Monday, October 17, 2016

RIP Ted V. Mikels (1929-2016)

Less than a month after the passing of Herschell Gordon Lewis, we must report the passing of another foundation block of 1960s exploitation cinema and showmanship: the irrepressible Ted V. Mikels, who died today in hospice at the age of 87.

He was born Theodore Vincent Mikacevic in the state of Oregon (where he made his first picture, STRIKE ME DEADLY, in 1963), but produced most of his work in and around Las Vegas. Mikels was best-known for such horror films as THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968, featuring Tura Satana), THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971), and BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS (1973), but he continued to make films till the very end, cranking out a CORPSE GRINDERS sequel in 2002, three ASTRO-ZOMBIES pictures between 2004 and 2012, and much more. He was also accomplished in other areas of exploitation: DR. SEX (1964), ONE SHOCKING MOMENT (1965), THE BLACK KLANSMAN (1966), THE GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS (1968) and THE DOLL SQUAD (1973, which established a set-up very similar to that of the later television phenomenon CHARLIE'S ANGELS).  Mikels also produced the notorious THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (1966), THE WORM EATERS (1977), and was the cameraman on John A. Bushelman's DAY OF THE NIGHTMARE (1965), Gerd Oswald's AGENT FROM H.A.R.M. (1966) and Bob Clark's CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972). The IMDb lists 25 directorial credits for him, as well as 31 production credits, and 16 as a cinematographer. His last feature was PARANORMAL EXTREMES: TEXT MESSAGES FROM THE DEAD (2015), on which he performed all three functions.

Mikels was particularly noteworthy for his cinematography, which made unusual use of garish color gel lighting. Mikels' work received its first notable attention in the 1986 RE SEARCH book INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS, which also profiled Lewis, Russ Meyer, Joe Sarno, Doris Wishman and others. Mikels lived and breathed show business; aware that his movies alone might not sustain interest, he made himself interesting, sporting a flamboyant waxed mustache, wearing a boar's tusk pendant, and lived for many years in a castle with a bevy of young companions in a polyamorous lifestyle. He was, above all, a rebel; as he told V. Vale in his INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS interview: "I'm not in the Director's Guild, not in any guild. I just don't want anyone telling me what to do, or what I cannot do." He was also the subject of a 2014 documentary, THE WILD WORLD OF TED V. MIKELS.

Of his movies, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES was recently issued on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, and THE DOLL SQUAD and MISSION: KILLFAST are out on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome. Many others are available not only on DVD but via streaming. Indeed, most are available for free streaming by Amazon Prime members.

Ted V. Mikels and Herschell Gordon Lewis at the Cinema Wasteland Convention, October 2002.
These guys. Say what you like about their films - really, how good they were is ultimately far less important than THAT they were. How much poorer the movies as a whole would have been without their anarchic glee.

Text (c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved by the author.

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