King of the Astro-Zombies: TED V. MIKELS interviewed
[Phone interview 2001, previously appeared on the online version of Trash Confidential, 2002]
When I was a kid I used to stare in awe at the video covers for The Corpse Grinders and Blood Orgy Of The She Devils. Even at that age I could tell that these were not simple cheapjack nickel-and-dime horror shows; that they belonged to a strange filmic universe where the most bizarre imaginings were possible. I would remember the name Ted V. Mikels. I would watch his films in a kind of giddy delerium all through high school and beyond. They were certainly not normal, the films I later came to know as “exploitation” - more like moments of joyous madness from the universe of Ted V. Mikels.
A poster contact in Sydney, Ari Richards, announced out of the blue that he was heading to work on Mr Mikels’ latest film, a sequel to his 1969 cult favourite Astro-Zombies called (appropriately enough) Mark Of The Astrozombies. My god, I though, he’s making a new movie! Little did I know that Ted never stopped working, and while film distribution may have changed since he ruled the drive ins in the 60s and 70s with films like The Doll Squad and The Worm Eaters (!!!), his enormous output was sitting there waiting for the uncharted world of DVD to claim him.
Thanks to Ari I emailed Mr Mikels and asked if I could interview him. From the moment I received his reply I understood why he is one of the best loved characters in the Trash universe; his warm, generous spirit makes and keeps friends instantly. He is also a walking encyclopedia of filmmaking from over fifty years in the business of doing it all: directing, producing, editing, distributing, right down to camera, stunts, lighting, dubbing (he was even the sound operator on the 1965 Ed Wood scripted nudie, Orgy Of The Dead!). Ted’s films all have an unmistakable feel; along with Russ Meyer and John Waters he is your living, breathing all-American auteur. Plus his films are entertaining as hell! Unlike most filmmakers working in the exploitation field, Ted really knows how to deliver the goods. And I know he hates his films being labelled “trash”, but I mean this in the most affectionate way: Ted V. Mikels is one of the all-time Trash Kings.
Our phone interview was in October 2001 and already so much has happened to Mr Mikels and his movies. I’ve included an Update section at the end of the interview, but for the most up-to-date information click on his website.
(Thanks to Mr Mikels for his time and infinite patience editing this interview and providing most of the artwork; thanks also to Ari Richards for Ted’s address and photos from his stint on the Mark Of The Astro-Zombies shoot)
Ted:Oh yes, all the time. Had another one this afternoon. And who knows, we'll talk further. Of course, there are a lot of people out there that want to make films but they really don't have a way to get started.
I guess everything is getting shot these days on Super-16 and High Definition Video. It must be changing the actual way that films are being lit and being shot and things like that.
The sad part about it is if people who are shooting video only rely on the monitor for their lighting, or rely on the iris and the camera itself for illumination, they bypass the art of lighting. And it looks like it. It's either crackling, sparkling, filled with jillions of little glitterspots, which destroy the look, or it's not lit properly at all so you have no definition. If they would learn motion picture lighting first, and then light for video, whether it's digital or non-digital, they would have a vastly superior quality. But they don't want to take the time to learn lighting. They figure the camera does it all, turn on the camera and take pictures!
I've just seen so many films recently that usually go direct to video, of course, and they look so lousy. It's like there's a whole generation of filmmakers that kind of started in the mid-Eighties onwards that have just forgotten how to actually make movies.
Well, many of them have never learned. It wasn't that they forgot, they haven't learned. A lot of people haven't learned yet that it takes something interesting to hold people's interest. They just can't shoot for their own satisfaction and think that everyone is going to like it. You've got to shoot for other people.
I guess they all consider themselves 'artists', and they must be beyond their audience!
Well, if they can afford to play and spend the money to do it for their own ego satisfaction then more power to them. But unfortunately most of these people are going to sit on their film and show it to friends after the barbeque, in the living room.
Yeah, it sounds like a really expensive home movie. You've got a fully functioning studio these days?
I do. I opened it nine years ago. For twenty seven years I was in Hollywood, officed at the studios, the major studios - Columbia Picture Studios, Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Allied Artists - my last office in Hollywood was in Universal Studios. I didn't care for Universal though - it was so big and so impersonal. I tell the story a lot of times that at Samuel Goldwyn Studios the guards would meet you at the gate and they would come out to the window of your auto and say "How are you, good morning sir" and all this sort of thing. Then they'd open the gate and you'd go in and feel like a king. But at Universal they'd give you a credit card pass so to speak and you'd drive around to the back side of the lot, you'd stick your card in a box and the gate opens and you don't see a soul... it was not fun. I liked the more personal greeting.... At Columbia Picture Studios it was the same way, they would meet you, talk to you for a bit, see how you are and how you're feeling. They give you a bit of personal attention. But in any event, my studio here is nothing like that. Mine is 2500 square feet - however, with a balcony covering about a third of it, it's so crammed with film-making stuff, all sizes of lights, grip equipment, cables, cameras, post-editing bays, but I can still move it around and build a set here and a set there. For each movie I think I average about three sets in the little studio, just clearing walls, clearing space, putting up walls, bringing in furniture, whatever's required. But it's very serviceable, and you know you really need a headquarters when you're making a film. You either have to work out of a studio, or work out of a place where you store all the equipment. At the end of a shoot everybody goes back to the edit bay to look at what you've shot, see what it looks like, what it sounds like. I love that.
So you're shooting on video these days?
Well, I'm partial to it now. I use lighting techniques that I learned and taught hundreds of other people over the years, and using those same techniques makes my footage look like film, it even looks like 35mm. In fact, in some cases I think it looks better! Makes me feel better anyway, becasue it doesn't cost a buck and a half per second! A dollar and a half a second is what I figure that 35mm costs. And I've got four 35mm cameras, a great big Mitchell BNCR - magnificent piece of equipment.. they're a quarter of a million dollars. Of course, they haven't made them like that for the last eighteen years or so. Then I've got three Arriflexes. But even with all that, I thought I would never say I now prefer video because I was also a DP with the two major unions in this country, IATSE in Hollywood and NABET. I was on the committee that would give questions to new people wanting to get their DP acceptance. And I'd put them through the quizes, along with a couple of other guys, both of whom got their Academy Awards. I thought I'd never ever say that I prefer video over film. I thought I would never see the day that I would say that, and here I'm saying it! I've got digital cameras, I've got my Beta-SP... and the nicest part about it is that you have the combination of double system and in a sense it's like single system. Because if you're miking everything properly, you're functioning like it's a double system. Like the digital cameras have sixteen-bit sound which is CD-DAT quality, and that even supercedes some of the old equipment that we used to record on. Now, the Nagra is fine. I have a Nagra 4.2, I love it, used it for a LOT of movies. But then you have to transfer it from the quarter-inch to 35-stripe to match the picture, sync it up in the sync-blocks, join your visual image of the slate clapping with the audio click, and then move on to the next step. It's a different world, there is a fascination to it, and editing on actual film will soon be a lost art.
So it sounds like your movies are taking about a third of the time to put together and edit.
Post-production averages three to four months. And that's on video OR on film. And in fact I think I can work even faster on film, because I used to do a complete breakdown, in other words you log all of your film and when you sync it and join it, you run it through the coding machines. Then you get ready to break it down, that whole period takes about two weeks. But from that period, give me two to three weeks and I'd have a rough cut of the whole movie. Then after the rough cut you start fine-tuning it, figuring where you're going to put in your effects, then you bring in your composer and let him get some idea of what kinds of music you're going to have to have. Then you start doing the audio effects. I always allowed twelve weeks for postproduction. Twelve weeks from when I could break down the joined coded picture image and audio track. So now on video it takes about the same. I think that if you average two and a half, three minutes for an edit session, that's pretty good. And that's about what you do when you edit film, although sometimes I guess I could work faster with film because I was so used to it. Using the old movieolas, you know, zing zing zing zing, stuff goes through, if you want to make a change you peel off the tape, insert or take out, and you're back in business. Not so with video! If you 're doing nonlinear video that's a different ballgame. And even though I bought a beautiful nonlinear system, I just can't get used to it. So I'm using some of the tricks that I used in making 'film' movies, and I've carried them over into my 'video' procedures, and so I've got a kind of a mixture.
So you'd almost be able to teach a course in how to make 'film' on video?
Something that is hard to teach is creativity. You can teach people the technical things, how to cut, when to cut, why to cut, what to cut to and what to cut from. But if they don't have that creative touch, it may not work. They like to think that because they took a long time making a shot they ought to use it in the edit. It doesn't work that way.
I always hear people argue that a director should never cut their own film, because they're always in love with their own shots.
For beginning directors, that's true. But after you've done it for thirty years, you get very hard and you say, nope, it just doesn't play. It's too long, it's what have you. One of the toughest things I've had to deal with personally is the continuity of the images. Where for example you show somebody walking to the door on the interior, then outside you get them coming out of the door, walking to their car, and backing out of the parking place and driving off. Now, the modern way of doing that is you show someone putting their hand on the doorknob, the next thing their hand is on the steering wheel driving down the highway. There's a lot of that.
Yeah, the jump cut.
That was the toughest thing for me, to discipline myself to do. To move on with those cuts, get the show underway. And no matter how ruthless you are, you can go back - I can go back to anything I've done, and I can cut it, I can cut the heck out of it. I've had a lot of people tell me, why don't I go back and recut some of my oldies, you know? I don't want to, I like them the way they are. That was what was representative of what I was able to do then, and maybe I could make it better now, but I don't want to change anything. I'd rather make a new movie!
Well you wouldn't ask Michealangelo to go back and cut the nose off David, would you?
So I won't go back and recut and rename my films A distributor friend called me about three days ago to tell me has some prints of Doll Squad. Well, when he released it in his terrority in Texas he wanted to call it 'Seduce And Destroy'! So I said okay, so he got another ten or twelve prints from me, and he changed the title, to 'Seduce And Destroy'. I'm not sure that anyone would know that was The Doll Squad, except that it has Francine York, Micheal Ansara, and all those people!
And looks suspiciously like 'Charlie's Angels', but that's another story!
And also, every once in a while somebody sends me a film, "Renegade Girls" or something like that, and they would send it to me saying "This looks strangely like one of your films." So I would open it up, and the only thing different about it was the first second of the main title, and after that it's "Directed by Ted Mikels, written by...", the whole thing!
They had just ripped it off. That's the way the world goes. If you call them on it, they say "Oh, we thought it was public domain."
So what do you do, spend thousands and thousands trying to get back a couple of hundred?
No, no, I don't. If I find somebody who's doing it illegally, I phone them up and I say, "Hey, I'm the writer, producer, director, I financed it, I edited it, I released it, I'm the copyright holder and the distributor. Now - tell me what rights you have!" (laughs) I've had to do that a few times.
So do you retain the rights to most of your films?
Well, the ones that I do on my own, yes. When I'm hired to make some for somebody else, I don't have those rights...Pictures like The Black Klansman, I have a piece of that, never saw anything of course. War Cat, also known as Angel Of Vengence, I spent nineteen months making that! And that was the only film I didn't decide to edit right away, because Jeff Hogue and his partner were trying to take it back to Oklahoma, to have it edited by their friends back there. It turned out, they shipped it back and forth, and it went through airline X-rays a number of times. I finally agreed to do it, and when I got it the tracks were magnetized. "Now get on the wagon honey" would sound like "clziztz clitztz kitzhz kitz!" What I did, rather than recopy, in other words make a new print of every spoken word of the film, and then have to code it, match it together with the track in sync, I went ahead and edited the picture with the garbled sound. Because I knew what it was, because I directed it, right? I made up a lot of the dialog on the spot, because we had some sort of a script to begin with. When I took on the picture to direct it, I just gave everybody lines to speak. So I knew basically every word that was spoken. Then, after I cut it, I had to go back and transfer only the portions where I used the actual take. Then I had to take a big thick magnifying glass and put it over the groundglass viewer on the Moviola and then on top of that I used double magnifiers so I could take a pair of lips and put a word to it like "Get - on - your - horse." I'd have to watch the movements of the lips with the magnifying glass, and listen to the sound so I could synch it up. That was I think the toughest job of any editing I've ever done. In the entire film I had to replace every word. In a studio that's what they call 'automatic dialogue replacement'. They run a loop, and the person would say "Now get on your horse and get out of here" and they'd play it for him or her, the actors, they'd play it two or three times, and the next time they'd record it. The person would say, "Now get on your horse and get out of here" and the director would say "Well you need to be a little bit faster than that." "Now get on your horse and get out of here!" And you'd do it four or five times. But at least it's in synch with what they're looking at. But that's not what I had to do. THAT was tough. Anyway, that's what takes time on a lot of movies. So that editing period was obviously more than ninety days!
