Saturday, 20 June 2020

Reflections on ... Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)

Fangs of the Living Dead (1969). Also known as: Malenka and Malenka, The Vampire’s Niece.  I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend Pal is accompanying me only semi-willingly).

/ Anita Ekberg in the fifties /

In the fifties, statuesque Swedish sex goddess Anita Ekberg (1931 - 2015) reigned alongside peers Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield and Diana Dors as one of atomic-era Hollywood’s preeminent glamour queens. By the early sixties, Ekberg was triumphing in Europe, splashing in the Trevi fountain beside Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini’s visionary masterpiece La Dolce Vita (1960). Something clearly went seriously awry with her career trajectory, though, because by the close of the decade Ekberg was reduced to starring in this entertainingly schlocky low-budget Spanish-Italian vampire film. (Still to come: Killer Nun in 1979!). 

Fangs opens in bustling cosmopolitan Rome, where voluptuous protagonist Silvia Morel (Ekberg) seemingly has it all. She’s a successful fashion model (“you’re the most beautiful model in Italy!”) and engaged to dashing surgeon Dr Piero Luciani. On top of that, Silvia’s just received some exciting news (“I want to tell you about something fantastic that’s happened to me! It’s incredible!”). Not only has she inherited a title (you may address her as “countess” now! Countess Walbrooke to be precise!) – she’s also inherited a crumbling ruined Gothic castle straight out of a Hammer horror movie, too! Wasting no time, Silvia flies to the remote unspecified mitteleuropean countryside to view the castle and meet her sinister and effete uncle, Count Walbrooke. Is the Count a 100-year old vampire? Consider the evidence stacked against him: his wardrobe of polo necks and foppish velvet suits! His heavy-handed penchant for eyebrow pencil – and that satanic goatee! Furthermore, a framed portrait of Silvia’s grandmother Malenka is displayed in the castle – and she looks exactly like her! (Albeit with dark hair). “You’re the image of her!” Count Walbrooke helpfully clarifies just in case we missed the point. “The same beauty, born of mystery!” We glimpse Malenka in flashbacks (Ekberg sporting a brunette wig). Apparently “Malenka was a brilliant biochemist!” who “studied ancient Arabic alchemists and philosophers and compiled anthologies of black magic and sorcery … searching for the secret of immortality!” (cut to Ekberg very unconvincingly reading manuscripts by candlelight next to a bubbling test tube). Alas, the superstitious torch-wielding villagers assume Malenka is a witch and burn her alive at the stake in the village square! As Count Walbrooke tells it, the family’s bloodline has been cursed ever since and Silvia comes from generations of vampires. “My dear uncle – I’m afraid you need a long rest!” the skeptical Silvia guffaws. “Find some peaceful place – the beach, the country! Anywhere! Somewhere far from this monstrous place!” But even when Silvia pleads to leave and protests “I’m allergic to castles!”, the Count refuses to let her go and vows to initiate her into a life of vampirism …

While there’s zero blood or nudity on view, to its credit Fangs is tinged with fun aspects like voyeurism, sadism, girl-on-girl catfights and lesbianism.  (The castle is haunted by a candelabra-carrying lesbian vampire priestess called Blinka who attempts to seduce Silvia and proclaims things like, “The coldness of the grave is in my blood!”). Director Amando de Ossorio makes effective use of the atmospheric candle-lit haunted mansion set, complete with a medieval dungeon in the basement and a crypt filled with the ancestral tombs. The performance by leading lady Ekberg is spectacularly, compellingly awful. Watch for “Miss Ekberg’s Clothes by Marbel Jr”, particularly the wild orange pantsuit accessorized with a matching swirling cape. (For some reason, Ekberg is also partial to wearing her hair styled in a mop of Shirley Temple-style little girl ringlets). Typical of European co-productions, everyone is obviously dubbed which adds to the sense of artificiality. As Silvia’s fiancé Piero, actor Gianni Medici made minimal impression on me until near the end when the Count has him chained-up shirtless in the dungeon and we get to see his impressive bronzed torso, embellished with what appears to be a sheen of baby oil. For comedic relief, Piero’s wacky girl-crazy best friend Max tags along (he is gratingly unfunny). Campiest moment: when Silvia stops for a drink at the local inn en route to the castle for the first time and casually mentions she is the new Contessa – and the beer-drinking peasants all freeze in horror! Best line of dialogue: when the Count tries to force Silvia to visit the scary family crypt, she wails, “Can’t we do this another day? I’m not the curious type!” And is it just my imagination, or when Ekberg pouts and pensively narrows her eyes in close-ups, doesn’t she alarmingly resemble surgically enhanced American First Lady Melania Trump?

