TED V. MIKELS
by Nick Cato & L.L. Soares
A director, producer, actor, and screenwriter of many independent low-budget features, Ted V. Mikels was well known among fans of “So-Bad-They’re-Good” horror, cult, and action films. As a teenage stage actor, Mikels became interested in filmmaking during his stage plays when he’d (try to) film them. He continued acting into the 1960s when he finally directed STRIKE ME DEADLY (1963), a drama about a husband and wife being stalked by a killer during a forest fire.
Mikels then went on to direct and produce such drive-in favorites as THE BLACK KLANSMAN (1966), THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968), THE DOLL SQUAD (1973), and perhaps his most well known and outrageous feature, 1971’s THE CORPSE GRINDERS, where grave robbers grind bodies into cat food, resulting in cats going berserk and attacking their masters! Like the great Herschell Gordon Lewis (who also passed away recently), Mikels’ s films were original, absurd, and always entertaining.
While his films weren’t easy to see after their original theatrical releases, some of them found new fans and popularity during the 1980s VHS revolution, which in turn led to Mikels opening his own TVM Studios in 1993. Based in Las Vegas, Mikels made a bunch of new films, including three sequels to THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES and, in 2002, the long awaited sequel THE CORPSE GRINDERS 2.
In 2008, author Christopher Wayne Curry’s book “Film Alchemy: The Independent Cinema of Ted V. Mikels” was released and became a must-read for fans of the director. I suspect it will be selling more copies now that he’s gone, so if you’re a fan, now’s the time to look for it.
As a lover of cheesy horror films, I became a Mikels fan about 10 minutes into my first viewing of THE CORPSE GRINDERS, which was around 1984 on a VHS rental. I’m also a big fan of his wacky psychic warfare film BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS (1973), where Mikels himself makes an uncredited appearance in his trademark boar’s tusk necklace, jamming on the bongos. It’s so out-there, I’m still surprised it never caught on as a midnight cult film. (I recently found out a remake of THE CORPSE GRINDERS is nearing completion, and was written by the same screenwriter as the original, Arch Hall.)
I was fortunate enough to meet Mikels in 1999 at a Chiller Theatre expo in New Jersey, and he was more than happy to sign my VHS copy of THE CORPSE GRINDERS and talk with me extensively about a couple of his films. The excitement in his voice was beautiful, and I even got a hug when I quoted a line from THE CORPSE GRINDERS (“She loved that old tomcat. Yes she did!”). He was genuinely appreciative of his fans (even the nutty, annoying ones like myself) and I’m so happy I had the chance to speak with a filmmaker who, in my opinion, stands proudly between Herschell Gordon Lewis and Andy Milligan as far as exploitation cinema goes.
He was a true lover of film, and of his craft, and will surely be missed by a legion of fans.
I’ll never forget the first time I rented THE CORPSE GRINDERS on VHS in the 80s. Everything about that movie had me laughing. The insane plot about a cat food company that’s having rough times, so they think up a new way to get cheap meat. They start grinding up bodies from the graveyard. The cat food is a hit, but it also gives tons of tabbies a hankering for human flesh! You won’t soon forget the “corpse grinding machine,” which looks like a big box a refrigerator might have come in. Or people screaming and thrashing about as they “fight off” their pets. This is one of the goofiest movies I’d ever seen. The budget and the bad acting was bad enough, but those people struggling to get their (obviously fake) hungry cats off of them just had me in hysterics. That was my introduction to the world of Ted V. Mikels.
Soon after, I sought out his other “classics,” like the wacky witch movie BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS (what a great title!) and THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, starring the legendary John Carradine, and the terrific Tura Satana, who also starred in Russ Meyer’s masterpiece, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)—she would go on to appear in other Mikels movies, like THE DOLL SQUAD (1973), often considered the low-budget precursor to CHARLIE’S ANGELS, and the sequels MARK OF THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (2004) and ASTRO ZOMBIES: M3 – CLONED (2010).
The VHS boom resuscitated the careers of a lot of low-budget masters like Mikels, Russ Meyer, and Herschell Gordon Lewis, and I remember eagerly tuning in to British program THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILM SHOW (1988 – 1989), featuring Jonathan Ross, as he explored a different cult movie icon each week. The show on Mikels was fascinating. From the gigantic boar’s tooth, he always wore around his neck and his handlebar mustache, to the fact that he lived in a “castle,” with a bevy of ladies that seemed like a harem, somewhere in Las Vegas, he seemed larger than life.
Born Theodore Mikecevich, there was no one else quite like Ted V. Mikels.
He’ll be missed.
© Copyright 2016 by Nick Cato and L.L. Soares