King of the Double Bill: A Ted V. Mikels Interview by Owen Keehnen

Most fans of low budget independent films (horror and otherwise) are probably familiar with Ted. V. Mikels or his work. The outspoken filmmaker has directed, produced, written, edited, and acted in some of the all time great exploitation horror titles such as ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1972), ‘Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1972), and ‘The Astro Zombies’ (1969), as well as other quickie-flicks like ‘The Doll Squad’ (1974), ‘Girl in Gold Boots’, and ’10 Violent Women’ (1980). For years his films formed the backbone of brisk drive-in double-bills and bargain theater business. Sadly, the heyday of the drive-in has passed and the industry changed with its demise. He has seen the industry change tremendously over the past 50 + years and has managed to weather those changes. Now after a lengthy hiatus he is back with several recent films including sequels to his horror classics: ‘Cauldron” Baptism of Blood’ (2004 – the sequel to ‘Blood Orgy of the She-Devils’), ‘Mark of the Astro-Zombies’ (2002), and ‘The Corpse Grinders 2 (2000). Recently Mr. Mikels was also kind enough to take time from busy postproduction work on his newest project to answer a few questions for racksandrazors.



Owen: Tell me about your newest project 'Heart of a Boy'.

Ted: "HEART OF A BOY" brings me back to my roots of drama, performing, and presenting a family movie, unlike most of what is going on now.  We don't need more killing, sex, etc., and who can compete with the Hundred Million Dollar movies anyway?  You can see all about HEART on my web-site 

Owen: You have recently come back to prolific filmmaking with 5 films back to back. Your recent films include 'The Cauldron: Baptism of Blood' which was a sequel to your 1973 drive-in favorite 'Blood Orgy of the She Devils', 'The Corpse Grinders 2' which is a sequel to 'The Corpse Grinders' (1972), and 'Mark of the Astro-Zombies' a sequel to 'The Astro-Zombies' (1969).  Did you want to find a new audience by making them aware of your previous works or were you merely nostalgic to revive the old material?

Ted: I had thought that since SO MUCH MONEY was spent promoting CORPSE GRINDERS, BLOOD ORGY, etc., that sequels might be a bit easier to promote, as so many people were "aware" of the originals.  Also writing sequels when I had written all of the originals, I thought would be easier as I was already totally aware and familiar with the subject matter.

Owen: Did the modern technology make the newer films much easier or more difficult than their predecessors?

Ted: Modern technology makes filmmakers very lazy, as they then tend to overlook lighting, camera moves, and the things that make good movie making happen. Technology has all but ruined the true art of FILM MAKING.

Owen: Is there any temptation or plan to turn those three projects into trilogies?

Ted: I have friends and fans that ask me about trilogies, and some have offered ideas for more sequels, however I am not anxious at this time to even think of what to make next.

Owen: So many of your films were featured and sold to the drive-in market - 'The Corpse Grinders', 'The Astro Zombies', 'The Worm Eaters', 'The Doll Squad', etc.  Did the demise of the drive-in market change the entire complexion of the movie business for you?

Ted: Most all of my movies played "hard-top" theaters in addition to drive-ins. Most of the time, my movies opened in a city with a combination of "hard-top" theaters AND drive-ins, depending upon the size of the town or city. It was less expensive to promote several theaters simultaneously with newspaper, TV and radio ads, as the cost was split between them.  The demise of the drive-in market did signal the TOTAL CHANGE for independent moviemakers, making it extremely difficult if not impossible to get play-dates.

Owen: Is the direct-to-video market in any way comparable?

Ted: The "direct-to-video" market of selling DVD's and/or VHS to me represents an admission of TOTAL FAILURE. Unless you have a blockbuster movie with all forms of advertising, NOTHING EVER COMES from a " home video " release, and other forms of video release are very difficult to achieve.  AND, with everyone in the world making a movie, there is such a GLUT of movies, that distributors not only do not have time to look at them all, and offer no cash advances, and almost want MONEY FROM YOU to sell them, it seems like making more thousands of movies should be looked at as a part-time pastime.

Owen: Not to change the subject, but I have to ask, -- what exactly was that corpse-grinding machine from the original 'The Corpse Grinders' made of?

Ted: The original CORPSE GRINDING MACHINE, contrary to what has been said, was made of heavy wood paneling, lawn-mower parts, some electronic wiring, a heavy beltway for " bodies " to be put into the mouth of the grinder, and other things. Since I had no money except for pennies, we had to make it look like the best we could. It was the hamburger meat that was costly, and of course, it wouldn't keep and had to be replaced all the time.

Owen: You also worked with Ed Wood in helping to shoot 'Orgy of the Dead'.  What were your primary memories from that film and the man himself?

Ted: In "ORGY OF THE DEAD", I was asked to help a young up-coming cameraman, who I was helping to train for his Union qualifications, to serve as a Director of Photography and to LIGHT the sets at OCCIDENTAL STUDIOS in Hollywood. As a friend of Steve Apostolof and the cameraman, Bob Caramico, I agreed to do it. Ed Wood was an unknown entity at that time, and I have no memories of any kind of him, although there are photos of he, others in the crew and myself, I just did what I was hired to do, then went back to my own work, and in those years, I was very busy. I had fun lighting the sets, working with fog, filters and lighting effects, etc., and with only that job, instead of being the writer, producer, director, editor, it was a lark.  It was only after the "ED WOOD" movie was made many years later, that the name Ed Wood became known.

Owen: You are also somewhat known for your reluctance to use known stars in your films.  Was that stance at all changed by having some "names"  (John Carradine, Tura Satana, and Wendell Corey) in 'The Astro Zombies'?

Ted: I have only regrets about not having names in my movies. Names are what sell the movies, and unfortunately, without financing, and having to deal with the demands of the unions, you cannot get them. I was never reluctant, just never had financing. If I had it to do over, I don't think I would ever take on making a movie without sufficient financing to hire names and familiar faces to make my movies, which would then be MUCH easier to market.

Owen: I am amazed at how often you act as director, producer, editor, writer, and cinematographer on your films.  Is it a matter of wanting to be in ultimate control of the finished product?

Ted: No, it's not a matter of being in total control to be the writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor, etc. it's a matter of "there is no other way" except to NOT make the movie. I would never rely on finding folks competent to do these jobs when there is no budget whatever to pay them. Deferrals are a thing of the past, as almost never is there later income.

Owen: Tell me about 'Dimensions in Fear'.

Ted: Dimensions in Fear has to be watched to be explained. It was my attempt to create a movie out of what was available to me. Fortunately, I own all of the equipment, and found whatever help I could to put the movie together. They are ALL a labor of love.

Owen: Do you have a favorite of your films?

Ted: I don't know which is my favorite film. I have loved making all of them, but my best and favorite is yet to come.

Owen: What projects do you have lined up in the future? 

Ted: I am not going to think about another movie until I find some sort of financing. Working without money is far too demanding.

Owen: What scares you in real life? 

Ted: "What scares me in real life?"  The hell I go through every day trying to find enough credit cards to draw from to pay other due credit card payments all used to make my movies without money. That's SCARRY!!! I don't want to sound disillusioned about our industry, I just know that significant changes must be made in order for us all to continue making what we love most, MOVIES!!!