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Ted V. Mikels

Ted V. Mikels is an American auteur, a filmmaker who produces, writes, directs and even stars in his own films. Best know for The Corpse Grinders and The Astro-Zombies, one of the all-too-few films to star the marvelous Tura Satana, Mikels has long been an inspiration to independent filmmmakers. After many lean years in the 80s and 90s, the last decade has seen renewed interest in Mikels and renewed activity on his part. He has produced two sequels to Astro-Zombies, Mark of… and Astro-Zombies: M3 – Cloned as well as a G-rated family film, Heart of a Boy. Mikles is also the subject of a just-released documentary about his career, The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels, directed by Kevin Sean Michaels and narrated by John Waters.

Mikels spoke with author Matt Sanborn for Mystic Skull about current and past projects.

Matt Sanborn for Mystic Skull: The original Astro Zombies was filmed over 40 years ago. In that time what have you learned about film making that you didn’t know then, and how do you intend to apply to this movie?

Ted V. Mikels: Well, sixty years ago, I spent ten years making about ten movies for no-one to see but myself. Like Fool’s Prosperity, Compelled, A Tall Tale, Yellow Roses, Dream Man, The Black Sheep, etc. I felt I needed to make these movies to be used as my self-teaching tools, BEFORE I made my first movie for the world to see. Years later, I felt ready to offer my first theatrical feature Strike Me Deadly, which movie started several actors on their movie careers (Janine Riley from Petticoat Junction, etc.) and enjoyed theatrical, international, and television release.

Then seven years after that, and several theatrical movies I created, all 35mm, I made The Astro Zombies. Needless to say, absolutely EVERY movie you make leaves you with new experiences to utilize in your "next" movie. The procedure NEVER STOPS, you always learn.

MS: Are you concerned the fans of the first Astro Zombies have moved onto enjoying other types of film genres, and won’t be as interested in this one, or are you hoping to expose a whole new generation, or two, to this movie and your works?

Mikels: What we all realize is that new generations discover old movies constantly. In my case, it seems like my movies never die and attract new viewers and fans year after year. Styles change of course, but when you look at many old movies, they are so slow and edited so differently, many are hard to watch. I love it when folks tell me that they have "found" my old movies and tell me that they are now dedicated fans. Makes it all seem worthwhile to have spent a lifetime making them. There is more intense interest than ever in my new movie Astro Zombies M3: Cloned. CHECK IT OUT ON IMDB.

MS: Have you heard the Misfits song “Astro-Zombies,” and if so, what did you think of it?

Mikels: I received a CD of the Misfits’ “Astro Zombies” and I feel honored and pleased they have latched on to the Astro Zombie theme. Now there are many more groups doing it, stores named after it, etc. What did I get started anyway?

MS: Have you found your next Tura Satana, or is that impossible?

Tura Satana in two scenes from Astro-Zombies

Mikels: I don't know if there ever will be another TURA SATANA. She is something special, probably not re-creatable.

MS: I was speaking to film maker Nick Zedd recently, and he lamented that Tura didn’t become an even bigger star than she did. Why don’t you think she became a huge star? Was she too intimidating to men?

Mikels: I don't think Tura was so intimidating to men; everyone loved her as she was. I think that at the time of her rise, MAINSTREAM movies were the creations of the day. So many more movie-goers went for the mainstream, while the much fewer lovers of the off-beat, independent and unusual movies were not as outspoken. The cult following came along later.

MS: Why did you decide to make a third chapter in the Astro-Zombies film? Was Mark of the Astro Zombies just not enough?

The Astro-Zombies trilogy continues...

Mikels: I decided to make Mark of the Astro Zombies because it seems like fans wanted another Astro Zombie movie more than any other. Besides, it was also campy and fun, and many fans like it more that the first, even though I could not afford to make it on film like the first one. If I had used the words "Astro Zombies etc." in the main title (not the word "Mark”) MANY MANY more folks would have found it sooner via internet searches.

MS: My favorite film of yours is Corpse Grinders. How do you regard this movie in your canon, and do you have any interesting/amusing stories about making it?