So you said you had a piece of The Black Klansman and never...
At one time, I had a piece of half the movies in Hollywood! But it doesn't mean anything, I'll tell you there. Everybody thinks that having a piece of a movie is great. I don't offer pieces of movies anymore. I did too at a time, even to investors. You get a percentage of whatever, when everything is recovered, but you know, it's too difficult. The world of film has changed so much, I don't look for investors, I look for people who want to have fun. I tell them, you might lose every dime. They don't want to hear that. So they don't invest.
And if you make money, sometimes that's a beautiful accident.
Yeah, it is. That's what happened on the original Corpse Grinders. It happened on a few other films too. But it is an accident when it happens. You've got to remember, still there are many times more films that never recover their costs, than do.
Maybe ten years later, yeah.
I was explaining to someone just yesterday or the day before. If a film costs a hundred million to make, and it does 125 million at the box office, they'll be in debt for a long time. Because that 125 million at the box office is chipped away by advertising, television commercials, newspaper ads, radio, all sorts of promotions, then the theatres get their cut, distributor takes their cut... By the time it's applied against the cost of the movie, maybe only fifteen or twenty of that 125 million goes to recover the cost! So when I was in distribution, meaning of mine and other people's pictures, I figured about seven percent came back to the producer. Seven percent of box office gross.
That's incredible. When you think about that most movies today cost about seventy to a hundred million, your big studio films... and they just hope that one out of those ten is a blockbuster!
It takes quite a number of times the actual cost, in return at the box office, to make any money. The LA Times newspaper ran an article because on Midnight Express the people that made it had gotten Academy Awards and everything and three years later they still hadn't seen a dime! So Columbia Pictures got taken to task so to speak and within two weeks the producers got a cheque for two hundred and thirty thousand. And the picture had grossed two hundred and thirty MILLION, something like that. But they got $232,000, I think that's somewhere near the figure they got. But just 'sloppy bookkeeping', they just didn't get around to giving any money back to the producers! So that's happened to me a LOT. I'm about to help a friend who's writing a book on filmmaking. He's asked a lot of questions and if I answer them the way I'd LIKE to, these people that read this book aren't going to want to make movies! (laughs) If they think they're going to make a lot of money they're just dreaming.
You've got the rights to your films. Do you see DVD as being kind of like a new frontier, or do you think it's just...
Well, I think it is THE new frontier. About twenty five years ago I jokingly used to talk about having halograms on the middle of my dining room table, where I could see a movie of mine in full dimension. I've talked about that off and on and I think we'll see that day. I think a halogram on the middle of your dining room table giving you the full total multidimensional visual and audio of a movie one day will come. I don't know how they'd get around to putting cameras on a 360-degree circle without shooting the cameraman and all that, but maybe they could do a 180. And that still would be a pretty good halogram.
Taking a slightly different track, which film of yours do you wish you hadn't made? Is there one black sheep in the flock that you wish would...After we made Worm Eaters we showed it at 20th Century Fox. In the big screening room there,( I always had champagne screenings at the studios after my movies,) a good friend said, "Ted, let's take a little walk." So we walked around the lot there at 20th, and he said, "You know, Ted - is there any way you could get your name off of that movie?" (laughs) And people tell me that's their favourite one. The University of Washington rented it so many times, because it gave them more fun and more relief, people were going around and when someone did something stupid, they'd say "Worm him! Worm him!" They rented that film more than any other film. Of course, I never got a dime of that either. I don't know who they rented it from... but anyway it was their favourite rental.
Because that's on the Ted V Mikels shelf in the (Trash Video) shop. That's on video in Australia, and that's a very, very popular renter.
I'm trying to think. How did it get to Australia? There would be times I would make a deal, like I did a deal with somebody in London years ago, and I had made the deal for four of my films. I sent them all the prints and so on, and then they started selling rights all over Europe and who knows, the Far East and everywhere - but they didn't pay me! So I tried to cancel them, and they said "Well, we didn't have a good print of Girl In Gold Boots" and I said I shipped them a total of about six prints, but the only excuse they could offer was they didn't have a good print of Girl In Gold Boots'. So anyway I canceled the contract, but too many countries had already bought rights from THEM. THEY never gave me any money; and that's the story of the film business.
Amazing. Because I think they all came out on the same label (Star).
Well, I know I never got anything out of it, so that's the way it goes. You just can't track 'em all down. There was a company, I don't know it was Star or not, they put out some of my stuff. They made new jackets. They weren't like the jackets as you see on my website. My jackets on my website were all made from the one-sheets when I made the movie. It became the key art. But some of these people would made up new art, because they didn't have access to any legitimate source, so they'd make up their own.
You see some shoddy stuff out there.
I don't know Star at all, and I don't know who could have made a deal with them, and they may have paid somebody to be able to do whatever they do, but to my knowledge I never received a dime. The same thing in Korea. ALL my movies are in South Korea. Never sold one to South Korea, but they're all there. And again I've never gotten a dime.
The Black Klansman - that's the earliest of your films on video over here - and that was brought out by RCA Columbia.
Yeah. So if you never got to see any money from that, there's bloody crooks at Columbia!
Well, see, I made my deal with Joe Solomon. And I was supposed to get 15% of the profits. But even a year ago, when I talked to him, he's still alive, he said, well, they never did recover (laughs) And you know, when I made the thing, I made it for $55,000. Did everything, you know, produce, directed it, edited it and all. And in the first week that it played in Newark it hit $25,000 gross. ONE theatre, ONE week - and I had made the movie for $55,000. It's hard to say why it turns out that people are able to say, gee, we didn't make any money on it, so you don't have any comeback. I could just go down the list - a lot of movies I've made.
I'm sure it's heartbreaking if you actually sat down and make out a total of what you SHOULD have got.Yeah, well, look at Astro-Zombies. Never got a dime. Writing, producing, directing, shot half of it, editing, thirteen months there of my life. Never got a dime. However, they say live and learn. Anymore, I don't like to have other involvements. So I can just do it on my own. And then any money that does come theoretically will come to me. If any comes. But I don't mean to paint such a bleak picture of the business. Obviously I haven't done anything else but make movies for the last almost fifty years, evidentally there's something that has treated me okay . Advances from here and there, we sold Japan five of my movies for home video for a nice advance, like we sold France one or more pictures where they buy all rights, theatrical, television, home video, everything, for a given number of years. Usually not to exceed five years. And then some places you sell the rights over again after that time. So I can't really say it's been that bad to me.
