Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halloween Countdown Day 20: Astro-Zombies

As is probably clear from my Halloween Countdown selections, I sometimes enjoy watching really bad movies. The best bad movies, for me, are those that are unintentionally bad, where ambition or passion outstrips talent. Such movies have a certain level of authenticity and humanity about them that contributes to their appeal.

The Astro-Zombies (1968), however, is not one of those bad movies. While it's occasionally entertaining in its badness, and it's clear that some of the actors are trying to elevate the material, the whole project feels very cynically bad, like classic bad-movie director Ted V. Mikels either set out to make a bad movie or at least didn't give a shit (with a script by Wayne Rogers, of M*A*S*H fame, which is mind-boggling).

The plot doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, though there is a good schlocky sci-fi idea at its heart. A disgraced scientist, Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine, hired to do the thing that John Carradine did in dozens of films), has made major breakthroughs in the areas of organ transplantation and thought-wave transmission in an effort to create a "Quasi-Man" (or "Astro-Man," or "Astro-Zombie," as it is alternately named) that could be used for space travel. This artificial lifeform would pilot spaceships and receive brain transmissions from various specialists on Earth in order to complete space missions. DeMarco, however, has used the brain of a dangerous criminal for his Astro-Zombie prototype, and this creature is going about killing people.

Meanwhile, foreign agents led by the sexy and evil Satana (played, of course, by Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill!'s Tura Satana, one of the few reasons to watch this movie) want to steal the Astro-Zombie technology, and their efforts are challenged by government agents led by Wendell Corey.

Wendell Corey's presence in the movie is, perhaps, the movie's saddest element. Corey is clearly drunk in his scenes (he would die from complications related to alcoholism soon after this movie was finished, and he didn't live to see its release). One can almost hear his brain screaming "I worked with Hitchcock!" as he has to deliver some really shitty lines.

I feel less bad for John Carradine, who did this kind of thing more than enough during the later years of his career. As Dr. DeMarco, he doesn't have to interact much with any other characters, with the exception of his mute assistant, Franchot. Carradine's dialogue is basically nonsense as he explains to Franchot the technological steps behind his experiment.

His lab, also, looks like it was cobbled together from hardware that Mikels had lying around his garage. A brain sensor seems to be made out of the metal casing from a small floodlight, and special fluids for the procedure are held in plastic distilled water containers.

The fancy, professional lab that the competing "good" scientists run does not look much better. A living brain is contained in a plastic cake holder, for one. As can be seen in the preview below, a "Visible Man" features prominently in the lab, which did give me a frisson of nostalgic pleasure.

The movie's finale reveals the real failure to give a shit on the part of the filmmakers. As authorities and foreign agents close in on DeMarco's lab, located in what appears to be a suburban home supposedly in the evening, police cars drive up a dirt road in the daytime while Satana and her lackies take an alley at night.

Many of the actors, though, give it a shot. Tura Satana gets to wear some wild outfits, and her character is the kind of evil that she does so well. And Rafael Campos, as her knife-wielding assistant, Juan, does try to camp things up and have a bit of fun. But meanwhile, they're thrown into an incomprehensible script and some incongruous scenes that seem not so much the product of ineptitude, but rather a cynical attempt to pad the movie out to a reasonable running time and throw in some T&A for the drive-in market.

No comments: