Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
Manhattan Baby
(Lucio Fulci, 1982)

(These Thai posters are great, aren’t they?)

It occurred to me recently that, despite counting myself as more-or-less of a fan of Lucio Fulci’s horror movies, I had never actually taken the time to watch this oft-maligned black sheep in the flock of his early ‘80s “hits”, and that my reasons for avoiding it were flimsy to say the least.

After all, the similarly overlooked ‘The Black Cat’ (1982) holds a huge place in my heart, and the broadly similar line taken by fans when trashing ‘Manhattan Baby’ – that its subject matter is weird, it makes no sense and it features an insufficient quantity the director’s trademark gore set-pieces – actually makes it sound like exactly the kind of Fulci film I might enjoy a great deal (by which I mean, I can take or leave the gore, but I’m *all about* the weirdness).

So - ‘Manhattan Baby’.

[Long, awkward silence.]

Well, uh… that was… something?

Ok, let’s back up a bit, and start by saying that, whilst ‘Manhattan Baby’s script can probably hold its own against any other ‘80s Fulci movie in the high stakes game of making-no-bloody-sense-whatsoever, what I found most difficult to grasp about the film was less the familiar holes in the action that transpires on-screen, but rather the more profound mystery of how this production came to exist in the first place.

Basically, I suppose you could say that the production system fans often refer to as “the great Italian rip off machine” worked primarily on the basis of constant forward momentum. Source material (Hollywood hits, other successful cultural properties and trends) were fed in at one end, whilst unexpected hybrids, reworkings and wildly unlikely combinations emerged at the other, hitting cinemas (or, subsequently, video stores), making back their money and disappearing into the abyss before anyone had a chance to re-read the warped plot synopsis and exclaim “hang on, this doesn’t make any se…”.

Sometimes though, the machine got a spanner in the works. The parts didn’t cohere, the gears crunched together… but the momentum could not be allowed to slow. There was no time for anyone to get in there and fix the problem, and so the mangled movie was spat out into the world anyway and left to fend for itself.

And, boom, there you have it – a mutant like ‘Manhattan Baby’ lies writhing in a pool of goo on the floor, as the movie industry stands around scratching their heads, wondering what the hell they’re supposed to do with some misbegotten mash-up of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’, as directed by a visionary, misanthropic sadist and scripted by a couple (Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti) who’d find it difficult to get through a knock knock joke without contradicting each other and getting lost in the resulting plot holes.

I mean – firstly, who was this thing supposed to be aimed at? The action-adventure tinged storyline, the concentration on child characters and familial relationships, and the complete lack of sexually suggestive content or what the BBFC might term “adult themes”, all leads me to suspect that the original intent may have been to gear the film toward a family audience. But, needless to say, the fevered directorial decisions, scenes of extreme violence and general aura of raging insanity that Lucio Fulci brought to proceedings render that an impossibility, resulting in a tonal disjuncture that pretty much leaves all potential demographics unsatisfied.

And secondly, why in the hell is it called ‘Manhattan Baby’? What a terrible name for a horror movie! [Before anyone writes in, I believe this title was also used for the film’s Italian release too.]

After pondering this question for quite some time (because, you know, it’s the kind of pressing issue that tends to me on my mind in the dark of the night), I can only suppose that the title was intended to echo of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. But then, why would they want to imply a connection to a film that came out fourteen years earlier, and that furthermore has no real similarity to this film’s storyline whatsoever, beyond the fact that both feature somewhat occult-ish goings on afflicting people in a New York apartment building? And to then imply this connection in such an obscure fashion that I daresay most viewers never even noticed it..? Man, the “great rip-off machine” must have really blown a fuse the day it came up with this one.

Whilst such questionable decisions may have hurt ‘Manhattan Baby’s commercial potential though, I think it is fair to say that they do not necessarily mitigate against the possibility of euro-horror aficionados such as you or I enjoying the film thirty-something years down the line. No, what does the mitigating there is the unfortunate realisation that this production’s on-set execution was just as confused as its conception and marketing.

Admittedly, the Indiana Jones-ish opening scenes, set in some gloriously clichéd Movie Egypt, are pretty cool. For a start, it looks as if they did actually go out on location in Real Egypt, with desert panoramas, monolithic ruins and bustling market places all present and correct. The atmosphere of grandeur and dread that Fulci’s roving camera conjures from these environs is quite impressive too, leading us to keenly anticipate the adventures that surely must follow after Christopher Connelly’s two-fisted archeologist is blinded by an ancient laser beam during a sacred-site-of-ancient-devil-cult defiling tomb-raiding expedition and his daughter is meanwhile presented with a sinister amulet by a spectral crone.

Sadly though, once Daring Dr Connelly (who I’m sure must have done brisk business in the ‘80s as “that guy who looks like a slightly older Harrison Ford”, incidentally ) calls the whole thing off and the action shifts back to the rather pokey interiors of his family’s “New York” apartment, well, all bets for a fun time are off.

To some extent, Fulci’s characteristic disinterest in his human protagonists must take the blame here – after all, establishing and maintaining our interest in the characters and their relationships to each other is integral to the success of this kind of “evil creeping into a nuclear family” set-up (‘The Shining’, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Poltergeist’ would all be go-to reference points here), but, in the wake of ‘The Beyond’ and ‘The New York Ripper’, one suspects the director was simply not in the right frame of mind to deliver on this more subtle, slow-burn kind of horror picture. Instead, he keeps things cold, distant and faintly inhuman, leaving his cast to stare blankly into the camera and denying us the sense of empathy that would more conventionally pay off later in terms of tension and fear once characters we’ve come to care for are imperiled.

Regardless of this however, what I think really killed ‘Manhattan Baby’ for me is just its sheer lack of *mystery*. Whilst the opening (as outlined above) is somewhat intriguing, like many Italio-horror films that deal with occult-ish subject matter, the basic set-up is mundanely predictable, poorly developed and blindingly obvious from the outset.

I mean, come on - the scary amulet is causing the kid to become possessed, or else causing her to act as a conduit for evil spirits or a gate to another world or whatever, as an act of vengeance for her dad having desecrated the tomb – any idiot who ever watched a mummy movie already knows this, so why don’t we just cut to the chase, wheel on the learned Egyptian exorcist guy from the dusty old bookshop and get this show on the road, right?

Apparently unaware of this though, Briganti and Sacchetti tiptoe around their ‘big reveal’ for what seems like hours, expecting us to remain on the edge of our seats as they feed us obtusely spooky ‘clues’ (ghostly images turning up on polaroids, sinister strangers mouthing words from balconies, that sort of thing), whilst simultaneously failing to expand upon the imagery or mythology of their tale in any terribly satisfying fashion. (Ok, the idea that the daughter and other characters are being taken on “journeys” to some alternate world ancient Egypt, returning in a flurry of wind and sand, is pleasantly bizarre, but it’s too little too late to really overcome the feeling that the screenwriters are just cribbing straight from ‘Egyptian Curses 101’.)

What makes all this flim-flam worth sitting through – and indeed, allows ‘Manhattan Baby’ to remain a moderately worthwhile film overall – is the sheer extremity of Fulci’s direction. Despite the film’s relatively restrained subject matter, in purely technical terms I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Lucio go quite so far off the leash as he does here.

Once things get underway, almost every scene shot on the cramped interior sets becomes a riot of unnecessarily high or low angles, Franco-esque roving zooms, sudden pans and shock cuts that mock a mockery of the spatial relationships between character and the objects around them. Mundane dialogue scenes are conveyed to us via a mixture of extreme facial close-ups and shakey handheld footage of people’s torsos, and by the time the horror business heats up in the second half, Fulci seems determined to beat us over the head with jarring audio and visual stimuli until we reach the far end of Pure Cinema delirium, never to return to the mundane realm of cause and effect-based logic.

Happily, the director falls back to some extent here on the defiantly irrational approach to supernatural horror he pioneered in ‘The Beyond’ and ‘City of the Living Dead’, wherein the story’s rather nebulous “evil” manifests itself not through the more traditional auspices of some meandering physical monster, but rather via a series of completely inexplicable, terrifying incidents that descend upon the protagonists almost like natural disasters.

As well as providing a good time for filmmakers (allowing their imaginations to run riot without the tedious necessity of having to explain their ghastly set-pieces), this approach, whether by accident or design, also lends the aforementioned Fulci films a touch of impersonal Lovecraftian terror that is also felt somewhat in the closing chapters of ‘Manhattan Baby’, despite the far less intense nature of the bloodshed and cruelty on display.

