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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Astro-Zombies (Blu-ray)
The Astro-Zombies (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // October 11, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 23, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Directed and co-written by Ted V. Mikels in 1968, Astro-Zombies (which lived as Space Vampires when it was released on VHS by Wizard in the eighties which is how some of us first came across the picture!) top bills the late, great John Carradine as Doctor DeMarco. He's pretty upset that the Space Agency has let him go, but they had their reasons, as it would seem that he's fairly insane. Regardless, DeMarco wants revenge and to get it, he enlists the aid of Franchot (William Bagdad), a hunchbacked mute who he uses to help gather body parts. Wait…. What? Yeah. DeMarco is building some zombie killers out of various body parts and Franchot helps him get them by whatever means possible. This typically involves killing people and cutting them up.

All of this murder and mayhem is brought to the attention of one of the C.I.A.'s best man, Holman (Wendell Corey), who sets out to try and put a stop to DeMarco's mad scheme. At the same time, a small army of communist spies led by the beautiful and ever so busty Satana (Tura Satana) are running around out to steal all of DeMarco's secrets and maybe use his ideas for their own evil schemes? That's what it seems like at least.

How much you enjoy Astro-Zombies will depend primarily on two things: your ability to watch John Carradine in anything (guilty!) and your love of goofy rubber masks (guilty again!). Carradine does what he can with this nonsense, reading off line after line of completely inane dialogue meant to sound like ‘science' with some admirable conviction. He's fun to watch here, though he mostly just sort of stands around and twiddles with some knobs on some devices that don't really seem to do much. He's got a more-or-less naked lady tied to a table in the corner that Mikels periodically cuts to, but she's not really got much to do with the plot, she's just sort of there. Yes, Carradine, for all his hamminess, at the very least gives this the old college try, and for that you've got to respect him. As to the rubber mask? Well, note that the title of the film is Astro-Zombies and not Astro-Zombie but for the large majority of the picture there's only one of them. Some guy runs around in a dime store Halloween mask causing trouble on and off throughout the movie until the last bit, at which point, fine, it's fair to go plural. Either way, the mask is ridiculous looking, but if you enjoy ridiculous looking masks (guilty!) it's kind of fun.

The script, which Mikels co-wrote with M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers (yup, Captain John McIntyre co-wrote Astro-Zombies, and he also wrote Mikels' 1964 picture Dr. Sex under the pen name of Juan Rogero!), is a mess. Nothing really makes sense here. We know DeMarco is upset over being fired, but is that reason enough to create an ‘army' of the undead to get revenge? It doesn't seem like it. He's pretty old, couldn't he just retire? Maybe not. I guess we can be glad he didn't, as it wouldn't have made for a particularly interesting film. And hey, Tura Satana, forever remembered for her iconic turn in Faster Pussycat… Kill! Kill!. She runs around in a short skirt and a tight top and delivers her lines with a surprising amount of ennui, but she looks great doing it. Throw in a weird hunchback and a possibly inebriated Wendell Corey (in his final film appearance, no less!) and you start to understand the appeal of this film. Even if it doesn't make much sense, even if the effects are bad and even if the performances are all over the place and yes, even if the pacing is completely erratic, it has its own strange charm.

Note that the movie as presented on this Blu-ray release is the full length ninety-two minute version that was previously released on DVD and not the shorter Space Vampires cut that made it out on VHS years ago.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

The Astro-Zombies arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that was taken from the film's original negative. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, it looks about as good as it probably can. Mikels notes in his commentary that the movie was shot on short ends and leftover film stock so there are occasional variances in quality, grain density, print damage and just the overall look of the film. Having said that, print damage is fairly minimal. There are specks and the occasional scratch but for the most part the image is pretty clean. Colors look good, but again, there's some obvious variations in spots, this applies to the black levels too. This disc is authored well enough and there doesn't seem to be any digital manipulation in the form of noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about. The disc is also free of compression artifacts. Ultimately this is a nice transfer of some slightly dicey source material but if you're familiar with the film, you should be pretty happy with the increase in detail, texture and depth that the Blu-ray provides over past DVD editions of the picture.

Sound:

The only audio option for the feature is an English language mono track presented in DTS-HD lossless format. The sound is a bit flat but the movie has always sounded that way, so it's seemingly an issue with the elements. Having said that, dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and the track is properly balanced. Every once in a while you might pick up on some minor hiss but otherwise the audio here is perfectly serviceable and, like the video presentation, likely a pretty accurate representation of the elements available. There are no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captions provided.

Extras:

Extras for this release start off with a brand new audio commentary by Writer/Producer/Director Ted V. Mikels that's interesting enough, though probably could have benefited from a moderator. Ted talks in a very relaxed tone about making the film, working with the different cast and crew members and about his thoughts on the picture as a whole. Some of the more interesting aspects involve how he did what he did on a low budget, but he does occasionally delve into telling us what we're seeing on screen or going quiet for short stretches. When he's on, however, he's pretty interesting.

Kino has also include a new RIFFTRAX commentary featuring Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett that is, as you'd expect, an MST3K riff fest. There's some pretty good fodder for them there, this is quickly paced and pretty funny. A third commentary features ‘Horror Cinema Historian' and former Fangoria Editor-In-Chief Chris Alexander. His track is made up of some interesting observations about the film and some critical analysis, with some facts thrown in throughout.

Aside from that, there's a trailer for the feature, static menus and chapter selection. Kino has also supplied some cool reversible cover art for this release.

Final Thoughts:

The Astro-Zombies is definitely an endurance test of a film, but it is not without its own bizarre charm. It's poorly paced, the performances are flat out bad and occasionally border on lifeless and the whole thing is fairly incoherent. However, fans of no-budget cinema and cult oddities have rightly embraced it for reasons rather difficult to put into words. It takes a special sort of cult horror buff to appreciate this one (full disclosure: I fall into this camp) but if that's you, consider this one recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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