Of all the mysteries of the universe one can ponder, the one I keep returning to is: how does Ted V. Mikels keep making movies?
Actually, the answer to that is probably quite simple, especially for a Mystery of the Universe: Mikels likely knows how to hustle the seed money, and hands the investors back their money on the other end, possibly with a bit of a profit. This is the only way crapmeisters with lengthy careers could possibly manage their longevity.
Add to that the fact Mikels seems a very charming gentleman, sort of like that oddball uncle that nobody in the family talks about much, but you always look forward to his visits, because he's so damn interesting. Had Mikels gone into the medicine show business rather than movie-making, we'd all have bottles of Snake Oil in our pantries.
That explains the how but not the why. And after viewing Corpse Grinders 2, that why echoing in my head has increased in volume. So much so that it has almost drowned out the theme song for Ghoul-A-Go-Go, which took up residence in my skull quite some time ago.
If you've been following crap cinema for any length of time, you're doubtless familiar with the original Corpse Grinders. Despite its infamous reputation, there just isn't much there to recommend it; two losers running the Lotus Cat Food company start putting cadavers through the meat grinder to cut overhead and maximize profits. The resulting cat chow is hugely successful, but it leaves kitties with a taste for human flesh, which they start indulging by killing and eating their masters. Though a case could made that this is a scathing satire on corporate culture, that case would instantly be thrown out of Movie Court because The Corpse Grinders has about as much smarts as a pithed frog. There's some intrigue and conflict with the corpse suppliers, who are a seedy graveyard caretaker and his plush animal-loving wife, but gaaaaaah.
Like most Mikels movies, it is competently enough made (unlike some directors, Mikels can keep his night and day shots straight) but it just does not possess the spark that draws the viewer's interest. It should engage you on some level the bad guys are running people through a meat grinder, for pete's sake but nope, nuh-uh, no way, no how. Everything is covered with a thick veneer of boredom. I tried to stay awake during a showing of this at B-Fest, thinking it fine riff material, but no go the Sandman took pity on me and hit me upside the head with his bag o'sand. I should own a copy just for sleepless nights.
None of which explains why I subjected myself to its sequel. I had been sleeping quite well, after all. Perhaps, after asserting in my Naked Witch review that I would gladly watch a Larry Buchanan movie before I would watch another Ted V. Mikels movie, I felt the need to test that out. If that was the case, then I have to report that it's more of a draw than I had thought. Maybe I should have used Albert Pyun as my nadir instead.
First, be aware that Corpse Grinders 2 is shot on video, which is one way to make sure the investors get their money back. (Though I'm not really sure if you can then say "A Ted V. Mikels Film". Which they do anyway) Second, be aware that although it is shot on video, Mikels decided to start the movie by ripping off Star Wars. Yes, there's the Flash Gordon exposition crawl, backed by spacy computer graphics. Despite the fact that the camera zooms into what is unquestionably South America, we are told we are on the planet Ceta, where the Cat People are losing their war with the Bad Halloween Mask People. Oh, I'm sorry, those are the Dog People.
A space battle is presented with home-grown computer graphics and fighter cockpits constructed from found materials. This is the sort of thing that makes Battle Beyond the Stars compare favorably with its inspiration, and makes you miss the sheer professionalism of the FX men on Starcrash. Apparently scenes involving the Cat People running from marauding dinosaurs was deemed too fake-looking for inclusion, so start that list of your blessings to count now and avoid the rush.
Well, beyond the Dog People and the Dinosaur Puppets, the Cat People are having trouble raising food, so they decide to go to Earth to get some. Food, that is. Incidentally, we know they are Cat People because they have enormous furry ears sticking out of their hats. Frankly, this makes them look more like the Jackass People, but if we start picking nits now, we're going to be here all night. Gene Paul Jones, who plays Borath, the leader of the Cat People, delivers his lines with such solemn, deadpan seriousness that I can only assume that they never let him look in a mirror or see any of the takes.
The Cat People also live in a nice split-level ranch house with what appears to be colonial-style hickory furniture and buddha statues. If you ever made a movie in your living room with a camcorder and a bunch of friends goofing around, it looked like this movie. You keep expecting the Internet celebrity known as "The Star Wars Kid" to flail through, swinging his double-bladed light saber and knocking over some furniture. No wait, that would actually be entertaining.
So the three Cat People that have actually been given names (and costumes besides T-shirts with cat heads on them) climb into their spaceship (the interior of which looks suspiciously like a planetarium, hmmmmmm ) and head to Earth to get some food, which will magically solve all their problems. Maybe the Dog People are just looking for a handout, too.
Well, let's ignore that plot line for a while (mercifully, the movie will, too). The nephews of the original owners of Lotus Cat Food, Landau and Maltby (Sean Morelli and Andy Freeman) have opened the old place up, and for some reason the corpse grinding machine is still there, and requires only minimal maintenance to be up and running again.
Corpse Grinders 2 runs a full half-hour longer than its predecessor, and the older film looks positively lean and mean in comparison. Much time is taken with the nephews setting things back up, hiring lowlifes to work in the manufacturing plant, recruiting yet another gravekeeper and his out-to-lunch wife (again named Caleb and Cleo and played by Chuck Alford and none other than Liz Renay), and there's much more corpse-grinding. This time I'm pleased to note that they took care of that little detail about the original corpse-grinding machine that always bothered me: the cadavers went in wearing underwear, but there was never any cloth apparent in the hamburger that came out the other end.
Mikels himself plays "Professor Mikoff", an astronomer who sees the Cat People's budget-concious spaceship land; he also immediately runs afoul of a government agency that fronts the Men In Black (and is in charge of providing the worst acting in the movie - who says the gummint can't do anything right?). The Cat People decide that they like Lotus Cat Food (after sampling it at a supermarket and look who's handing out the samples - it's Dolores Fuller!) , and manage to convince this agency to buy them 400 cases of the stuff to ship back to Ceta. This leads to some interesting complications for Landau and Maltby, who were already having trouble keeping up with demand for their cadaverous kitty kibble. But, thank the Gods, the end of the movie is approaching, and they manage somehow; in the coda, Mikoff hitches a ride with the Cat People to Ceta, a listless ending for a listless movie. What's left unsaid in this whole intergalactic trade deal is the secret ingredient of the cat food. Once that's discovered, Mikoff is going to find himself on the buffet table.
The movie's a puzzler. There are some good bits, here and there, like Landau and Maltby trying to convince a local undertaker to use their new Pork and Chicken-flavored embalming fluids. Several times, Mikels emulates plot elements from the first movie, only to provide a bit of a surprise with different outcomes, which is at least an interesting way to handle your padding. But remember the old plot, with cats going crazy for human flesh? Hardly even referenced here. No doubt PETA threatened legal action if Mikels dared to spray stage blood over a single kitty. Not to mention hurling them at actors from off-camera. Overall, the picture's a big mess, with a huge, largely sub-amateur cast of characters in a very loose collection of subplots. Many of the major roles are quite well-acted, with Morelli and Freeman, appropriately, the stand-outs - but the lower tiers are filled with the sort of performances that would not be tolerated in a community theater.
Mikels said that this is one of his few films that actually had a finished script before it started shooting; if true, it was a first draft that needed considerable tightening. We're never sure how many people know the exact nature of Lotus Cat Food; some seem in on the secret, but when a workman stumbles into the corpse-grinding room, he winds up the next guy in a can.
This is the kind of movie that will have you saying "No one will be seated during the riveting grant application scene!" "THRILL to the languid note-leaving scene!" "We dare you to keep your eyes open during the horrifying box-loading scene!" Padding is a given in movies like this, but what the high holy hell was up with Mikoff journeying to a university to apply for a grant to research cannibalism when he knows he's going to jump on a UFO is so far beyond me, I think the actual point landed somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, and sank without a trace.
I cannot recommend this to even hardened crap cineastes. But I know some of you are going to seek this out, nonetheless. You know who you are. I just want you to remember: I warned you. No refund will be given for time wasted on watching Corpse Grinders 2.
But there is also one other thing to consider: Mikels has also said throughout his career that he loves making movies. I have to admit, the man is doing what he loves, and no matter how much I may dislike the result damn it, I cannot argue with that.
Grind. Perfectly appropriate.
- July 20, 2003