Cold War Cinematic Garbage - "The Astro-Zombies" Review
A woman arrives at her house after a beautiful ride through Los Angeles in her convertible. It's a hot day with clear skies, so there is no suspicion of the tragedy that is about to happen. The woman enters her garage and the second the door is closed, she's attacked by what appears to be a man with a skull mask with insect eyes.
I repeat, a man with what appears to be a mask of a human skull, with giant insect eyes. The mask also has a kinda metallic device that emits a sharp and distressing sound. We will never know if that horrible face was intended to be in effect, a mask, or a very bad visual effect of a manipulated skull. Anyway, this "creature" ends up killing the poor woman with a machete, off-camera.
Immediately, we see some decontextualized toy robots moving on a vacant lot, "attacking" a US Army toy tank as the background for the credits. And I say "toys", because I sincerely hope that the whole thing was a flawed symbolism about, I don't know, the arms race.
Immediately we know the protagonists of this story. CIA agent Holman (Wendell Corey) and Edwards (Joe Hoover) meet with two scientists, Dr. Eric Porter and Dr. Petrovich (Victor Izay) to update them on an investigation they are currently doing. Or, well, to inform Petrovich about it, because Porter turns out to be also a CIA agent infiltrated there to seek information.
After an increase in femicides in the area, the CIA is on the trail of Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine) suspecting that he is using his knowledge to create something called "Astro-zombies" (don't ask me how they connected both things).
Dr. DeMarco and Dr. Petrovich worked together on a project destined to turn corpses into a kind of cyborg-zombie that could replace astronauts, and thus eliminate possibilities of fatalities. However, DeMarco was expelled from the project without further explanation and apparently, the logical conclusion is that he must now be creating murderous Astro-zombies around.
Indeed, Dr. DeMarco and his strange assistant Franchot (William Bagdad) is using corpses to reanimate them using a technology that combines sunlight with electromagnetic waves. But DeMarco is more of an irresponsible mad scientist than a villain: His first Astro-zombie, created with the brain of a psychopath (the only one available!) decided to escape from the laboratory and start murdering women.
The rest of the characters are conformed by an evil espionage ring led by a Chinese communist spy named Satana (Tura Satana) and Mexican secret agent Juan (Rafael Campos) who want to seize Dr. DeMarco's technology.
The Astro-Zombies has at least one element in its favor: The nostalgia angle of being an absolute time capsule.
This is the most 1968 zombie movie ever made. Pictures of Lyndon B. Johnson and JFK, the dresses, the big cars, the space race, the paranoia of the cold war with cartoonish agents from China, Mexico and the USSR battling the CIA, all scored with Nico Karaski's music.
But for those who watched this movie at the time of its release, it must have been without a doubt, an absolute snoozefest. We're talking about zombies manipulated with electromagnetic impulses (or something) that kill women with machetes while the CIA, Chinese communist spies, and Mexican secret agents battle each other to retrieve that technology first, and we spend most of the time watching the characters talking foolishness or literally killing time.
The majority of the time we spend with Dr. DeMarco, he's just moving some knobs and shouting absurd orders to his sidekick Franchot (which responds by squinting his eyes and looking side to side) such as “prepare him for brain transplant and total astro-mobilization!”.
The same happens with the CIA agents sequences. A large chunk of time they're trying too hard explaining a science that doesn't exist, with pieces of dialog like “These are the receivers that will relay the knowledge from the memory-retention cell into the brain of the transplant. You see, these are tuned to a pre-designated frequency cycle beamed from the transmitter.” Nonsense.
There's even one scene where the great minds of American intelligence come up with the plan to use a girl called Janine (Joan Patrick) as bait so they can capture the Astro-zombie (because it's established, without further explanation, that the Astro-zombie has a fascination with her). We see Janine waiting, reading a magazine. We see the agents outside expectant. All for several minutes. Nothing happens. It's a completely useless scene.
The "great" climax shows a triumphant CIA, after practically just watching how the creatures and their international enemies kill each other. Out of nowhere, Pace launches a final sentence that has nothing to do with anything:
“There is one basic element of life that can never be removed. The emotions.”
Only the laughter remains before the involuntary humor of a moment that wanted to have some depth.
The Astro-Zombies it's a complete mess. But it's one of those disasters that are so huge, that end up being worth looking.
What's Your Rating For The Astro-Zombies
Title: The Astro-Zombies
Release Year: 1968
Director(s): Ted V. Mikels
Actors: Wendell Corey, John Carradine, Tom Pace, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards