The Corpse Grinders

The Corpse Grinders

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Today’s movie is a little story that answers the age-old mystery of what cat food is made of: “The Corpse Grinders.”

“The Corpse Grinders” was directed, produced, edited, scored, and co-written by Ted V. Mikels, a b-movie legend who also created “Girl In Gold Boots,” “The Astro-Zombies,” “The Black Klansman,” and “The Doll Squad.” The other credited writers were Arch Hall Sr., best known for “Eegah,” and Joseph Cranston (“The Crawling Hand”).

corpsegrinders1The effects for “The Corpse Grinders” were provided by Sherri Vernon (“Blood Orgy of the She-Devils”) and Gary Heacock (“The Astro-Zombies”).

The executive producer on the film was Peter James, who was also behind “Head in the Clouds,” “The Merchant of Venice” starring Al Pacino, and a 2005 adaptation of “Beowulf & Grendel.”

The cast of “The Corpse Grinders” is made up mostly of inexperienced exploitation actors, like Sean Kenney (“Star Trek,” “The Toy Box”), Sanford Mitchell (“The Scavengers”), Warren Ball (“The Harem Bunch”), Ann Noble (“Sins of Rachel”), Vincent Barbi (“Dolemite,” “The Astro-Zombies,” “The Blob”), and Drucilla Hoy (“Sinner’s Blood”).

corpsegrinders4The story of “The Corpse Grinders” centers on a cat food company that is grinding up human corpses to make their product. The result is, of course, that domestic cats begin going wild and attacking their owners.

“The Corpse Grinders” spawned two sequels many years after the fact: “The Corpse Grinders 2” in 2000, and “The Corpse Grinders 3” in 2012.

In 2013, the Las Vegas Review Journal did a spotlight feature on Ted V. Mikels that covers many of his eccentric life experiences, as well as how the digital revolution affected his film making. Apparently, he at one point lived in a castle with a veritable harem, has a distinctive mustache, and is generally a bit of a creepy oddball. However, he also provided some interesting insights into his film-making process, particularly why he almost always worked with amateurs, and how that rounded him as a director:

“I found that the people I could use, the only ones I could afford, were people who didn’t have the type of experience that I required. So I had to put some tutoring into them to get what I wanted.”

The cat food company featured in “The Corpse Grinders” is called Lotus Cat Food Company. As luck would have it, there is now an actual pet food company that uses the name Lotus: Lotus Pet Foods. Much like the recent popularity of “Soylent,” based on the infamous product from “Soylent Green,” perhaps using the name “Lotus” has given the company a slight boost.

corpsegrinders5A 2008 documentary was made about the long career of Ted V. Mikels, called, appropriately, “The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels.” The movie was made by documentary maker Kevin Sean Michaels, who also created a feature about the infamous horror host and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” star Vampira.

The infamous corpse grinding machine, according to Ted V. Mikels, was constructed out of plywood and a series of bicycle parts, contradicting the myth that it was made precariously of cardboard.

corpsegrindersJustifiably, the reception to “The Corpse Grinders” wasn’t exactly glowing. It currently has an IMDb rating of 3.4, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 17% (critic) and 28% (audience). That said, the outlandish plot has cemented the film as a cult classic of the good-bad quasi-genre.

The budget for “The Corpse Grinders” was reportedly less than $50,000, which is astoundingly low even for low-budget flicks.

“The Corpse Grinders” obviously suffers from being as cheap as it is: the actors aren’t good, the effects are iffy, and, most notable of all, the sound quality is just awful. However, considering all of this, the film really isn’t all that bad. The biggest issue is probably how slow it is, as the plot plods around a bit too long.

corpsegrinders3If there is anything to say positive about “The Corpse Grinders,” it is that it is imaginative. The film came out the same year as “Willard,” which popularized the use of otherwise innocuous creatures as the subjects of monster movies, which led to films like “Night of the Lepus” and “Frogs.” However, “The Corpse Grinders” does a better job of explaining why the cats are attacking, something that most of the others gloss over. “The Corpse Grinders” also makes some interesting use of colored lighting during certain scenes, which creates a bizarre ambiance for the corpse grinding room.

Ted V. Mikels is, of course, an exploitation director. As you would expect from the genre, there’s a lot of inexplicable lack of clothing throughout the film, but it could certainly have been more flagrant. From what I have seen of Ted V. Mikels, “The Corpse Grinders” is actually pretty low-key among his films.

