The Corpse Grinders is a 1971 American horror film directed by Ted V. Mikels (The Astro-Zombies, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils), from a screenplay co-written with actor Arch Hall Sr. and Joseph Cranston (The Crawling Hand). It stars Sean Kenney, Monika Kelly and Sanford Mitchell.
Mikel‘s directed a belated sequel, The Corpse Grinders 2, in 2000, and executive produced a second sequel in 2012.
The Corpse Grinders is one of those rare films that turns out to be every bit as deranged as you would hope it to be. While the title and the trailer – which has arguably been seen more frequently than the movie itself – promise much, the film actually manages to excel expectations, delivering a delirious, trashy, nonsensical tale that is heavy on weirdness.
The plot begins with a neglected cat attacking its owner – in common with all the cat attacks in this film, this is a triumph of sound and crazed acting over actual dramatic action – and then cuts to a grave-robbing couple Caleb (Warren Ball) and Cleo (Ann Noble). He looks like a mountain man while she has, inexplicably, a pseudo-Cockney accent and the pair of them bicker constantly, setting the scene for the whole movie.
She’s a few eggs short of an omelette, keeping up a conversation with a doll for some reason – this has no connection with anything else in the film but establishes her wackiness. But then, everyone in this film seems somewhat eccentric – it’s the sort of film that even John Waters might consider a bit unrealistic.
Caleb is supplying dead bodies to Landau (Sanford Mitchell), head of the Lotus Cat Food company (“for cats who like people”). He pops them in his corpse grinding machine and sells the meat in his ‘expensive’ cat food – hence the sudden lust for human flesh that has arisen in the local moggies.
We’re told that Landau and grubby partner Maltby (J. Byron Foster) are raking in the cash, but they work out of what looks like a slum and employ a bunch of odd characters – the one-legged deaf-mute Tessie (Drucilla Hoy) and mentally deficient Willie (Charles Fox) being the only staff members we meet.
Landau is a shifty character, even by the standards of a man who sells human flesh as cat food, and soon he’s made a deal with some sort of gangster to supply fresher corpses while promising Caleb that he’ll “get everything that’s coming to you” – and we all know what that means. Meanwhile, nurse Angie Robinson (Monika Kelly) and Dr Howard Glass (Sean Kenney) have had their suspicions raised by the spate of cat attacks, and are investigating…
Ted V. Mikels churned out a bunch of eccentric horror movies over the years, but this is probably his best known, and arguably his most demented. At times, it has the feel of an Andy Milligan film, existing one step to the side of normality, as the collection of strange characters spout ridiculous dialogue in performances that are not so much bad as just plain strange.
No-one here seems normal, not even our two heroes. Doctor Glass starts off as a bitter, booze-soaked surgeon before transforming into a stolid hero, while Angie is just outside the norm for a glamorous heroine and seems to flip emotional states constantly. Similarly, Landau goes from calm and collected to deranged for no immediately obvious reason, while everyone else is just odd.
Interestingly, for a luridly titled exploitation movie, The Corpse Grinders is fairly restrained in its content. Bodies are fed into the corpse grinding machine, but we don’t see any gore. There’s no nudity, though the film does engage in PG-level titillation by ensuring that several female characters get down to their underwear for no good reason.
Mikels keeps the film pacy – there are few slow points in the film – and now and again creates a certain sense of atmosphere. The basement where the corpse grinding happens is lit in reds and greens, giving it a strange visual feel that is oddly effective (it also looks familiar from other Mikels‘ films, including The Astro-Zombies) and he adds some flash frames that are also pretty good.
But the overwhelming feeling of the film is one of weirdness, not horror, with a strange grubbiness – most locations and people look decidedly run-down. How deliberate this is, I don’t know, but it certainly gives the film a curious atmosphere.
This cheapie certainly won’t appeal to everyone – it’s too damned eccentric for that. But if you have a taste for the more outré dimensions of early Seventies trash cinema, this will be a very tasty little treat indeed.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“Although the stock-cue soundtrack could have easily graced a Monogram cheapie from the forties, there’s a grubby, ghoulish kick to the proceedings, with it’s bundled up cadavers, low-rent interiors and bad-tempered, exploitive characters. Although the story is silly beyond the reach of sarcasm, there’s a pulp grossness to the film that’s weirdly charming.”Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA
“Bad, bad exploitationer, as stomach-churning as its title subtly suggests.” John Stanley, Creature Features
The Corpse Grinders was released as a Region free Blu-ray + DVD combo pack by Vinegar Syndrome on October 24, 2017.
• Newly scanned and restored in 2k from the 16mm negative
• Audio Commentary by filmmaker Elijah Drenner (American Grindhouse) featuring rare archival audio recordings from the private files of Ted V. Mikels and vintage Drive-In Theater announcements for “The Final Dimension in Shock”.
• “Ted Talks” – Archival Interview with Ted V. Mikels from 2007
• Stills gallery
• Reversible cover artwork
• English SDH subtitles
Buy Blu-ray + DVD: Amazon.com
Cast and characters:
- Sean Kenney … Doctor Howard Glass – The Toy Box
- Monika Kelly … Angie Robinson
- Sanford Mitchell … Landau
- J. Byron Foster … Maltby
- Warren Ball … Caleb
- Ann Noble … Cleo
- Vincent Barbi … Monk (as Vince Barbi)
- Harry Lovejoy … The Neighbor
- Earl Burnam … Mr. Desisto
- Zena Foster … Mrs. Babcock
- Ray Dannis … Mr. Babcock
- Drucilla Hoy … Tessie
- Charles Fox … Willie (as Charles ‘Foxy’ Fox)
- Stephen Lester … The Mortician
- William Kirschner … B.K. – Mort. Asst.
- Curt Matson … Paul the Stranger
- George Bowden … David the Intern
- Don Ellis … Factory Workman
- Mike Garrison … Michael
- Andy Collings … Donna
- Mary Ellen Burke … Annie
- Sherri Vernon … Wife
- Richard Gilden … Husband