I guess the lesson here is that there's a lot of sharks in the water.
Yeah, really. And then of course I've done a lot of things for other people where I got paid. Where you actually do something. If I'm hired to shoot somebody's movie, I get well paid for that. My film-making education has cost about twenty million dollars! That's true when you think about making a movie. I worked on a movie as co-producer, it was a three million dollar picture, but they spent $2,975,000 and came back to this country with half the movie not shot. So I finished that for pennies. I've done a lot of that. But those are the things that have kept me going. And a lot of them I didn't even put my name on them, like I don't think I have my name on Agent From HARM, yet I shot a third of it. Any time Joseph Robertson he sees me he runs up and throws his arms around me and says "This is the man who saved my life!" I don't have my name on Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, and yet I got it all going as the executive producer.
Yeah. Even though that's become a cult classic itself, thirty years down the line.
We put out all the original promos, we used to send people out of our sub-distribution offices with masks to parade up and down the street touting the movie and so on. But anyway, I was happy to spend a couple of weeks in Miami Beach helping guys learn how to light. I wasn't interfering with Bob Clark the director, he did a good job. But the guys who were trying to light it didn't have the know-how.
Tell me, how's Corpse Grinders 2 progressed?
Well, I have not yet put it out on a general release.
But it is finished?Oh yeah, oh yeah. In fact, I finished it last week of October. So I've had it out there. We thought we had a whole international deal on it, theatrical, the whole thing. It never came off. I guess the guy that was helping me put the deal together out of L.A. had confidence in this one particular gentleman who had been successful with some other projects and was going to go with this one. It turns out this guy had the big dreams but no way to make them happen. It costs like a quarter of a million dollars just to make the negative and prints and promotional advertising just to get it going.
(NOTE: Since this writing, a deal was struck with IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT, and CORPSE GRINDERS TWO was released on DVD in MAY, 2002.)
So this 35mm print's ready to hit the theatres?
I'm just sitting on all rights so far, but I'm offering it on my website, as a a pre-release, director's cut, limited edition, collector's signed copy. $24.95. But it's signed and it's a pre-release, so it will not interfere with the full release.... After the movie itself, there's a ten minute documentary on how I made the movie, where I walk through the bases, and show how I made the grinder teeth, all that. Did you see it?
No, I haven't seen it yet. Luckily there are no bootleg copies floating around Australia at the moment, you'll be pleased to hear!
Well, with Dimensions In Fear, I've done the same thing. I do not have a general release on it. I borrowed two thirds of a million dollars and did one martial arts action movie, 35mm, paid everybody well, spent almost seven hundred thousand dollars, and it turns out that I don't get a nickel from it either. I made a deal with a distributor with a guarantee, a twelve month guarantee and a twenty four month guarantee and never got a dime, never got a report, so I canceled them out. I did give them almost two years, though, nineteen months, and then that destroys the newness of a movie. So after that I decided the heck with trying to borrow three quarters of a million dollars to make a movie, I'll do them on video. They look just as good.
And do it for about a third of the price.
So you've got the sequel to Astro-Zombies in the planning stages.
Oh yeah, Mark Of The Astro-Zombies (MOTAZ). You'll get a lot of information when you go to my website. MOTAZ is, you can call it a sequel, but John Carradine was the mastermind behind trying to make these superhuman robotical people out of dead bodies. Well, in this one, I've got people coming off of asteroids - bad, bad aliens and good aliens. The bad aliens are trying to make these robots, these astro-zombies, because they can be controlled by email! (laughs) And so they give them these cyberspace signals to go out and kill . Their plan is to have these superhuman indestructible, robotical people, humanoids that bleed green ooze when they're shot plan to colonise Earth. Good aliens, from another asteroid, come in and put a stop to them.
So it's an intergalactic battle between good and evil.
It is except that it all takes place here on the streets instead of on Asteroid.
But it's got a lot of ambitious settings too. I need to get into George Bush's office (laughs), that's not going to happen, and I need to get into the E.R. room of a major hospital with about five surgical beds working. That's not going to happen either, so where I'm going to get all this stuff I don't know yet. I wrote it, but I've got about eight weeks now to get a handle on it all.
So Tura's coming back?Yeah. I wrote a part for her, not knowing whether I'd have her with me or not, because she lost her husband just a week before the last time I saw her. I actually put Tura's grandaughter, Danae, on lead camera with a three camera shoot when I did the Apartheid Slave Woman's Justice movie. But you don't have that there either.
No, I was reading about it in 'Psychotronic' and that sounds like a very nasty little piece!
Yeah, it is, it's gory. But anyway, Danae is Tura's granddaughter, and she has a natural knack. And so she was good. And of course the two other girls had never run a camera before at all. So to put together a movie that way is tough. But you end up doing a lot of things where you shoot a hand, a head, a leg, an arm, a movement through a door, and people in the end cut are interrelating, talking to each other and everything, and they weren't within two miles of each other during the shoot.
(NOTE: MARK OF THE ASTRO ZOMBIES was released in 2002)
That's the magic of filmmaking!
That's the magic, that's the part you can teach people. And a lot of people don't realise it.
So is Liz Renay doing anything in the new movie?
I've been trying to get over to her house for this last week, and yet I find so little time to do anything that I need to do... but in any event I'm going to go over there and we'll dream up something pretty good for her. Right now, I have a thought, except that she wants to have fun and do a little screaming and all that sort of thing. But right now, I'm thinking of making her the part that I haven't yet written, and that is the part of the editor of the newspaper that sends out Brinke Stevens to get the story with the video crew on the astro zombies who are cutting people up.
So she can bang the desk and smoke a cigar and scream a lot.
Storm around the room... and I'll talk about it with her. But she's very creative, and if I don't come up with something that she likes she'll help come up with something.
I'm a very big fan of Liz. I've got a lot of her stuff, going way back to that Ray Dennis Steckler movie that she made, The Thrill Killers.
Oh, she doesn't like to talk about that...
Anyway, she really loves talking about Waters' stuff.
Oh, I can imagine. Yeah.
In any event, she's a really creative person, and so I've got to get with her in the next few days to determine what kind of a part we'll have. I will also create something for Tura. It's thirty years after Astro Zombies, but she still has the power. She wants to kick some butt in MOTAZ - she said, "I don't want to be killed with a machete" .
So she can still fling it around - excellent.
