen to be the director and Wayne Rogers (who played Trapper John for all those years on M*A*S*H) are trying to push a metaphor here... if they are though it was kinda wasted on me. Answers on a postcard would be welcome.

After this we are treated to the sight of a bloodied man inside the wreck of a car crash... in the middle of a large open area of flat green landscape... a place where it would be almost impossible to crash your car... and even if you could find something to crash your car into (and there really is no evidence it’s crashed into anything specific) then you’d have to really defy the laws of physics to have it end up like this... but then the brilliant hunchback sidekick played by William Bagdad comes lurching on the screen to steal the body for his masters dastardly experiments.

After this you get the CIA briefing including an impossibly dashing and frankly fake looking “hero figure” played irritatingly by Joe Hoover. The character is called Chuck Edwards and that’s actually pretty apt because after less than five minutes I really did want someone to chuck Edwards through the window. And shortly after this we meet the villains... Tura Satana has a bizarre little henchman who’s quick to reach for his knife. Later on in the movie he seems to develop a penchant for wearing a beret made from white fur... I hope I never again have to watch a heavy wearing a white fur beret... I felt for him, I really did.

Pretty soon the monster makes one of its very rare appearances and kills one of the lab assistants in a lab belonging to a “generic good-guy scientist” who has been partnered with an undercover CIA agent. The lab assistant stays behind after work to “finish up” and the monster makes its entrance... nonchalantly ripping off her clothes until she is down to her lingerie and then violently stabbing her repeatedly... hmmm... seems to be a theme developing here.

I’d normally do a list of tantalising highlights at this point in the proceedings for this kind of film... but it has to be said... a lot of this movie is just padding out overlong scenes and I just didn’t get the same “B-movie glee” as I did out of, say, Dracula VS Frankenstein or Superargo Contra Diabolus. So I’m hard pushed to offer up a menu of exploitative delights for you on this one...

Apart from one great moment... or okay moments... which made me laugh. I said that solar powered thing was important, right? When fighting one of the CIA heroes and his girlfriend the monster has the hero on the ropes and the girlfriend down to her lingerie and is about to move in for the kill when he starts making “ooh, something's wrong” movements with his arms and reaches for a handily placed electric torch which he turns on and jams against his forehead... See there? Solar power! He then runs away with the torch firmly jammed against his head.

At the end of the film, when the heroes and villains have all congregated in the good doctor's laboratory to face off over the inert form of a freshly created “astro-zombie”, the previous astro-zombie crashes the party to kill off all the bad guys... he rushes into the basement laboratory... still clutching his electric torch in his hand, jammed against his forehead. Quite unintentionally funny.

And that’s about it I’m afraid... I don’t have very much else to offer on this movie other than to say that, while I’m really glad to have seen it, it’s not something I’d necessarily show anyone else for laughs... there is quite a lot of padding in there and some of it is not all that watchable. But don’t let that put you off watching it if solar powered, mechanical zombies are your thing.

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