Rather than anything dreamed up by the writers or effects team, it is Lucio’s camera itself that (along with an honourable mention to the film’s aggressive sound mix) is the main assault weapon here, and, if you’ve ever harboured a wish to see our man go full-on ‘Exorcist’, the finale of ‘Manhattan Baby’ won’t disappoint. A subsequent sequence that sees the exorcist guy being torn apart by reanimated stuffed birds(!) feels both gratuitous and ridiculous, but, by that point in proceedings, many viewers (your correspondent included) will feel so utterly disorientated they’ll barely be able to comprehend what’s going on, let alone criticise it.

Though it is a film that is difficult to describe as ‘enjoyable’, and frankly a mass audience was never likely to deem it even ‘tolerable’, there is nonetheless quite a bit for us hermetic, horror-lovin’ weirdos to get our teeth into in ‘Manhattan Baby’. Between the chuckles that can be gleaned from the drool-brained scripting and cardboard performances and the pleasures of getting our socks knocked off by Fulci’s sturm-und-drang direction in fact, I’d even go so far as to hesitantly commend this one to you as worthwhile viewing, regardless of its status as a flailing, god-forsaken mess of the highest order.

Certainly, if you make a habit of subjecting yourself to VHS-era Italian exploitation, you’ll have seen far worse train-wrecks than this on a fairly regular basis. Best therefore to file it under “worth a(nother) look”, and expect it to remain there in perpetuity.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
(Umberto Lenzi, 1974)

Well, my Exploito All’Italiana season earlier this year may have stalled after three measly reviews, but my concerted attempts to watch and write about as many horror movies as possible during October certainly helped get things back on track, with a few delirious evenings spent in the company of Cinecittà’s favourite sons, so – let’s get going with some more glorious, blood-soaked escapism...

Over the years, I’ve developed quite a soft spot for the work of Umberto Lenzi, and I tend to feel he gets somewhat of a raw deal from more – uh – ‘high-minded’ fans of Italian cult cinema. At his best, Lenzi was capable of delivering genuinely great movies (his ‘70s poliziotteschi entries chiefly spring to mind), and, even if circumstances rarely allowed him to deliver said ‘best’, his remaining filmography is nonetheless characterized by such a surfeit of high energy, non-fuck-giving, eager-to-please craziness that it would be churlish not to simply give in and be entertained by the majority of the pictures that bear his name, however shamelessly awful they may be in conventional terms (his much-loved ‘Nightmare City’ (1981) is a perfect case in point).*

Though it has rarely found favour with genre critics, I was thus delighted to discover that Lenzi’s late-to-the-party giallo ‘Spasmo’ (its title simply the Italian for “Spasm” you’ll note, rather than an insult to cerebral palsy sufferers) follows this latter formula to a tee, transforming a production that could easy have been a bit of an also-ran within the genre in the hands of another director into an uproariously enjoyable exercise in mild to moderate level celluloid delirium.

Veering somewhat toward the more excessive/ridiculous end-point of the genre already explored by Emilio P. Miraglia in ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ (’71) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (’72), ‘Spasmo’ dials down the sexual content and gothic decadence of those films, but otherwise adopts very much the same game plan vis-à-vis submerging us headfirst in a swirling, irrational nightmare of nonsense that seems purpose-built to break the brains of anyone actually approaching this thing as an ostensibly solvable whodunit.

Beginning from a relatively linear (if extremely sketchy) starting point that sees an idle Tuscan playboy (Robert Hoffman) ditching his wife(?) at a yacht party in order to embark on a tryst with mystery girl Suzy Kendall, ‘Spasmo’ proceeds to bombard our poor, free-lovin’ hero with such a relentless profusion of inexplicable events and breakneck changes of plan that I spent the first hour or so convinced that there was *no way on earth* Lenzi could actually tie all this stuff up into a single, coherent plotline – especially given that Hoffman consistently responds to these challenges with some of the worst decision-making I’ve ever witnessed from a horror/thriller protagonist. (Yes, the “no, don’t do that – you idiot!” guy at your hypothetical viewing party will likely need some extra blood pressure pills to get through this one.)

Nonetheless though, ‘Spasmo’ pulls off a series of shock revelations in its final act (including a fine example of the ever popular Ivan Rassimov-ex-machina) that kind of, sort of, just about leaves things making a flimsy sort of sense… assuming you don’t start factoring issues of believable human behavior or psychology into your calculations.

What I liked most of all about ‘Spasmo’ though is that it is completely, unmistakably a giallo, flyin’ its flag without shame. Where other directors opted to downplay the more clichéd aspects of the genre or to turn them on their head as things drifted toward self-parody once Argento and Martino had nailed down the template for all time in the early ‘70s, Lenzi instead seems happy to fully embrace the genre’s trademark aesthetic, to the extent that, were someone to come out of the blue and ask me “so, these giallo movies, what are they all about then?”, I’d be tempted to screen ‘Spasmo’ for them in preference to the work of any of the genre’s more celebrated proponents.