I didn't want to take a chance on being late for your call, I have a script in a package ready to priority mail it off to her in Reno. But it'll go out tomorrow. So she'll have some ideas too. She'd like to get in on some action. I wrote, I think, a pretty good part for her. It's consistent with her type of character. She doesn't really kick butt... but you know I'll put a little bit of that in there somewhere.
And Doc Wendy?
Yeah, Doc Wendy will be a 'remote viewer'. Are you familiar with remote viewing?
Oh, remote - erm, no.
Okay. Remote viewing, they actually zero in, hone in on a latitude and a longitude on some place, wherever that location geographically might be, and through thought wave processes they can envision what's going on. The military is actually trying to take advantage of certain people's ability to do that, because they can zero in on an enemy and get an idea what he's doing without a spy plane and without anything else.
I think they've been used in the military for about fifty years now, I think.
Yeah, they have. And so Doc Wendy does it for real, and then she also teaches this spoon bending class...
Oh, so this is in real life?
Yeah, in real life.
Shanti is her theatrical name; Shanti danced in about every nook and cranny of the globe before she became a doctor. She came here out of Paris, to the LIDO Show in Las Vegas, and of course she's been here ever since. But then she's travelled the world since too. In fact, before I became close with her I hadn't travelled the world yet, so since we've been together I've travelled a LOT of places. A couple of trips each to Paris and Rome, and several to London and Hawaii and those kind of things. And I'd love to be able to do a film incorporating a lot of those areas, but now I would be absolutely obligated to shoot with the little digital camera. Not the REALLY little ones, but - I don't know if the Canon-XL1 has made it there, has it?
Ahh - I don't know.
The Canon-XL1 is a digital camera that has special Canon lenses, interchangeable of course, and it has image stabilization, it has a cassette about half the size of an audio cassette, and when I shoot with that and take it up into my bay, and I put it through a time base corrector, which separates the RGB, I put it into my Beta-SP and it's gorgeous. Gorgeous. But Beta-SP is my favourite. So in my bay I've got about every known media there. I've got one inch, and Beta-SP, and Beta, three-quarter and three-quarter SP, Hi-8, 8mm super-VHS and vhs... I've got them all.
Every current and redundant format known!
A very lovely model has to have a new VHS demo to send out, so she's coming in Monday and I'll whap out a little seven minute demo for her to send out. All she's got to start with is VHS of a commercial she's done. As they appear on TV, she videotapes them. A VHS video tape off is the poorest original material you can conceivably work with. But I'm going to do what I can for her, as much as possible.
Guess what, Andrew? I have now one hundred and eighty thousand dollars of credit card debt! I don't know what that translates to in Australian money...
Err, three hundred and sixty thousand...
Double, yeah. Our money's worth half of what yours is.
Wow. Well, $180,000 in credit card debt, because every time it seems like I need a new piece of equipment, the only way I can get it is on credit card. I don't buy new stuff, I buy it after it's down about 75% of its original cost. But you know, you take some of these Beta-SP machines, they're $60-80,000 each. And even when you buy them when they're six or eight or ten years old, they're STILL fifteen to twenty thousand dollars. It takes a lot of that stuff, and of course even though I'm working basically without financing, the money I am using is mostly coming from credit cards. I did make a deal for six of my old movies for DVD, and I got a cash advance out of that, but I've got a heavy nut. I've got a nut of approximately seven thousand dollars a month. So it eats me alive. I should be out looking to do commercials and all that, but everybody else that does these things has people out working for them. Out soliciting, and I don't do that. I don't have anybody out digging up work for me, and I am already twenty people trying to be thirty people.
So you wait for people to come to you?
Well - they don't come (laughs). There's too many big, big companies that have a number of employees out there beating the brush, banging on doors. Most of these people have come into Las Vegas in the last five to eight years. They've come in in droves, and they've brought enormous equipment packages with them. When I came here fifteen years ago, I had a grip truck - I still have it - a five ton grip truck, and brought my Mitchell BMCR, three Arriflexes, a complete post-production 35mm bay, all of the audio transfer equipment, audio sound effects, library, all of the movieolas, everything. And of course there wasn't a single other soul in this town that even dreamed of having a 35mm camera, let alone any post-production. It just didn't exist. And I still think, even as of today, the only 35mm equipment here is brought in from Los Angeles or elsewhere when it's needed, where it has to be rented. I don't think anybody other than myself has it. But who can afford to shoot 35mm film? When I do commercials now, I shoot on Beta-SP, I shot for one of the biggest casinos here, well one of best known. 'Arizona Charlies'. It was a Monday night football commercial. A look-alike like Hank Williams, gets up and plays the guitar; a lot of shots and dancing girls at the casino, a lot of stuff - I shot it on 35mm, but then you transfer that to Beta-SP and you edit. But things change so quickly. The big companies can put together large sums of money and buy anything they want. I can't do that.
What is it about Nevada, that attracted people like you and, well I guess, Liz. I mean, it's fairly obvious why Liz wants to live in Vegas. But people like Ray Dennis Steckler, Al Adamson...
Al didn't stay. He came for a little while, then he left. Ray is still here, and has a video rental store..
Where was he, towards the end?
Al was in Hollywood. In West Hills, or Hollywood Hills, wherever it was that he had built a home, I guess got into a conflict with the people that he had contracted to build it. He came into my studio, oh I guess it was a year before he met his demise; he wanted to shoot some in my studio and some on Mount Charleston... but you really have to be inventive to shoot here in Las Vegas. There's been a great misconception that all of the casinos welcome you with open arms and give you free rooms and free food and everything if you'll expose their casino in a movie. Not so any longer. At one time, thirty, thirty five years ago, a lot of that took place. But then there are a lot of scammers out there that misled the casinos into thinking that they would get a great benefit from being in their movie. Well, the movie sometimes would never get finished, or never get out, or if it got finished it would never get released. So the casinos really take a jaundiced look at everything. They want to know where it's going to play, what assurances they're going to have that it's going to play. And now what they want is money. The casinos get big money from letting studios come in and film. They may rope off a baccarate room and everything else for them, but they figure they make a thousand dollars a minute in that baccarate room, so they're going to charge fifteen hundred a minute for the film company to come in and shoot. That's kind of the way they work. So the state of Nevada does boast that the money that's brought in from these people that come here and film each year has gone up from when I came here. When I moved here it was about eight million, now it's like about a hundred and thirty million a year that they bring in on people who come in here to shoot.