Overall, “The Corpse Grinders” is an imaginative little cheap flick with an interesting concept, but it suffers immensely from having an extremely low budget and being paced awfully. The experience of sitting through it is unfortunately pretty boring, and the highlights are rare and fleeting. That said, a supercut of them is probably worth checking out.

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C.H.U.D.

C.H.U.D.

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Today’s feature is the bizarre cult classic “C.H.U.D.,” which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller.

“C.H.U.D.” apparently had four different writers over the course of a number of rewrites: actors Christopher Curry and Daniel Stern were ultimately uncredited (“We wrote 50 percent of this fucking movie” – Daniel Stern), while Shepard Abbott and Parnell Hall, who did the rewrites, wound up with their names on the film. Interestingly, none of the four writers have any other film writing credits to their names.

The director on “C.H.U.D.” was Douglas Cheek, who has primarily worked as an editor on documentaries such as “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” and “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.”

chud6The cinematography on “C.H.U.D.” was provided by Peter Stein, who also shot “Ernest Goes to Jail,” “Graveyard Shift,” “Pet Sematary,” and “Mr. Nanny.”

The editor for “C.H.U.D.” was Claire Simpson, who cut such acclaimed films as “Wall Street,” “Platoon,” and “The Fan” over her career.

The makeup effects team for “C.H.U.D.” included David E. Smith (“Pulp Fiction,” “Day of the Dead,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), Kevin Haney (“Cocoon,” “Death Becomes Her,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), Ed French (“The Stuff,” “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), George Engel (“In the Mouth of Madness”), Doug Drexler (“Drive Angry,” “Battlestar Galactica”), Joe Cuervo (“Bad Lieutenant,” “Amityville II,” “Oz,” “Sesame Street”), John Caglione Jr. (“State of Play,” “The Smurfs”), and Mike Maddi (“The Stuff,” “The Blob,” “Saturday Night Live”).

chud1The special effects for “C.H.U.D.” were done by the duo of Steven Kirshoff (“The Stepford Wives,” “Hackers,” “Crocodile Dundee II,” “The Departed”) and Matt Vogel (“Maniac Cop 2,” “King of New York”).

The musical score for “C.H.U.D.” was written by David A. Hughes, who also did music for the films “Fat Slags,” “Proteus,” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.”

The cast for “C.H.U.D.” included John Heard (“Home Alone,” “Cat People”), Daniel Stern (“Home Alone,” “Leviathan”), Christopher Curry (“Starship Troopers,” “Red Dragon”), Kim Greist (“Brazil,” “Manhunter”), Michael O’Hare (“Babylon 5,” “The Ambulance”), Eddie Jones (“Q,” “A League of Their Own,” “Sneakers”),  Sam McMurray (“Baby Geniuses,” “Raising Arizona”), Graham Beckel (“Pearl Harbor,” “True Believer”), Frankie Faison (“The Wire,” “Mother Night”), Bill Raymond (“The Wire,” “Michael Clayton”), and one of the first film appearances of John Goodman (“The Big Lebowski,” “Barton Fink,” “King Ralph,” “Matinee,” “Red State”).

chud3The plot of “C.H.U.D.” follows three intertwined characters who are each investigating a series of mysterious disappearances among the homeless of New York City. Slowly, they each begin to uncover a dark secret beneath the streets of Manhattan: a population of monsters being covered up by the government.

The famed Criterion Collection did an April Fool’s Day joke back in 2011 that “C.H.U.D.” would be added to their distinguished list of films. Of course, the staff of the notable film news website CHUD.com, which was inspired by the movie, were excited about the possibility. Shockingly, the inclusion of “Armageddon” in the Criterion Collection isn’t a joke.

“C.H.U.D.” ultimately spawned one sequel, the notorious horror-comedy “C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud”

The term “CHUD” was apparently dreamed up by one of the writers while he was drunk, and wound up being the inspiration for the entire film. However, the acronym has two meanings in the film: “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal” and, more famously,  “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.”

The reception to “C.H.U.D.” was generally poor, though it has certainly lived on as a cult classic. It currently has a 5.5 score on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 17% (critics) and 32% (audience).

The budget for “C.H.U.D.” was roughly 1.25 million, and it wound up grossing about 4.6 million in its domestic theatrical release, making it a financial success for a low budget picture.

The DVD commentary for “CHUD” is one of the most simultaneously contentious and and easy-going tracks I have ever listened to. John Heard, Christopher Curry, Daniel Stern, and Douglas Cheek laugh uproariously throughout, while also complaining about not getting paid for their work, how awful the re-writes and effects were, and how much they dislike the ultimate theatrical cut of the movie, and how drunk they were during any given scene. For fans of the film, it is totally worth checking out.

“C.H.U.D.” unsurprisingly features a load of hammy performances, particularly from Daniel Stern and John Heard. That said, none of them are so over-the-top as to be particularly memorable, especially for b-movie performances.

chud5Personally, I really like the design of the CHUDs. The glowing eyes in particular are really key, making them stand out among other movie monsters. Considering how low the budget was, they had to do something to make them stand out, and the eyes worked for that. Apparently, the CHUD suits accounted for a tenth of the budget of the flick in total. Without those distinctive eyes, it wouldn’t have counted for much.

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The explanation/origin behind the CHUDs is interesting, and plays into the popular disdain for authority and anxieties over the government’s role in pollution. There is also a clear message about the invisibility of the homeless to people in power, which is pretty deep for a film about sewer monsters.

One of the biggest criticisms I have seen of “CHUD” is how slow the pacing is, which is something I find totally valid. The film is very atmospheric, and there isn’t a whole lot of payoff until the very end. I think it could have been edited in such a way as to make it a bit tighter, but as it stands, it is pretty dull.

Outside of the eponymous CHUDs, the most memorable aspect of the film is the near-iconic grimy portrayal of 1980s New York City, which rivals other b-movies like “Maniac Cop” and “Q.” It openly conflicts with the idealized portrayals of the city in major pictures, and provides a look at the underbelly of the city during an era when it was at its worst.

chud7I consider another film I have covered, Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train,” to be a sort of spiritual successor to “CHUD.” I think it manages to take a lot of the same plot points and characters, update them, and then nail the desired dark tone a bit better. If people out there are big fans of “CHUD,” then I consider “The Midnight Meat Train” a must-watch.

“CHUD” may be one of the great b-movie classics of the 1980s, but it is still a pretty slow flick for casual audiences to sit through. Despite some nice highlights, I consider this to be a bit of a deep cut for bad movie fans, in spite of how much cultural recognition it has. I would personally pick up “Maniac Cop” or “Maniac Cop 2” over “CHUD” any day, but I still love the charm of the ambiance and the monsters here.

Carnosaur

Carnosaur

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Next up is a little flick called “Carnosaur,” which was Roger Corman’s per-emptive answer to the blockbuster sensation of “Jurassic Park.”

“Carnosaur” was directed and written by Adam Simon (“Brain Dead,” “Salem”), with additional footage done by Darren Moloney, who later directed something called “Andromina: The Pleasure Planet.” The story was based on a novel, also called “Carnosaur,” by the Australian fantasy and science fiction writer John Brosnan. Brosnan was known for using a variety of pen names for his novels, such as Harry Adam Knight, which was used for the publication of “Carnosaur.”

The “Carnosaur” musical score was composed by Nigel Holton, who also did music for flicks like “The Haunted Sea” and “Bloodfist II.” The cinematography for “Carnosaur” was done by a man named Keith Holland, who shot a number of other low budget pictures like “Bloody Murder” and “Neon City.” The two credited editors for “Carnosaur” were Richard Gentner (“Leprechaun 2,” “Against the Law”) and Lorne Morris (“Carnosaur 2,” “Killer Instinct”).

carnosaur7The makeup effects work on “Carnosaur” was done by the two-person team of David Barrett (“Tank Girl,” “Batman & Robin,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie”) and Fleur Morell (“Terminator: Genisys,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”). Likewise, the visual effects for “Carnosaur” were provided by the duo of Alan Lasky (“Last Action Hero”) and Mark Plunkett (“Robot Jox”).

The special effects on “Carnosaur” were provided by Magical Media Industries Inc., which worked on such films as “The Gingerdead Man,” “Demonic Toys,” and “Bride of Re-Animator.” This specific team was led by John Carl Buechler, a longtime Roger Corman collaborator who worked on such movies as “Troll,” “Trancers,” “Ghoulies,” “From Beyond,” “Dolls,” “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie,” and “Arena.” The rest of the team included Tuck John Porter (“Space Truckers,” “Red Planet,” “Baby Geniuses”), Bill Zahn (“Battlefield Earth,” “The Faculty”), Jeffrey S. Farley (“The Evil Bong,” “Alligator II”), Thomas R. Dickens (“Theodore Rex,” “Anaconda,” “Hollow Man”), Joe Colwell (“Waterworld,” “Super Mario Bros.”), Ted Haines (“The Master of Disguise,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), and James Rohland (“Dollman”).

carnosaur6The executive producer for “Canosaur” was none other than Roger Corman, arguably the king of all b-movie producers, who had previously been behind “Humanoids from the Deep,” “Piranha,” “The Little Shop of Horrors,” “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” and countless other memorable flicks. The other credited producer was Mike Elliott, who has worked on more recent films such as “War” and “The Devil’s Rejects.”

