Tuesday, May 9, 2017

#2,350. The Corpse Grinders (1971)

Directed By: Ted V. Mikels

Starring: Sean Kenney, Monika Kelly, Sanford Mitchell

Tagline: "the Corpse Grinders Turn bones and flesh into screaming, savage blood death!"

Trivia: The writer of this film, Joseph Cranston, is the father of Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston

When it came to dreaming up enticing film titles, writer/director Ted V. Mikels was an absolute master. Who wouldn’t want to see a movie called The Black Klansman, Ten Violent Women, or Astro-Zombies? Even if the films themselves weren’t all that impressive (I wasn’t a fan of his 1966 flick Blood Orgy of the She-Devils), Mikels sure as hell knew how to get your attention, and most of the time it worked to his advantage.

Take, for example, The Corpse Grinders; in an interview conducted by author John McCarty for the book The Sleaze Merchants: Adventures in Exploitation Filmmaking, Mikels claimed this 1971 film cost around $47,000 to produce and took in over $3 million at the box office! As for its quality, I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Corpse Grinders a “good” movie, but it definitely kept me entertained.

The Lotus Cat Food Company, owned and operated by Landau (Sanford Mitchell) and his partner Maltby (J, Byron Foster), has found a way to save thousands of dollars in production costs: instead of the typical ingredients, they use nothing but the finest human corpses to make their cat food! Aided by the ill-tempered Caleb (Warren Bell), a cemetery caretaker who provides them with all the dead bodies they can handle; and with the help of their trusty corpse-grinding machine, Landau and Maltby have cornered the pet food market, and are pulling in more money than they ever dreamed possible.

There’s only one problem: their cat food is turning even the most docile kittens into carnivorous beasts with a taste for human flesh! With dozens of attacks reported already, Dr. Howard Glass (Sean Kenney), who was himself nearly mauled to death by a cat belonging to his nurse/girlfriend Angie Robinson (Monika Kelly), begins to wonder if there’s a connection between Lotus’ cat food and the violent behavior of local felines. Together with Angie, Dr. Glass decides to look into the matter. But the closer he gets to uncovering the truth, the more dangerous his investigation becomes.

I’m not sure what percentage of The Corpse Grinders' $47,000 budget was dedicated to building sets and props, but I’m guessing it wasn’t much; the entire Lotus factory looks like a dank basement (including the office that Landau and Maltby share), and the “hospital” where Dr. Glass and Angie work is nothing more than a room in somebody’s house. As for the film’s main attraction, aka the dreaded corpse grinding machine, it may not look like much (according to Mikels, it was made out of plywood), but it gets the job done; bodies (underwear and all) go in one end, and a disgusting meat mixture comes out the other (The Corpse Grinders won’t be the most frightening horror film you’ll ever see, but the image of this ground meat pouring from the machine is sure to turn your stomach).

While most of the acting in The Corpse Grinders is less than stellar, both Sanford Mitchell (as the increasingly maniacal Landau) and Sean Kenney (whose Dr. Glass is the hero of the story) do, on occasion, manage to rise above the others; and there are enough oddball moments scattered throughout the film to keep things interesting (no explanation is given as to why Caleb’s wife, played by Ann Noble, walks around with a baby doll, treating it like it was a real child).

In the end, I didn’t enjoy The Corpse Grinders quite enough to seek out its sequels; the direct-to-video The Corpse Grinders II, released in 2000, was also written and directed by Mikels (an entirely different crew took the reins for 2012’s The Corpse Grinders III). But as “so-bad-its-good” movies go, The Corpse Grinders is, at the very least, unique, and that alone makes it a fun watch.


James Robert Smith said...

I remember the TV ads for this film when it came through Macon GA where I lived when I was about 13. The ads freaked me out. I would look at the screen and just think: "Holy shit!"

Jeff said...

This film just confirms what we have all long-suspected about cats.

I interviewed Sean K for a piece on his pivotal Star Trek appearance, and learned at that time of his incredibly sweet history in the business. He really represents a very specific time and place in American cinema.