Color, 1968, 91m.
Directed by Ted V. Mikels
Starring John Carradine, Wendell Corey, Tura Satana, Tom Pace, Joan Patrick, Rafael Campos, William Bagdad, Victor Izay
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD), Image (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Astro-ZombiesThe Astro-ZombiesOften regarded as the most deranged and ridiculous of director Ted V. Mikels' no-budget horror quickies, The Astro-Zombies throws all pretense of coherent linear storytelling out the window in the first few minutes and never looks back. From the opening credits which fixate endlessly on twitching toy robots to the feverish and wholly incomprehensible climax, this film is truly one of a kind. Whether that's a good thing is, of course, up to you to decide.

The bloody murder of a woman in her garage by a skull-faced zombie is apparently the latest handiwork of Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine at his hammiest), a scientist booted out by the military while he was developing a project to create remote-controlled zombies for use during space exploration. (Um... okay.) CIA head Holman (Wendell Corey) assigns two of his agents to track down DeMarco, who is in the process of developing another "astro-zombie" in his lab with the help of his leering dwarf assistant, Franchot (Mikels regular William Bagdad). Meanwhile the first zombie, which has apparently gone haywire due to its creation from a psychotic's body, The Astro-Zombiessets its sights on DeMarco's ex-assistant, Janine (Dr. Kildare's Joan Patrick), and a group of spies led by Tura Satana takes a keen interest in the doctor's experiments The Astro-Zombiesas well. All of our characters collide at the end, of course, but not before viewers are treated to an extended body-painted strip routine (complete with Mikels himself at the bongos) and one truly unbelievable incident involving solar energy drawn from a flashlight. See it if you dare...

Thanks to the cast alone, Astro-Zombies is substantially more interesting than your standard drive-in junk. Just seeing the late and much-missed Satana (most legendary for her leading role in Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) rubbing shoulders with vets like Carradine and Corey makes for an odd experience, not to mention the fact that the script was co-written by M*A*S*H actor Wayne Rogers(!). Though notorious in the annals of bad movie history, the film made a bundle for Mikels and became a home video staple, where it sometimes appeared under the title of Space Zombies. Unfortunately most of the VHS versions were drawn from the master used by Wizard Video, which scissored out literally every single drop of blood along with the strip sequence. Even the film's trailer focused on the gory highlights, which are fairly startling (but not convincing) for a 1969 film, including severed heads and bits of torn flesh being pelted at cars, walls, and anything else the filmmakers could easily clean up.

Film historians still deprived of a complete The Magnificent Ambersons rejoiced in 2000 when Image Entertainment released a DVD restoring The Astro-Zombies to its full sexy, violent glory. The print was by far the most colorful presentation ever witnessed on the small screen, and the widescreen framing creates a sense of composition where none should really exist. Given the bizarre distribution history of the film (one of the few not controlled directly by Mikels himself), the print is in good condition overall. Only the opening pre-credit scene and the main titles The Astro-Zombiesare damaged to the point of distraction, with scratches and speckles littering the screen before letting up for a much cleaner, more satisfying appearance. The full juicy trailer is also included in less pristine condition. The Astro-Zombies

Sixteen years later, Kino Lorber brought the film back into circulation in separate Blu-ray and DVD editions sporting a fresh HD scan of the uncut version. It starts off with some very strong blue color timing for the night scenes that extends well into the opening credits and liners a bit beyond, then thankfully dissipates to allow the more standard, vibrant late '60s color scheme to take over. It's still cooler in appearance than the past release (pure white never rears its head) but overall it looks quite nice considering the film's origins and makes for a satisfying upgrade for a film shot on ratty film stock in the first place. The DTS-HD 2.0 English mono audio also sounds about as good as possible for what remains a very basic sound mix. The late Mikels (who went on to make no less than three shot-on-video sequels between 2004 and 2012) provides the first of three commentaries, and while he occasionally lapses into his usual tactic of describing the action on screen ("Now he's walking through the door... Wonder what's on the other side..."), he delivers more background info than usual as he covers his other duties behind the camera, the budget-conscious necessities he had to resort to, recruiting that daffy cast, and much more. Chris Alexander offers another of his enthusiastic "horror kid" commentaries with a focus on the context of horror movies in the late '60s and Mikels' role in the wave of drive-in monster movies (and nascent gore cinema), with coverage about the state of the stars' careers at the time (and their affordability). If you're in the mood there's also a RiffTrax option with Mike Nelson and cohorts Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, which seems pretty superfluous given how amusing the film is all by itself. However, if that's your thing, you'll probably enjoy it. Get out your flashlights, throw back enough alcohol to numb your brain, and prepare for an entirely new kind of cinematic experience.

Reviewed on October 25, 2016.