Mikels: About Corpse Grinders I have far too may stories to tell, many more than I can relate in this interview. Let it suffice to say, I had almost no money to get it made, yet it out grossed HUNDREDS of BIG BUDGET MOVIES in theaters and drive-ins. It was a phenomenon in its time and has never been forgotten. Many folks tell me that The Corpse Grinders is the first movie they have ever remembered in their life. I'm honored again, even though I made it over forty years ago, IT NEVER DIES.

MS: I remember about 10 years ago when I interviewed you, you said you were using credit cards to finance your films. Are you still doing this?

Mikels: I have never yet been financed in my life for my movies, I have made all of them on credit, deferments, small monies that I could dig up, credit cards, hard work, blood, sweat and tears, and the help and input from many dear talented gifted actors and technicians. If I did not have all of the equipment that I gathered from year one, and wrote, produced, directed, shot, edited, and marketed my movies, they probably would never have been made. When I was offered some financing, there were always so many strings attached, especially from the major studios, that I could not accept that route.

MS: Mystery Science Theatre 3000 did a number on Girl in Gold Boots. Did you see it, and what are your feelings?

Mikels: When Mystery Science Theater viewed Girl in Gold Boots and I saw what they did, I felt honored, not offended at all. The guys were fun. It was a musical drama in the first place, and over the years, MANY MANY fans tell me that it is their favorite movie of all time. Yahoo, now over forty years later, says it is their fourteenth biggest seller. (Maybe I'll get a royalty)

MS: Do you know what Leslie McRae is up to these days? I know up to a few years ago she was still acting.

Mikels: I talk to Leslie McRae very often. In fact we are working on plans to make a spiritual "family" movie. It may happen yet this year. She looks great and is happily married.

The beautiful Leslie McRae in a scene from Girl in Gold Boots

MS: Why did you decide, after years of making movies for adults, to do the G-rated, Heart of a Boy?

Mikels: I made Heart of a Boy because the movie world has always said there were not enough “family" movies. Distributors, unfortunately, told me that since there was no sex, violence, nudity, profanity they didn't know how to sell it. It's a pretty family movie. Hallmark kept a hold on it for six months before deciding that they had too many unreleased movies in their vaults, so they did not retain it. They DID LOVE the movie, I was told.

MS: Has home cinema, DVDs, large TVs, etc, made making film different? In other words, do you ever think not so much in terms of a large screen any more, and that of the person watching it at home?

Mikels: I make my movies for any venue available. It's the preference of the viewer to make the choices. Since more movies are watched at home, via TV, DVD's, etc. I try to make my movies so that they can be marketed anywhere.

Mikels hard at work on the set of Heart of a Boy

MS: Still living in a castle?

Mikels: Nope, no more Castle. I was enticed to move to Las Vegas in 1985 with the promise of studios, movie financing, etc. that never came off. Such is the plight of the "artist." Always HOPE and DREAMS.

MS: Which of your films is the most personal to you, and were there any that the finished product was not as you had hoped?

Mikels: When you put BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS, and every nickel you can find into making your movies, often taking a full year or more to create, you often had wishes that you might have had more time, money, etc., to make it better. You just give it the best of everything you have. Just DO NOT RELEGATE MY MOVIES TO "TRASH," “SCHLOCK," "SLEAZE," "Z-GRADE," “NO-BUDGET," and if you do, DO NOT STAND NEAR ME WHEN YOU SAY IT.

Just because some "wannabe" moviemaker calls himself a "critic", we must realize that it's only one person's opinion. I have often said, if seven or eight people out of ten tell you you're drunk, lie down. Conversely, if seven or eight people out of ten like your movie, you have a WINNER.

MS: 100 years from now, what would you like people to remember you by the most, I mean I know your films, but in a larger sense, and do you hope you have inspired the next generations of indy film makers?

Mikels: I receive about one thousand e-mails every week, and try to answer as many as I can. What I am told is that I, Ted V. Mikels, was their inspiration, their mentor, their teacher, and many like things. I guess that many folks world-wide who love my movies will continue to make their own, and thereby will inspire their followers in the same manner. In this way, my movies will be remembered for the one hundred years you speak of. I have LOVED my life as a movie-maker and will never stop making them until the good Lord calls me.

For more info on Ted, go to his official website: