Cult Filmmakers You Should Know #9: Ted V. Mikels

Cult Filmmakers You Should Know: Ted V. Mikels

By Michael Varrati

When it comes to pure, unadulterated drive-in era entertainment, I’d venture to say that few do it better than legendary cult icon Ted V. Mikels.

In fact, I’d be willing to state that the only thing that is likely more fun than watching a film by Mikels is the opportunity to be in one.

Luckily, those of us here at PC headquarters don’t have to speculate on such a situation blindly. Realizing many a cult fan’s dream, our very own Peaches Christ had the opportunity to explore the world of Mikels firsthand when she was cast in the director’s most recent cinematic outing, Astro Zombies M3: Cloned.

The film serves as the third installment in a trilogy Mikels began in 1968 with The Astro Zombies, and is poised to introduce the eccentric filmmaker’s unique brand of zany cinema to a whole new generation of eager cult fanatics.

In addition to featuring Peaches as a drag queen assassin, the franchise’s latest outing also boasts appearances from such midnight movie staples as Tura Satana, Mister Lobo, and Francine York. For many, this most recent tale of shock and awe is considered to be a return to form for the legendary filmmaker, harkening back to the era of cinema that made his name revered amongst the drive-in era’s most devoted.

Yet, to assume that this is a “comeback” for the Las Vegas based filmmaker would be a disservice to his considerable career and vast body of work. For Ted V. Mikels, filmmaking has been a decades long odyssey of achievements and setbacks, crafting glorious low budget epics in the shadow of Hollywood’s golden era. Undaunted, Mikels has always forged forward, making movies his way, plowing ahead with an uncompromised vision of the films he sought to create. For a whole new generation of cult cinema fans just discovering who Ted V. Mikels is as an artist and individual, I feel it is important to know that this man has never stopped making movies, but more importantly, has never stopped believing in them.

Due to the fire that drives him and the passion he puts into each frame, Ted V. Mikels is assuredly a Cult Filmmaker You Should Know.

Although Mikels’ early career saw him directing films with such titles as Strike Me Deadly and Dr. Sex, the filmmaker’s first brush with cult prominence (arguably) came with the arrival of his 1968 sexploitation film Girl in Gold Boots. Serving as an early precursor to the plot of Showgirls, Girl in Gold Boots concerned a waitress turned go-go dancer who must compete with a top star for her position in the world of exotic dancing. The film had all the elements of a drive-in sleaze classic: Babes, bikers, and booze. In creating a world of beautiful women in dire circumstances, Girl in Gold Boots established themes that would soon become staples of the Ted V. Mikels universe. Although it was merely the beginning, Girl With Gold Boots marked the moment cinema fans truly began to take notice of this unique talent, who hit the ground running with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

However, if Girl With Gold Boots got Ted V. Mikels noticed…it was The Astro Zombies that put him on the map. Released the same year as Girl With Gold Boots, The Astro Zombies had all the ingredients of an instant drive-in classic. Starring John Carradine and Tura Satana, the film’s tale of a mad scientist who creates a killer automaton out of a dead criminal’s body parts has long been a celebrated entry in the cult canon. Referenced endlessly in other cinema and popular music, the film has been one of Mikels’ most enduring titles, causing the director to craft the aforementioned sequel starring our own Peaches Christ, as well as 2002’s Mark of the Astro Zombies (featuring another associate of mine, Brinke Stevens, who I was featured alongside in Mike Watt’s Demon Divas and the Lanes of Damnation), proving that you can’t keep a good space zombie down.

Not one to rest on his laurels, 1971 saw Mikels release another instant classic in the form of The Corpse Grinders. Telling the tale of a cat food company using human remains to give extra flavor to its product, the film has generated a sizable fan base over the years and has oft been praised by horror fans for its dark subject. Much like The Astro Zombies, the popularity of The Corpse Grinders caused Mikels to revisit the ferocious feline terror of the original in 2000 with a sequel. Never one to merely rehash something he’d already done, Mikels took The Corpse Grinders 2 to the next level, introducing a warring alien race to the mix, and crafting another perfectly patented midnight movie.

1972’s Blood Orgy of the She-Devils continued Mikels’ ability to create genre cinema with an instant following. The tale of a couple faced with the perils of witchcraft and occult murders was almost a no-brainer to an eager audience in the era of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Creepy and slightly atmospheric, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils is often cited as precursor to many occult themed horror films that would follow, and also showcased a darker side of Mikels’ storytelling. Although not always his most universally applauded, it is easily the best for a late night Halloween screening.

Of course, a discussion on Ted V. Mikels could not possibly be complete without mention of his 1973 spy classic, The Doll Squad. Hitting the silver screen a good three years before Charlie’s Angels was even a twinkle in Aaron Spelling’s eye, The Doll Squad dealt with the story of an elite all-female CIA squad tasked with stopping a diabolical madman. Vivacious and fun, The Doll Squad served as a feminist counterpart to the sexual hijinks of James Bond and ultimately made for an explosively scintillating romp for filmgoers.  Although no proper sequel to The Doll Squad exists, rumor has it that the lethal ladies will make their return to screen in the upcoming Astro Zombies film. Clearly, Ted V. Mikels not only gives fans good cinema, but he also gives them what they want.

To be sure, the films highlighted here today are just a small sampling of the work this filmic master has brought to screens over the years. As any constant reader of our Cult Filmmakers series knows, these articles serve merely as an introduction and primer to a rich, fully realized world beyond. To truly delve into a detailed analysis of each work Mikels has done would be a monumental task, and one I would much rather assign to you, my dear children of the popcorn. I say this not because I no longer wish to write about this great filmmaker who has served as inspiration to me and so many others, but because I feel that rather than reading about his films, you should be watching them.

Indeed, there is much more to discuss when it comes to Ted V. Mikels, whether it be his women-in-prison classic, Ten Violent Women, or one of his more recent works, such as the Satanic shocker, Demon Haunt. Constantly working and constantly creating, Mikels has had a cinematic output that rivals any of his peers and should inspire a whole new generation of potential cult filmmakers.

On this, the eve of his latest film, I urge you to take a moment to celebrate this wonderful man who made the drive-in era of cinema truly what it was meant to be…and whose work continues to strive to bring audiences that sense of fun and wonder that a good midnight movie should.

So, while not everyone gets to be in a Ted V. Mikels movie, we all luckily have the luxury of being able to watch them.

So, dear reader, crack open a can of cat food and do just that.

You’ll be glad you did.

Until next time.

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  • Webminion says...
    October 8, 2010 at 7:08 AM

    And there’s a new documentary about him! “The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels” is a great overview of his long career. Hopefully with efforts like the doc and your article, more people will become aware of this unique filmmaker.

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