The cast of “Carnosaur” is made up of a number of familiar faces, most notably character actor Clint Howard (“Blubberella,” “House of the Dead,” “Santa With Muscles”), Diane Ladd (“Chinatown,” “Kingdom Hospital”), Ned Bellamy (“Treme,” “The Ice Harvest”), Frank Novak (“Independence Day”), Harrison Page (“JAG”), Raphael Sbarge (“The Guardian”), and Jennifer Runyon (“Charles in Charge”).

carnosaur5The story of “Carnosaur” centers on a mad genetic scientist, who has managed to reproduce dinosaurs by modifying chickens. If that wasn’t frightening enough, she is also hatching a plan to replace all of humanity with her new breed of dinos, and the only people standing in her way are a hippie and a janitor.

“Carnosaur” features two different dinosaur species: the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the more obscure Deinonychus, which bears significant similarities to the Velociraptors popularized by “Jurassic Park.” The production actually employed an amateur paleontologist to act as a supervisor for the creature creation, which is mildly astounding given the low quality of the picture.

carnosaur2Diane Ladd, who plays the key antagonist in “Carnosaur,” is interestingly the mother of Laura Dern, one of the primary players in the big-budget inspiration for the flick, “Jurassic Park.” This might have been an intentional casting choice due to the relation, but who knows?

Gener Siskel & Roger Ebert were famously split on their opinions of “Carnosaur” on “At The Movies,” with Siskel giving it a “marginal thumbs up” due to the silliness of the plot and Diane Ladd’s performance. Roger Ebert, on the other hand, gave it an unconditional thumbs down. The disagreement was even joked about in the television show, “The Critic.”

“Carnosaur” ultimately spawned two sequels: “Carnosaur 2” in 1995 and “Carnosaur 3: Primal Species” in 1996. Jim Wynorski (“Chopping Mall”) reused clips from “Carnosaur” for a couple of his films: 1994’s “Dinosaur Island” and 2001’s “Raptor.”

In true Roger Corman style, “Carnosaur” was reportedly shot in just 18 days, for a budget of well under $1 million. It grossed roughly $1.7 million in its theatrical run, making it a profitable little picture. That said, it certainly wasn’t well loved by critics or audiences: it currently holds a 3.4 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 11% (critics) and 24% (audiences). It is certainly fondly remembered by good-bad movie fans for the cheesy effects work, however.

Speaking of which, the dinosaur puppets in “Carnosaur” look really bad. In a number of sequences, it is painfully obvious that the creature is actually a hand puppet, which doesn’t exactly inspire terror. It also borders on being kind of cute at times, and never manages to pull off ‘menace’ very well. Even the large T Rex spends most of it’s time in a laser room that would fit in more suitably in a documentary on EDM, which I assume was done because it obscures the details of the puppet. There is also some lazy, POV, green-tinted ‘dino-vision’ used on and off throughout the movie, which certainly didn’t help anything.

carnosaur3“Carnosaur” definitely has no qualms about being a knockoff at its core, and doesn’t even limit itself to the confines of “Jurassic Park.” As with “Humanoids of the Deep,” there are a couple of unsettling monster births a la “Alien,” and there is even a “Night of the Living Dead” inspired downer ending.

The production clearly didn’t have Diane Ladd for very long (reportedly 5 days), and the way they shot her made it clear. Her character, who is portrayed as a bit of a hermit, almost exclusively interacts with other characters through security cameras. Despite the obvious awkwardness caused by this, and the fact that the film’s evil plot is more than a bit ridiculous, Diane Ladd plays her mad scientist role pretty straight. Her performance is certainly not as phoned in as I expected. However, I personally thought it was Ned Bellamy who really stole the show as an eccentric corporate figure behind the scenes, though Ladd is certainly hammy.

carnosaur4One of the things that surprisingly stood out the most for me is how absolutely awful the musical score for “Carnosaur” is. It sounds like something a middle school student put together on a cheap keyboard, and it borders on being grating throughout the film.

Overall, “Carnosaur” is worth watching for the hilarious puppet effects, but not much else. The plot is outrageous to be sure, but isn’t particularly memorable. The same can be said of the acting, which is really just on par for b-pictures. It is probably one of the more memorable Corman flicks from the 90s, and might be worth giving a shot with a group for the highlights.