Though Lenzi may lack the technical flair and strength of vision possessed by said proponents, as an unpretentious, base level example of everything that made the emergence of this genre in this particular time and place such wonderful fun, ‘Spasmo’ does the business just perfectly.

Along with the aforementioned plot convulsions, the film’s exquisite atmosphere of shabby-genteel ‘70s Mediterranean languor remains unmatched this side of a contemporary Jess Franco flick, at least in my movie library. Fashions, accoutrements and interior décor are as beautifully garish as could be hoped for (at one point, a fugitive Hoffman returns to the scene of a crime because he left his medallion behind), and Lenzi & co make use of some absolutely fantastic shooting locations too -- most notably, a refurbished cliff-top watchtower whose atmospheric environs add a welcome frisson of gothic horror-ish isolation to the movie’s middle half hour, helping stave off any hint of boredom as the plotting loops the loop like an out of control bi-plane.

Though one imagines he probably didn’t exactly bring his A-game to the studio for this one, Ennio Morricone’s score nonetheless adds greatly to proceedings too, as the maestro comes through with some choice moments of slithering funk and atonal electronic freakery, in the rare breaks between incessant repetitions of his obligatory harpsichord-blasting main theme – all adding up to a kind of giddily familiar “mega-mix” package of the sort of material he provided to more celebrated gialli in the past.

One reason for ‘Spasmo’s low critical standing amongst fans may be its perplexing lack of any particularly memorable or blood-thirsty murder set-pieces, but, much as you’d expect with good ol’ Umberto at the helm, violent incident is nonetheless both frequent and jolting – particularly when he begins to whip things up into a more frenzied pace in the film’s final act, instigating bouts of aggressive jump cut montages and ‘am-I-the-one-going-crazy?’ unreliable narrator flashback stuff that recalls the excesses of Renato Polselli’s aptly named ‘Delirium’ (1972).

Factor in the somewhat surrealistic sub-plot that sees somebody lurking about in the dark leaving grotesquely mutilated latex sex dolls in Hoffman’s wake, and a sinister hired killer who seems to have been made up to look almost exactly like Dario Argento (one of several bits of wacky, intentional humour I think you can identify ‘Spasmo’, should you have a mind to), and I would invite readers to pause and ask themselves: really,  what more could one ask of a rip-roaring second tier giallo…?

Basically, the whole thing feels rather like staggering about on some treacherous Tuscan cliffs late at night in the company of strangers whilst ripped on several bottles of bootleg Chianti - and that, needless to say, is a feeling that this blog can wholeheartedly recommend. Aside from the fact that the film’s producers seem to have struck a product placement deal with Johnny Walker instead of J&B (heresy!), this is ninety minutes of pure giallo nirvana so far as I’m concerned.


* Without wishing to interrupt the main text with such concerns, I would like to make clear that this positive assessment of Umberto Lenzi’s work does not extend to his early ‘80s cannibal films, and the deeply regrettable animal cruelty featured within them. Just for the record.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Belated Plug:
Nucleus Films Euro-Cult
Restoration Project.

Well, for the moment at least, life goes on, and another blogging responsibility that slipped through the cracks during this Halloween season and its ugly aftermath is the necessity of my telling you about Nucleus Films’ Euro-Cult Restoration Project, a recently launched crowd-funding initiative whose initial goals (it would be nice to think there will be more to follow, should things go well?) involve bringing lovingly restored and reconstructed versions of Lady Frankenstein (Mel Welles, 1971) and Death Laid An Egg (Giulio Questi, 1968) to the people.

To be honest, I recall finding ‘Lady Frankenstein’ a bit so-so when I watched it via a bootleg a while back, but I’m still looking forward to the opportunity of reassessing its virtues via the medium of a shiny new blu-ray. The real prize here from my POV however is ‘Death Laid An Egg’, a surrealist (in the legit sense of the word) art-house giallo whose blackly comic tone (yes, it’s set on a chicken farm) and Godardian formal transgressions ensure that it does just as much of an unforgettable hit & run job on its nascent genre as Questi’s legendary ‘Django Kill’ did on the Spaghetti Western.

At the time of writing, Nucleus’s campaign has not quite reached the amount needed to guarantee ‘..Egg’s restoration, so… I know the world at large has one or two other bigger fish to fry right now, but could you at the very least consider doing your duty for the preservation of bold & weird cinema and pledge some cash before the closing date crashes down at the end of the month? Nucleus are good guys with an admirable track record of movie-related shenanigans, and I am confident that they will do right by both these films and their customers, so come on – what have we to lose but our dignity?

All the further info you could wish for can be found in the link above.

Speechless (but not quite).

Before we move on with routine business here, it behoves me to throw down a quick line on yesterday’s US election results.

Groan all you like, but to be honest I’ve always felt frustrated by the determination of so many entertainment media outlets to remain “apolitical”, as if life-changing crises and fundamentally opposed worldviews can be put aside as we all get together and natter about the day-to-day trivia of, I don’t know, pop music, or Star Wars or something. Culture reflects the political landscape that surrounds its creation, and political realities reflects back upon the way in which we interpret culture – even on a blog that rides the currents of escapism and nostalgia as heavily as this one.

In fact, I’d even contest that this tendency to put on the blinkers and leave issues of everyday existence to the “political animals” has to some extent contributed to the formation of the black hole in which global public discourse currently finds itself, so, if you don’t consider this a valid forum for me to discuss such issues occasionally when the need arises, then… that’s too bad I’m afraid. I don’t consider my views on the wider world to be extreme or unreasonable, and I try not to become overly strident or repetitious in my expression of them, so hopefully you can still hang out here and enjoy the sights - but, neither do I feel that my beliefs should be kept out of sight, like mutant appendages at a dinner party.

I would have liked to have found some pithy way to tie things in with this blog’s usual subject matter… but I just don’t have the stomach for it right now to be honest. Like many people who continue to care for the well-being of their fellow human beings (and indeed, life on earth more generally) I have found the events of 2016 depressing beyond words, and a Trump election victory feels like the end of season finale.

None of us knows what happens next, so I’ll try to rein in my natural tendency toward doom-mongering, and keep the dozens of tangential diatribes I could launch into to myself. Let’s just say that, at best, I feel that representative democracy is on the skids on both sides of the Atlantic. The last time big-mouthed opportunists managed to make this amount of headway marshalling a dissatisfied proletariat with dangerous lies was in the 1920s and 30s, and you can end this sentence however you like, because I haven’t the heart for it.

Even if the resultant collapse of the geo-political status quo that has kept “our way of life” broadly intact over the past half century remains on the now-familiar level of infighting, chaos and indecision however, the predatory mixture of totalitarianism and free market capitalism currently gaining ground elsewhere in the world lies in wait. And as a worst case scenario meanwhile, I’m probably not the only one contemplating the manner in which an America-First President Trump, unshackled from NATO, is liable to respond to a 9/11 scale shocker on U.S. soil.

What was that I said about doom-mongering? Ok, let’s can it.

Whatever happens, it is as always the poor and voiceless and stateless who suffer first, and die first, whilst those of us who already have food on our plates bang the table like petulant children and demand we’re paid attention to. My most earnest wish right now is that selfish nation states would shut the fuck up and lend a hand to their neighbours, but it seems I’m paddling upstream on that one, so what the hell do I know.

For any readers in the U.S. grappling with more immediately pressing domestic concerns meanwhile, uncouth fighting words are probably the last thing you need right now, but I’ll nonetheless refer you to the words of the late Hunter S. Thompson, responding to the 2001 election of Bush Jr in one of his last published missives, because they are words I’d be keeping close to my heart were I over there with you. Just try not to throw them around too loudly in mixed company for a month or two – it probably won’t help.

Normal service to resume imminently. Thank you and good night.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Belated Deathblog:
Ted V. Mikels
(1929 – 2016)

Last Friday night, my wife and I re-watched Ted V. Mikels’ ‘The Astro-Zombies’ (1968) in tribute to the great man, who passed away a few weeks ago. Back in 2010, I rated this my 20th favourite horror movie of all time, no less, and I’m happy to report that in 2016 it remains just as much of a jaw-dropping masterpiece of audaciously loopy un-cinema.

Though ‘Astro-Zombies’ was Ted’s first horror film, instigating the series of oddball exploitation features for which he was best known, it was most assuredly NOT his first film overall. Indeed, though I have not yet managed to watch them myself, I have read several sources which insist that the black & white thrillers Mikels directed in the early ‘60s (‘Strike Me Deadly’ (1963), ‘The Black Klansman’(1965)) are very impressive and professional pieces of work.

Taking this claim at face value, I can only assume that ‘The Astro-Zombies’ and the astonishing run of movies that followed it represent a kind of American equivalent of Jess Franco’s output in the early ‘70s – an example of a technically proficient filmmaker throwing away the rulebook and just letting it all hang out, doing whatever the hell he felt like from day to day and stapling together the results into a wild n’ wooly collage of garish, over-saturated comic book depravity that must have left drive-in double-bill patrons speechless and appalled, subsequently disappearing down a black hole until they were rediscovered by the SWV/bad-movie-fan crowd in the 90s – an audience who were presumably more able to process them than their forebears.

As far as Mikels’ other films are concerned, his surprisingly small output is… variable, to say the least. Though it has its fans, I didn’t really get much out of his H.G. Lewis-ish gore flick ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1971) when I watched it a while back, but I do however have a massive soft spot for his next film, ‘Blood Orgy of the She Devils’ (1973) – a sprawling, near plotless mass of treacle-thick early ‘70s post-psychedelic occult freakout vibes, packed with more artlessly discordant electronic music, somnambulantly drawled faux-spiritual blather and near-stationary ritual happenings than the human mind can bear, guaranteed to enrage and repel about 98% of potential viewers, but pure manna from heaven to the likes of me.

I’ll also confess a fondness for the same year’s proto-Charlie’s Angels action/adventure flick ‘The Doll Squad’, and I even had fun with its threadbare pseudo-sequel ‘Mission: Killfast’ (1987). It seems that Mikels found a way to incorporate espionage, walkie-talkies, radio signals and disparate groups of peculiar people chasing each other around into just about every movie he made, so in a way the genre of these films seems a perfect fit for him, although sadly his lack of proficiency in pacing and staging an effective action film is evident throughout.

Such pedestrian drawbacks however are largely irrelevant to the rather different appeal of Mikels’ cinema; the aforementioned films (and indeed, all the films I have seen from Mikels’ shot-on-film era) have an eccentric charm, a beautiful, trash-saturated visual aesthetic and a gutsy dedication to the cause of entertainment that overcomes all of their miscellaneous technical failings. His movies pulse with energy, good humour, sincerity and a keen sense of fun, all laced with just enough flat-out madness to get us to the finish line smiling.

All of which seems, insofar as I can judge, to be a testament to the unique strength of personality possessed by Ted V. Mikels himself. I actually know surprisingly little about the man beyond what can be gleaned from his films, but perhaps by filling in the gaps between his early appearance as a shirtless bongo player in the incredible strip-tease club sequence in ‘The Astro-Zombies’ and the late period photograph of him you see above (waxed ‘tache, walrus tusk necklace, smile a mile wide), we can simply conclude that he was a force to be reckoned with.

An anonymous trivia entry on his IMDB page states that Mikels “started out as a magician, acrobat and fire eater before becoming a documentary film maker in the 1950s” (well I mean, of course he did), whilst pretty much every piece of writing I’ve ever read about him has repeated the fact that, at at least one point in his life, he lived in a castle in Las Vegas [CORRECTION: in California - see comments] with his own harem of female followers. I have never actually managed to ascertain the truth of this claim, or indeed to find much in the way of further details on the subject, but let’s just go with the “print the legend” option and regurgitate it again here for new readers to wonder over.

Looks like he went a bit ‘off-message’ to say the least after he made a Shot-On-Video comeback from the late ‘90s onwards, but hell, who didn’t? And, for better or worse, at least he kept churning ‘em out – practically tripling the length of his filmography - with his subject matter remaining admirably bizarre, even if only the very bravest of cult film explorers are liable to want to subject themselves to, say, 2015’s ‘Paranormal Extremes: Text-Messages from the Dead’, or 1997’s absolutely extraordinary sounding ‘Apartheid Slave-Women's Justice’ (check the reviews of the latter here).

Whatever you may think of the man and his films however, it is with great sadness that we must reflect that Ted V. Mikels was pretty much the ‘last man standing’ amongst his era’s roll-call of defiantly idiosyncratic, independant populist independent American filmmakers. Meyer, Lewis, Steckler, Wishman, Milligan, Wood, Adamson – all are gone, and now that Mikels has joined them, the line is severed for good, the unique world that all of these men (and women) created and occupied for so many years consigned to the past.

R.I.P. Ted, and once again - thanks for the Astro-Zombies.