Watch Fangs of the Living Dead - if you dare! - here:

Further reading:

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

I have serious issues with the frankly homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical and censorious Tumblr these days, but you can follow me on there. 

And I'm now spreading my message of filth on Instagram!

Friday, 19 June 2020

Reflections on ... Too Late for Tears (1949)

From the Facebook event page:

“In one terrifying moment she realized what she had done … yet it was too late to turn back … too late for tears!”

Lizabeth Scott (1922 - 2015) was the most haunting and memorable of 1940s and 50s film noir actresses. Because of Scott’s languid mane of ash blonde hair, smoky eyes, sultry demeanor and raspy voice “that sounded as if it had been buried somewhere deep and was trying to claw its way out” she’s been frequently (and unfavorably) compared to the more famous Lauren Bacall. In fact, Scott was a much stranger, more intense and harder-working actress than Bacall, and made more interesting choices. And on Wednesday 20 November the Lobotomy Room film club presents her definitive movie - the tense 1949 film noir Too Late for Tears. It stars Scott at her most enthralling, almost serpentine as a suburban Los Angeles housewife with a treacherous and homicidal dark side.

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specializing in the kitsch, the cult and the camp! Third Wednesday night of the month. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt! We can accommodate 30 people maximum on film nights. Remember: the film is free so you can buy more cocktails! (One drink minimum).

/ German poster for Too Late for Tears /

“… or they were women like Lizabeth Scott, a kind of blonde Joan Crawford, who weren’t necessarily evil themselves, but whose very presence seemed to invite evil. Every time she appeared, the atmosphere became heavy and we knew that trouble, big trouble, was ahead.”

/ Feminist theorist Molly Haskell in her book From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1987) /

/ Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy in Too Late for Tears /

Too Late for Tears opens somewhere in the suburbs outside of Los Angeles at night, with attractive middle-class couple Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) bickering in their convertible en route to a cocktail party thrown by one of his business associates. Murmuring about a headache, Jane wants to turn around, and grumbles of her dislike for the hostess (“I don’t like being patronized … it’s his diamond-studded wife looking down at me …”). A car speeds past them – and the driver hurls a satchel stuffed with $60,000 in cash into their backseat! It’s a freak incident of mistaken identity, an organized crime handover gone wrong – and changes the Palmers’ mundane existence forever. When Alan clambers into the backseat, opens the case and Jane glimpses the stacked mounds of bills for the first time, her eyes gleam hungrily and she gives an intriguing, satisfied Mona Lisa smile. In fact, her response is almost erotic! The forthright Alan’s instincts are to promptly report the situation to the police. Jane (Lady Macbeth of the suburbs) refuses and instantly seizes control of the situation.  As we soon see, lying and scheming comes instinctively to Jane. And worse is yet to come …

In no time, Jane is dipping into the illicit stash, splurging on a full-length mink coat. Striving to understand his wife’s rapaciousness, Alan pleas with her, “I’ve tried to give you everything!” “You’ve given me a dozen down payments in installments for the rest of our lives!” Jane snaps. One of Too Late’s many assets is that anti-heroine Jane’s motivation is weirdly plausible. When Alan laments that the money has changed her, Jane replies – truthfully – “I haven’t changed. It’s the way I am.” She then urgently launches into a dramatic confessional monologue, which may well be Scott’s career-best acting moment. “I’ve been dreaming of this all my life, ever since I was a kid. And it wasn’t because we were poor. Not “hungry poor” at least. I suppose in a way it was worse: we were white collar poor. Middle class poor. The kind of people who can’t quite keep up with the Joneses and die a little every day because they can’t!” She’s convinced other people look down on her, can sense her comparatively humble origins, and acts out of a toxic, gnawing sense of dissatisfaction, entitlement, class envy and greed. Details of Jane’s past are deliberately left murky. Alan is Jane’s second husband. All we know is that her previous husband was called Blanchard, who she apparently married just for his money, and who apparently committed suicide. How well does Alan even know her?

/ My advice? Find someone who looks at you as lovingly as Lizabeth Scott contemplates that ill-gotten mink coat in Too Late for Tears /  

Inevitably, violent but weak-willed alcoholic criminal sleazeball Danny Fuller arrives at the Palmers’ door to retrieve the money. (Danny is played by Dan Duryea, the peerless go-to actor for weak-willed alcoholic criminal sleazeballs. Duryea and Scott are electric onscreen together). Jane doesn’t respond to his threats the way he anticipates, even after Danny slaps her around demanding, “Where’s the dough?” “Housewives can get awfully bored sometimes …” she purrs, smiling under hooded eyelids. Danny rapidly surmises that Jane is a true sociopath, that this blonde housewife is far more dangerous than he is, that he is out of his depth – and that Jane is almost certainly going to kill him. “You’re quite a gal, Mrs Palmer …” Danny marvels as Jane aims a gun at him. And later: “You know, Tiger, I didn’t know they made them as beautiful as you. Or as smart. Or as hard …”

/ One of the all-time great film noir double acts? Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott /

Byron Haskin’s direction is undistinguished but flab-free and tense. Too Late was a low-budget independent b-movie and those limitations are detectable onscreen: the sets are Spartan (the Palmers’ apartment is as impersonal as a hotel room) and most of the action unfolds in only one or two locations. But rather than detract, I’d argue this austerity underscores Too Late’s sense of grittiness and the grim milieu Jane is determined to escape.

Early on – when Too Late was originally mooted as a big-budgeted A-list movie - Joan Crawford was reportedly attached to play Jane (with Kirk Douglas as Danny). Fascinating as it would have been to see Crawford essay this role, I’m grateful it went to Lizabeth Scott instead. Hollywood diva Crawford, after all, was already triumphing at the time in juicy noirs like Flamingo Road (1949) and The Damned Don’t Cry (1950). Too Late is Scott’s ultimate film and role and one of the few times she played the lead. (See also: Desert Fury (1947)). Usually Scott was delegated to femme fatale parts or female love interest for leading men like Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Dick Powell or Burt Lancaster.  Here for once Scott “carries” the film – and she is wholly compelling. For me, Too Late offers a swooning celebration of Scott’s allure, her distinctive nicotine-stained throaty voice and hard-edged beauty (those skeletal cheekbones! Those black batwing eyebrows!).

/ See Lizabeth Scott as the original desperate housewife in Too Late for Tears! /

Boiling with intelligence, smarter than everyone she encounters, constantly scheming, two-steps ahead of everyone else – as portrayed by Scott, you can’t help but root for Jane. (Not that it’s necessarily difficult to outsmart her male victims: often all Jane needs to do is give a melting smile to a man to get her way). And Hoskin’s direction repeatedly invites us to identify with the amoral Jane (we often see her alone in private moments, plotting, smiling to herself, determined). Not to divulge Too Late’s conclusion, but towards the end we get a fleeting glimpse of Jane in Mexico, clad in fur and jewelry and finally able to luxuriate in the luxe lifestyle she’s always dreamed of. Jane looks radiantly happy – and damn it, Lizabeth Scott’s bewitching performance convinces us she deserves it. In Too Late for Tears, Scott casts a spell. 

Note: for years the dimly-remembered Too Late for Tears (also sometimes known as Killer Bait) languished in public domain obscurity, with various grainy, poor-quality edited-for-TV versions circulating online. A cursory Google search will find these - but I strongly recommended you shell-out for the exquisite digitally remastered dual-format DVD / Blu-ray issued by Arrow in 2016.

Further reading:

My analysis of another exceptional Lizabeth Scott film noir - Pitfall (1948).

Monday, 15 June 2020

Reflections on ... Satan in High Heels (1962)

Satan in High Heels (1962). Tagline: “They all went where the heat was hottest!” I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend Pal is accompanying me only semi-willingly). Hard-boiled and stylish, Satan in High Heels represents the acme of early sixties sexploitation not made by Russ Meyer. Characterized by exceptionally good acting, noir-ish and atmospheric black-and-white cinematography and an urgent jazz soundtrack, Satan was filmed in just 21 days with an estimated budget of less than $100,000 – and is a taut 89-minute journey into deep sleaze.

The plot offers the same essential premise as an earlier b-movie I recently raved about, Wicked Woman (1953) starring Beverly Michaels: a disreputable trampy woman washes-up in a new town and proceeds to stir-up trouble. In this case, it’s scheming, manipulative and utterly amoral fairground burlesque dancer Stacey Kane (played by 1950s chanteuse and pin-up queen Meg Myles). Weary of her hard-scrabble two-bit existence bumping-and-grinding in the carnival, Stacey robs her useless heroin addict husband of $900 and flees to New York to re-invent herself as a singer. Cynically using sex and a smile, the redheaded vixen inveigles her way into a gig crooning at the upscale Greenwich Village nightclub managed by fiercely chic and jaded lesbian proprietress Pepe (the reliably-intense Grayson Hall, in a role anticipating Elaine Stritch in Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)). Stacey promptly becomes the mistress of wealthy married businessman Arnold Kenyon, but – to considerably complicate things – she also pursues Kenyon’s feckless beatnik son Laurence. (Within the context of the film, we’re presumably meant to think young Laurence is the “appropriate” love interest, but the actor who plays Arnold is significantly more appealing – he’s a suave silver-haired DILF in the tradition of Roger Sterling in Mad Men). 

/ Check out those credits ... /

/ Stacy's audition at Pepe's club, accompanied by foxy gay pianist Paul /

/ Pepe (Grayson Hall) and club owner Arnold Kenyon (Mike Keene) confer. The forlorn woman drinking alone in the background is Felice, Kenyon’s current mistress. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to be dumped for Stacy. /

Aside from some fleeting glimpses of side boob in a gratuitous skinny-dipping scene, no actual nudity is on display. But Satan’s producer Leonard Burtman’s background was in the realm of fetish porn magazines (his specialist titles included Bizarre Life, Exotique and High Heels), and that sensibility is amply reflected onscreen in the emphasis on Stacey’s spike-heeled Spring-o-Lator mules (her footwear is by Sydney's of Hollywood) and especially the kinky black leather dominatrix ensemble she wears (complete with jodhpurs and riding crop) growling the climactic musical number “The Female of the Species” (sample lyric: "I'm the kind of woman/ Not hard to understand / I'm the kind that cracks the whip /And takes the upper hand". At points you can audibly hear the leather creaking as Stacy moves).  Everyone snarls their tough-as-nails dialogue, chain-smokes and knocks-back hard liquor. (You could play a fun drinking game taking a sip every time a character onscreen does, but it would risk projectile vomiting). 

Sporting an impressive lacquered beehive, Meg Myles is wholly commanding as bitch goddess extraordinaire Stacey. She radiates bad girl anti-charm, and she’s got a sultry way of delivering a jazz torch song, too. Satan is at its most campily enjoyable in the scenes of Stacey and stern task mistress Pepe sparring (the club’s handsome gay pianist Paul – played by Del Tenney – sometimes joins in). “I’m not upset. I’m tired,” Stacy complains at one point. “T-I-R-E-D!” "You'll eat and drink what I say until you lose five pounds IN THE PLACES WHERE!" Pepe fires back. “I don’t care if you can breathe or not – you’ll wear a girdle and smile!” With her butch tailored suits, fussy little bow ties and ascots and long cigarette holder, Grayson Hall is a consummate scene stealer and a great LGBTQ role model! (Inexplicably, Hall hated this film and used to deny appearing in it). Watch also for simpering ultra-kitsch sex bomb Sabrina (the British Jayne Mansfield) as Stacey’s bitter rival. She's gloriously awful!

/ Meg Myles - leading lady of Satan in High Heels - in her fifties pin-up heyday /

/ Above and below: Sabrina in Satan in High Heels /

Watch Satan in High Heels here:

Read further analysis of Satan in High Heels here, here and here. See some beautiful screenshots here.   

Listen to the soundtrack of Satan in High Heels and feel like you're plunged into your own sordid b-movie here. (Unfortunately, the album on Spotify doesn't include the musical numbers by Meg Myles and Sabrina!). 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Reflections on ... A Cold Wind in August (1961)

A Cold Wind in August (1961). Taglines: " If you care about love, you'll talk about a teenage boy and a woman who is all allure, all tenderness... all tragedy.” “Strange and sensual … a teenage boy and a mature woman, each searching for a special kind of love in the most exciting yet tender picture in your “best picture” experience!” Or as Variety put it: “a short course in the seduction, care and feeding of a healthy 17-year-old boy by a nymphomaniacal 28-year-old stripper.” I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend Pal is accompanying me only semi-willingly). This installment: A Cold Wind in August. 

From the 1983 book Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters: "The very first cult film I remember, A Cold Wind in August may not have been a cult film anywhere else in the United States, but it played forever in Baltimore. Every time an art house would book a flop, they’d yank it and bring back Cold Wind in much the same way Harold and Maude is used today. Since I saw the film twenty years ago and never again, my memory of it is quite hazy. Lola Albright (in a smashing performance) plays an over-the-hill stripper who seduces a teenage boy – a sort of poor man’s Marlon Brando, played by Scott Marlowe (what a great name). Lola really gets turned on. Natch, he eventually leaves her for girls his own age and poor Lola becomes an anxiety-ridden chicken queen. It’s a very Method actor-type film, but what I remember most are Lola Albright’s gold lamé Spring-o-later high heels, which I copied and stole for Divine to wear in many of my films."

This underrated, genuinely bold and erotic older woman / younger man melodrama is considerably more nuanced and sensitive than Waters’ outline implies and – although modestly-budgeted and independently-made - most definitely not a salacious exploitation film as sometimes described. I’d argue that Cold Wind hails from that interesting fifties and early sixties period when American filmmakers were increasingly mindful that European art cinema depicting sexually frank “adult situations” was cleaning-up at the box office and winning critical kudos and decided to play catch-up. (You could comfortably slot Cold Wind alongside the likes of Baby Doll, Lolita, Kitten with a Whip and Who Killed Teddy Bear?). It also possesses a definite Tennessee Williams vibe. Iris Hartford (Lola Albright) is an outwardly tough and independent exotic dancer and divorcée in her mid-thirties. (Note: in the original source novel Iris was meant to be 28. Albright was 36 when she played her. The character's age is never specified in the film). One torrid summer, the air-conditioning in her New York city apartment conks out. When Iris asks the superintendent to fix it, he sends up his lanky 17-year old son Vito Pellegrino (Scott Marlowe) instead. The instant frisson between them is palpable and – assisted with a dab of cologne between her cleavage and some freshly-applied lipstick – Iris effortlessly seduces Vito, Mrs Robinson-style. (On their second encounter she serves him a Bloody Mary for breakfast – his first!). Their May-December romance thaws Iris’ hard-boiled boozy façade, revealing concealed hints of emotional fragility. (If Cold Wind was a French movie, Iris would totally be played by Jeanne Moreau). Unfortunately, when Vito belatedly learns what Iris does for a living … let’s just say he doesn’t respond well (think combination of immaturity, blue-collar Italian American machismo and a Roman Catholic Madonna / whore complex).

Alexander Singer directs with real verve (he’d go on to helm the ultra-camp 1965 Lana Turner melodrama Love Has Many Faces with a significantly bigger budget; Cold Wind is better). The film is refreshingly judgement-free about the “age inappropriate” relationship and Iris’ cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof moist womanly needs. Gerald Fried’s noir-ish musical score - with its hints of exotica and finger snappin’ cool jazz - is deeply seductive. The images of Vito hanging out with his teenage buddies in their jeans and t-shirts on the stoop of their building evoke photographer Bruce Davidson’s shots of fifties Brooklyn juvenile delinquents or Danny Fitzgerald. Actor Scott Marlowe is frequently singled-out as Cold Wind’s weakest link, possibly because he was 28-years old at the time playing a teenager (he was in fact only eight years younger than Albright). And his performance is twitchy, mumbling and mannered in the then-fashionable Actors’ Studio / Method acting convention, which hasn’t aged well. But to his credit, Marlowe is undeniably cute and his chemistry with Albright convincing. (Off-screen Marlowe was reportedly bisexual and enjoyed flings with Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood).

It’s impossible to describe smoky-voiced actress and singer Lola Albright’s sultry, sensual, bruised-by-life portrayal of Iris without gushing superlatives. Her performance is soulful, brave and gutsy. What a woman, what an actress. Why wasn’t Albright a bigger star? (She was also memorable as Tuesday Weld’s mother in the strange Lord Love a Duck (1966)). Iris’ climactic striptease number is sensational. For some reason, she is caped, gloved and hooded like Batgirl! Singer films the sequence with darting, teasing cuts, only showing us isolated fetishistic fragments of her body intercut with shots of the lecherous and perspiring voyeurs in the audience. The in-house burlesque band musicians backing her are tight as fuck – very Las Vegas Grind - and seem to be conducted by Iris’ undulations. Iris also wears a killer wardrobe offstage, too: in addition to the Spring-o-later heels that Waters fondly recalls, she also has a penchant for form-fitting cigarette pants. At one point, Iris sports a sensational pair of Jayne Mansfield-worthy gold lamé cigarette pants – which may well have inspired the gold lame outfit worn by Divine in Mondo Trasho (1969)!

Watch A Cold Wind in August here:

Further reading:

I swiped some of these screen grabs from here.

In August 2018 I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here. 

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

I have serious issues with the frankly homophobic, puritanical, hypocritical and censorious Tumblr these days, but you can follow me on there.

And I'm now spreading my message of filth on Instagram!

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Reflections on ... The Astro-Zombies (1968)

The Astro-Zombies (1968). Alternate titles: Space Zombies. The Space Vampires. Taglines: “Dismembered Bodies, Transplanted Organs, Are Used to Create The... Astro-Zombies!” “Human Transplants Go Berserk! Beautiful Girls Mutilated! Grotesque Terror! So Shocking You Will Die a Thousand Deaths!” I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend Pal is accompanying me only semi-willingly).

I must admit: this one utterly defeated me. With considerable justification, schlock director Ted V Mikels’ wildly incoherent science fiction horror thriller The Astro-Zombies is widely reviled as one of the worst films ever made. I can’t decide which word describes The Astro-Zombies most accurately: stupefying? Stultifying? What’s certainly unique about it: The Astro-Zombies manages to be both action-packed and eventful, and yet excruciatingly dull. Maybe because the pacing is so “leisurely.”

From what I can gather: in his secret dungeon lair, twisted evil scientist Dr DeMarco (John Carradine) has created a race of “super humans” by re-animating corpses … something something … but instead his creations have turned out to be homicidal “astro- zombies” (who wear what look like vaguely insectoid rubber wrestling masks) … something something … these zombies have escaped and are running amok, rampaging through Los Angeles committing a series of brutal “mutilation murders” … something something … did I mention that like any self-respecting mad scientist, Dr DeMarco has a mute hunchbacked assistant who goes out stealing cadavers for him? (He’s called Franchot) ... something something … the CIA and various evil spies are investigating DeMarco’s experiments for their own ends (I defy you to make sense of this part) ... something something … there are frequent shoot-outs and gruesome murders … something something … but mostly there is endless bad sci fi mumbo jumbo dialogue about things like thought-wave transmissions, pre-designated frequency cycles, memory-retention cells and total astro-mobilization, usually delivered by someone wearing a white coat in a laboratory, holding a test tube or looking into a microscope. The Astro-Zombies is so suspense-free, your eyes will glaze-over!

The Astro-Zombies does have its compensations: everyone drives fabulous atomic-era cars with fins. When the action isn’t taking place in el cheap-o laboratory or dungeon sets there’s some nice stark mid-century décor. All the men have heavily pomaded hair. A memorable nightclub scene features a semi-nude go-go dancer doing a dramatic and artistic interpretive dance in little more than body paint to the accompaniment of exotica music (director Mikels himself is visible playing the bongos).

But forget all that: The Astro-Zombies is most noteworthy for offering steel-cheekboned burlesque glamazon Tura Satana (1938 - 2011) her most substantial movie role outside of Russ Meyer’s 1966 masterpiece Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Whether pacing around her apartment chain-smoking and evilly scheming, stubbing out a lit cigarette on a man’s face and ordering, “Kill him!” or nonchalantly wielding a gun, Satana is fierce as the dragon lady villainess. (Note: the budget was so low Satana wears her own personal wardrobe onscreen). When we’re first introduced to Satana she’s sashaying into a swanky cocktail lounge accompanied by Juan, her mean and sexy switchblade-packing Latino henchman played by the intensely cute and adorable Rafael Campos (who was once married to blues diva Dinah Washington and specialized in juvenile delinquent roles in his youth). These two are dazzlingly stylish together. If you still intend to watch The Astro-Zombies, I’d recommend approaching it as an act of diva worship purely for the majestic Tura Satana.  

Watch The Astro-Zombies below:

Further reading:

My reflections of Tura Satana in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Read further analyses on The Astro-Zombies here, here and here.