Tura Satana in ASTRO ZOMBIES at Super-8 Movie Madness
I’ve been collecting the condensed Super-8 Sound editions of movies for about 15 years now and am always thrilled when some odd title pops up for sale that I had no idea was ever released in the format. THE BEAST MUST DIE, THE KLANSMAN, and TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER are a few of the titles that never appeared in the Castle Films (or any other) catalog, but I’ve managed to unearth, released on some obscure film labels (often in Europe – GRIZZLY, STAR CRASH, HARD TIMES, and MANDIGO are other oddball titles I’ve found dubbed into German). I host the monthly Super-8 Movie Madness show at The Way Out Club here in St. Louis the first Tuesday of every month where I show about 14 of these films from my vast collection. The hard-drinking crowd of movie buffs always appreciates films with the cheesiest aesthetics and there are few movies cheesier than ASTRO ZOMBIES. Director Ted V. Mikel’s 1968 opus stars John Carradine as Dr. DeMarco, intent on creating an army of astro men – half man half robot while tough, sexy spy Tura Santana and her minions trying to shanghai the zombies for her evil purposes. It’s one of my favorites (I’ve got the one-sheet signed by Tura proudly displayed in my den) but it was a title I assumed had never been released in the super-8 sound format.
A couple of weeks ago, I was perusing ebay.uk and spotted a super-8 film for auction the seller was calling PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES/ASTRO ZOMBIES. Now PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES is of course a Hammer Horror film from ’66 that I already in the condensed super-8 format but I was curious. I clicked on the item and saw a photo of the packaging. It was a 400 foot film indeed called PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, but the photo on the front of the box was unmistakably from ASTRO ZOMBIES. The seller was knowledgeable enough and knew what he was selling. My heart raced and I immediately bid on the film (and bid high – I wasn’t the only one who spotted this gem). I won, paid airmail shipping via paypal, and waited anxiously. I worried about how the film was edited. 400 feet at 24 frames per second runs about 18 minutes and I’ve watched super-8 films that were horribly edited. Would Tura Satan’s scenes be in there or would it be padded with dialog by a hung-over Wendell Corey? How much of the endless footage of Tura smoking cigarettes would there be (lots I hoped!)? Usually these film companies did a good job of whittling a 90 minute movie down to 18 but I’d been burned by lousy edits of Super-8 films in the past. Linda Blair is nowhere to be seen in the super-8 cut of AIRPORT ’75 and my CARRIE doesn’t even go to the prom (!)
Well, the film arrived and I was initially disappointed to see it didn’t fill the entire 400′ reel, but only runs about 14 minutes. It’s on the British Fletcher Films label, an outfit I’d never heard of nor have any other films from. John Carradine is credited on the front of the box, but the description on the back reads “Bloodthirsty horror epic from the American studios involving scientist David Carradine building an army of electro zombies. Following a brutal murder, the laboratory is surrounded by the police who battle the creatures. This ‘X’ rated movie is not recommended for the squeamish”. Aside from getting John Carradine confused with his son David on the same packaging, I’m pleased to report that the ASTRO ZOMBIES Super-8 film is otherwise about as wonderful as I could have hoped. The color has shifted but it almost always has on these super-8 films and this one still looks above average. The blues and yellows are still present but the blacks aren’t very dense. ASTRO ZOMBIES is a film that never looked great though and this version looks just as good as a 16mm print I watched at Cinema Wasteland about 8 years ago accompanied by a live commentary from director Mikels. Unfortunately, the berserk opening credits featuring colored smoke bombs, wind up robots and a toy tank are replaced with a simple title card reading ‘PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES starring John Carradine’ but I was expecting this considering the title change. The few brief gore shots (a machete in the head, a decapitation) are present and it’s got the pre-credits sequence of the brunette driving her car before she meets a zombie sporting casual slacks, a tan jacket, and a huge paper mache mask. Best of all, it has plenty of Tura! Her smoking scenes are omitted but much of her dialog with Carradine is present as is her unforgettable death scene. FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL may be Tura’s signature film but the first movie I discovered her in was ASTRO ZOMBIES. I remember seeing it on TV as a kid in the early ’70s and much more startling to me than the goofy zombies stumbling down the street with flashlights pressed to their solar-celled foreheads was this exotic-looking woman with slit skirts wearing eye makeup so thick I wondered how she kept them open. Three years ago, I brought Tura Satana to the Way Out Club for an ‘Evening with Tura Satana’ show. We screened FASTER PUSSYCAT, and then I interviewed her onstage about her career. This was followed by a burlesque show and live music while she signed autographs (Tura had been a burlesque dancer here in St. Louis in the ’50s and ’60s). Tura died this past February (read a WAMG tribute to her HERE) but will be returning to The Way Out Club in spirit when I show this cut of ASTRO ZOMBIES at the next Super-8 Movie Madness November 1st. The other films I’ll be showing that night are: IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, John Wayne in TRUE GRIT, The Little Rascals in FOR PETE’S SAKE, THE WEREWOLF, BYE BYE BIRDIE, The Marx Brothers in THE INCREDIBLE JEWEL ROBBERY, Boris Karloff in THE MUMMY, WESTWORLD, Christopher Lee in the Hammer shocker THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, Disney’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, Robert Benchley’s CRIME CONTROL, and Clint Eastwood in a 35-minute cut of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. The Way Out Club is located at 2525 Jefferson Avenue in South St. Louis (corner of Jefferson and Sydney). Admission is only 3 bucks. Come join me, Tura, and Mr. Carradine for an evening of zombies, movies, mayhem, and madness.
Surprisingly, the artwork for the poster on the left was not done by a seventh grader but by director Ted V. Mikels himself. The poster on the right is one of the best movie posters of the late ’60s.
Three more spectacular lobby cards from ASTRO ZOMBIES. The cool cat on the bongos is none other than director Ted V. Mikels !