But there are some notable things here in Las Vegas. For food, you can have a marvelous buffet for nine bucks, ten bucks, eleven bucks, sometimes even seven. And all the food that you consume, you couldn't buy for five times that money. All the casinos have buffets, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Because they're all competing against each other I guess.
What they do though is they get your money out of the little gambling machines! You might go in for a nine dollar buffet, but you might blow forty dollars on the slot machines. So they do not make money on the food, they figure they can lose so many dollars on it. And yet the casinos are getting bigger and bigger and bigger, the city has gone completely theatrical, it's like a Disneyland gone crazy, you know, with all the casinos like the Bilagio, the Venetian, the Monte Carlo, the Caesar's Palace, I mean they even have artifical skies. Like the Venetian, with the canals they've got inside the casino, the gondola boats with the guy singing to the man and his girlfriend sitting in the boat, you'd think you were in Venice. But they've recreated all this stuff inside. So this is the theatrical ploy that they've brought in, it's exciting.
It just must be a wild place to live, you know, you don't get too jaded living in the middle of it?
Well, you don't live in the middle of it. There's a whole city - any which direction you go off of the strip now is built up. When I moved here there was about 258,000 people - now it's a million and a half. Fastest growing city in the world, all the streets are jammed, no matter which one of the city streets you take to go across town, they're all jammed up, the traffic has gotten terrible. It grew too fast. Other than the fact that in summertime for three months it's insufferably hot, like probably 108, 110 degrees Fahrenheit here today - stifling hot!The trick is, don't get out of your car!
I used to hunt with a bow and arrow up on Hart Mountain in Oregon all the time. And I always had some dumb pickup truck to go camping in, with a camper on it, and half the time it would break down in the middle of the desert coming back. And you'd step outside to see if you had to cool off the engine or put in more water or whatever, and you'd hear rattlers ALL OVER THE PLACE! And you can't see 'em, because it's pitch black and oh man that was scary. But that was Hart Mountain, in my hunting days. There was a LOT of snakes up there. But you know what? Of all the snakes that are caught, and all the snakes that are run over, and all the snakes that are dug up from under rocks or something - of all the hunting I've done, I've never seen a live snake out in the open.
In attack mode.
I've seen them crossing the road, when you're driving and so on, but I've never seen one while hunting - and I have walked hundreds of miles through rocks and stones and canyons and crevasses. I've hunted where snakes THRIVE, and I've still yet to see one. Of course, I quit hunting years ago, that bone I wear around my neck is the last remnant of my hunting. No-one's ever seen me without it. It's even on the website.I'm really fascinated when you told me that Alex Joseph And His Wives hadn't been released in America. I thought it was quite unusual that Australia manages to get it. So I was just wondering if you could tell me the story of Alex Joseph.
Well, Bill Thrush was the one who kicked off my movie Blood Orgy Of The She-Devils in San Francisco as a sub-distributor and theatre owner and a manager. We became acquainted, and about five years later he wanted to make a movie, and so he was all enthralled with Alex Joseph and the fact that he lived out in the desert with seven or eight wives then, and was teaching them how to shoot. So I went to meet with Alex and his wives with Bill. We spent about two months, and we did a screenplay with Alex, Bill Thrush and myself writing. We met all the girls and made three trips up there in the following months, making preparations, then we did the movie. Bill was going to be producer, and then he realized how much work there was to it. He said this was before we started; then decided to be the executive producer. Bill was a big fellow and he wasn't ready to race up and down the hill. I loved shooting, it was really a pleasure, I had a nice crew, a collection of guys that have been working with me for a number of years; John Curran, who was my production manager on Corpse Grinders, Blood Orgy..., Doll Squad , and helped me on a number of shoots for other people. Anyway, he was my production manager up there, first A.D., and it was a fun shoot. But somehow or other, Bill Thrush got into some disharmony with Alex and his family - Alex's mother, ex-wife, whatever - and they'd all come up with some money and Bill somehow or other got cowed a bit and they just had a falling out. And there were a lot of people from South Dakota, the Indians that were in the movie, and they were bringing real guns and firing guns all the time, and it spooked Bill. So he got himself a 45. You know it's a funny thing, we all wore pistols at the time - I wore a 38 on my hip all the while I was there, from the first day to the last day, it took place over a year. Anyway, one day the whole crew and a bunch of the guys, the Indian guys that were in the company, and Alex, a whole bunch of people were shooting at this can, which was about, I don't know, a little longer than you'd want to fire a pistol. About 55, 60 yards out on the dirt cloud, you know. And so they said, okay Ted. I pulled out my pistol and I laid down on that thing and BLOOEY! I blew that can away! It was a freak accident. I stuck that gun back in my holster and I never had to take it out again! That was funny. We had a lot of good times, a lot of roasts, in fact our cast party was essentially the last part of the picture, that big fire there and so on. And then I ended up with that big cranking firepit, brought it to my castle, my castle in Glendale and put it in my backyard.
But anyway, Bill had made a deal, I was going to get a deferred director/producer/writer salaries and so on, and it was supposed to take place within three years. Well, there was such a controversy, and a battle between Bill and Alex, that Bill just kind of disappeared for three years! So we did try to get the film out, but Bill got to the point where he thought people were taking from him, like Paramount. Some dear friends at Paramount made an arrangement to show the movie - well, that's what we made it for! Bill got thinking that the guy was going around behind him, getting the movie played. Well, it wasn't true at all, but nevertheless there was a little bit of paranoia there. Then there was a little bit of political stuff in it, that the people that were handling my films said, "Ted, what have you got that political stuff in there for?" I said, "Well, that's Bill's movie, I had to do what he wanted. I tried to talk him out of it, but couldn't." So that never really made it in this country. Of course, now they just brought an indictment and a guilty verdict on this guy named Gredvez with eight wives in Utah right now. They may put him in jail for twenty-five years! For doing the same thing that Alex did. Alex was going on television and so on, but I think with Gred he's got twenty-eight children with eight wives, but he made himself a little bit too visible. And that's what the prosecutor said. At one he time used to defend polygamists, now he's the prosecutor that is working to put this guy in jail. And he said, he just took too visible a stand. But there's thirty thousand-plus polygamists in Utah!
Well, that's what the Mormons are all about.
Yeah, and of course when I had my castle I had seven and eight girls living with me, but you know it was a little different - I wasn't having babies with them! (laughs) But anyway, it was nice, because I was teaching the girls how to make movies and so on, but there's a lot of controversy about that. You know, about one guy having eight women at a time, living with them. And you had to be on your guard, so that people didn't call you a cult or a demon and all kinds of stuff.
Oh God. I suppose everyone's gone a little crazy since Waco.
Yeah. So anyway, people that ask me do I miss my life at the castle, well, no. I'm still friends with a great many of the girls that used to live there, but I wouldn't want to deal with people's attitude about that now. They'd think it's wrong for several women to co-habitate with one guy in one house.
So you're now a one woman man?
Yeah. Shanti's a very brilliant lady, she's got about five doctorates. She has private practice, as a medical psycho-therapist. She's maintained her very youthful figure, which is good. If you haven't seen Corpse Grinders 2 she plays Felina, and she does this really neat martial arts kick in there that's funny, three guys attack her - well she wears a lot of gold, in the movie we left the gold on her, and they were going to rip off her gold, and she beats them up!
She's an alien woman in that one?
Walks away, without even a second thought.
She plays an alien, is it a leader?
She is Felina, from the planet Ceta. She's the only one who takes a visible place here on Earth, whereas Borak and Ubok stay in the spaceship, waiting for her to find food for the starving catpeople of Ceta (laughs).
Oh, the catpeople... fantastic. Once upon a time you said that you don't like your films being labeled as "trash". Even though, when you think about it, your career was kind of cemented with Astro-Zombies and Corpse Grinders. And I mean, these are two films, they're gems in the trash culture treasure chest, you know what I mean.
They didn't begin calling films trash or junk or B-movies until only these later years. Now, even though people have said to me, "Ted, you must feel good about it because 35 years after you made a film, people are talking about it like you made it yesterday, and there are 100 million dollar films that are forgotten in two weeks! You must feel good about it." And I said, "Well, the only thing is when you put your mind, body, heart and soul, physical energies, abilities, talents, whatever, AND your money AND all your life's time, your life's blood, you don't like to have them belittled, you know, when people call them trash." But then, people are saying about a film being really a BAD movie, they're not saying a 'bad' movie; they're saying bad, but with the terminology that hey, it's great. So the terminology is what has changed. If you had called the films, when they came out, 'trash' films you'd have had a battle on your hands...
Oh, I know! They would have ended up in the trashcan, yeah.Yeah. For example, Girl In Gold Boots. No way anybody could call that a trash film. Strike Me Deadly is the same. I've made a lot of films that are totally out of the leagues of Astro-Zombies. I mean, they're in a different world. Or even Doll Squad is in a different world, a different place. There's no real gore or anything like that in them. But yet they've been shown again and again. I've heard from a magazine in Denmark, they want to do an interview very shortly. They talk about my films in Denmark. Of course I never sold my movies there but... (laughing) My films are everywhere! My figure is that my films around the world have probably generated a half of a BILLION dollars in all the theatrical sales and all that, and almost nothing has come back.
Incredible, isn't it? But twenty years ago you had people like the Medveds labeling Astro-Zombies one of the fifty worst movies of all time and that sort of thing. But it's probably people like those who have fostered this whole thing called trash culture. And people who are into trash culture, or psychotronic culture as Michael Weldon calls it - it's really a celebration of stuff that SHOULD be bad but isn't. You know what I mean? People who watch trash can distinguish between a very, very entertaining film, and just a bad, unwatchable film. It's the unwatchable stuff that never makes it into the annals of trash.
That's true. I have a lot of people sending me their films, and most of them I can't watch more than five or eight minutes of them, because they're not a movie! And what those people have not yet learned, is how to make a movie! They've exposed some footage and put it together and think everybody's got to love it because they made it. Doesn't work that way.
Or because it has some sort of campy B-grade content. They think that it automatically qualifies as a 'cult' movie.
I know people who've made lots of these and are still waiting for one to become some form of acceptable, you know. But when I think about films like Girl In Gold Boots and Strike Me Deadly, Doll Squad, Mission: Kill Fast, Dimensions In Fear and so on, they're in a different, totally different category than Corpse Grinders 1 and 2 and Astro Zombies. Blood Orgy... is kind of in between - it's a witchcraft movie, but they've made it kind of like a cult thing, they have midnight shows in San Francisco, I know it's became very popular like that - never made anything out of that either! (laughs) But anyway, when I did Chad about a boy on a farm and so on - these things just don't take off. In fact, I did one for a company in the midwest and I was D.P. and I had a huge crew of at last forty. And it was really a pleasurable thing, and I shot and was responsible for every foot of the film. And we went up in small planes and shot the Capitol Dome, the gold dome of the City Hall - just a marvellous, marvellous film. And it's written by Henry Farrell, the guy who wrote Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And it's called The Hostage, it's about a little boy who inadvertently climbs aboard a moving truck while his parents are moving - I don't know if you're familiar with the film.
Anyway, he gets in there, and the movers are kind of burly, brusque kind of characters, but unfortunately for the little boy, he gets locked inside this thing, and there's this big, not a trunk, but an ardmore in there, that these guys got into a big fight the night before at a drinking party and killed one of the guys, and they're going to dump him along the way out in the forest. So here's the little boy now, the whole city is looking for him, and he's stuck inside this van, this furniture moving van. And of course it crashes, but at that point the boy is gone, he's made his escape. Anyway, probably my best cinematography of my life. Technicolor said it was the most beautiful photography, cinematography that they had had there in three years. That was a BIG compliment. Anyway, I took it all very seriously and I loved it. But the fact of the matter is the world wasn't ready to become entranced by the little boy who got lost. It just didn't cut it. Such a work of effort... And I shot a 35mm feature for one of the castle ladies, called Knee Dancing, and she got an award in Paris . She had a hard time trying to get a release theatrical, and when she did , she never got anything out of that. It sounds like I'm really putting down the marketing of any films. I don't know, I hope that DVD will maybe make it change, because I've got a lot of people who are waiting for the first six that the DVD people are putting out of mine, starting September. The last week of September they'll be releasing Corpse Grinders and Blood Orgy... The next month they're putting out Doll Squad and Girl in Gold Boots. Then the month after that they're putting out Ten Violent Women and The Worm Eaters. All DVDs. So if they do any real business with them, I'll have a royalty that will come, and I'm sure dealing with them that if I deserve a royalty, I'll get it! We'll see. But I do see where the stores are beginning to move out of VHS.
I've heard that in America it's almost entirely DVD now.
Everywhere you go it's DVD. So I'm wanting to make a DVD deal on all the rest of my movies. And I want to do it on Corpse Grinders 2, which is vastly beyond Corpse Grinders with production and everything else.
Well, that's right, one could lead to the other.
I'd like to put them in the same company, but they're not ready to do it again, they want to see how the first one's going to go. Nobody knows. We did make a deal in London to put out Doll Squad on DVD, so it should be about ready to come out.
A lot of filmmakers are saying that DVD is sort of like the third phase after theatrical and then video, then they've kind of got a third wind of their careers.
And they're enjoying the various, how we say, additives. Like I brought home from the studio a DAT that I recorded while watching without listening to Corpse Grinders. Kind of a narrative. And they will put that on as an alternate track.
You mean a director's commentary?
I wasn't too pleased with my commentary. I guess I was trying to hide the fact that I had no money to shoot the movie, and didn't want to keep saying that. So I asked the people that are going to be putting that on the track, a couple of days ago, and they said no, you can talk about it. Whatever took place, do it. I feel kind of bad that in order to shoot in people's houses, we couldn't pay them, so one of the poorer families was be living in a little two story kind of a ramshackle little place in an area of town where there were no expensive homes. We gave them a Thanksgiving turkey - no, a ham! - because they had a lot of kids, and no money, and we couldn't pay them. Anyway, just little stuff like that. And Blood Orgy... I had a little more money, but still pennies by comparison. And Doll Squad I had the biggest. Probably the saddest thing that ever happened to me was on Doll Squad because MGM wanted it. MGM was going to give me an international deal. And they looked at it three times, and when they got to the fourth time, they called me as I was driving home from the lab that night. My secretary said, "The studio said MGM wants the print." I said, "How do they know, I've still got it in the car, I've just got it back from the lab, I just finished looking at the first answer print." Well, in order to get the last money, the last $36,000 to finish the picture, I had to give certain privileges to my sub-distributors around the country. The sub-distributors helped come up with the last thirty-six grand.So I gave them the right to merchandise the film to theatres in their territory. So then when MGM called back after about two hours, they said, "Okay, we'll take the deal." And it would have been a fantastic thing for me, the biggest thing in my life. The cash advance was three and a half times the money I had in the film. And then it was an international release deal... But I had to tell them sorry, I gave away the rights to most of the country. The guy on the phone, he said, "What rights are left?" And I said, "Well, foreign." He said, "We'll get back to you." He rang back in a half hour and said, "Well, we can't make the deal for just foreign. So good luck, we'll check you on your next movie." (laughs) That was it. Sad time. They would have put promo, probably would have given me the bucks to go in and do some other things that I wanted to do, you know, make Doll Squad bigger, better, more marketable, more salable, really build on it. Like Blair Witch Project, made for about tweny cents. I got a kick out of Chris Rock - when you see my resume you'll see I did a little thing for Chris Rock that he took back to New York and I think that helped him get his show. But in any event, Chris Rock when he was at the awards, he said "Well, they say that they made this film for fifty thousand dollars, the Blair Witch - but I want to know what happened to the other forty-nine thousand!" (laughs) I thought that was the funniest thing he ever said. But you see that's scaring a lot of people now, because they did it once. They put a hype on the movie, and the thing just did fantastic business, made a lot of money. Then they tried it again and lost everything.
But I think a lot of people will keep trying that, trying to strike gold twice.
Trying to strike gold - but they won't have anybody that's going to put the kind of money, Harvey Weinstein spent ten million dollars telling the world it was a movie. And that's what got them their business. But you can't cry wolf again.
The lead actress in Blood Orgy - Lila - she's a very bizarre character.
Oh, she's fantastic. Lila, or Liza, as I call her, Lisa is just one of the most dear people, and her husband Rick, they're just very special people. Her movie name is Lisa Turner; her real name is Lila Zuboren. Natalie Wood brought her out from New York in her early days in Hollywood, and how we came across her was, I was at Columbia Picture Studios interviewing people and I didn't really have anyone that I thought could do that part. So the guard down below, the guard at the entrance down there, they make everyone sit down there, producers, directors, whatever, until they tell them they can go up, you know, up into the studios upstairs. I had an office between Stan Kramer and Irwin Allen - do you know those names?
Right across from my door, four feet away, was George C. Scott. Stanley Kramer on my left was the next door and Irwin Allen on my right. Anyway, so the guard calls from down below and he says, "I think there's somebody down here you should see." And I said, "Just a minute, I'll have my friend Paul come down." Paul went down and walked past her, then walked back up and said, "Ted, she's very, very different looking, better tell the guard to send her up." So we called the guard back and we said, "Would you have her come on up to my room on the third floor?" Anyway, he sent her up and of course she became THE lady. And she's such a fantastic actress. Since then - I don't know about before then , but she had done quite a number of one woman shows. Marvelous person, good friend. We don't get to see them as much as we used to. Used to come to the castle all the time. Just a nice, nice girl. But very strong actress.
Talking about strong actresses, do you ever feel honoured that out of the three movies that Tura Satana did, two of them are yours?
I do. It's when you have females in your life, you have to go about very cautiously when you bring other females into a picture where these females are very strong and there's a physical attraction and everything else. I probably could have used her more often and done bigger, better things with her physical activities and her physical prowess, but I had other ladies that didn't want to be overshadowed. Does that say it very simply?
That's very good. How did you actually run into Tura?
Long story. In 1959, with my three buddies, we planned to fly in a little Cessna 180 to Matsatlan Mexico. One of them was a hotel owner, one was a Standard Oil guy, and one was a doctor. One of them, the guy that owned the hotel, had a Cessna 180. And I'd never been anywhere in a small plane. He didn't have nightflying experience.I had a nightclub at the time, was making movies, and I took a camera and we flew down to Mexico. On the way we stopped at Vegas. And I saw Tura's act at the Silver Slipper, with her long hair and all that. Man, I was just overwhelmed, to say the least. And then after the show - I stayed to see it twice - and I saw this little tiny toddler sitting on her neck, hanging onto Tura's ponytail, and walking out of the theatre. And at that time she was doing a dance with twirls on her nipples, you know. Anyway, quite an act, very physical. I didn't meet her until about six years later. Somebody said maybe you should interview Tura. And I said okay, have her come in. So she came in, wearing the same clothes she wore in Faster Pussycat! and I said, "Well, that wasn't quite the look I was looking for" but anyway we became very, very fast friends. I'll leave it that simple. And that little girl, who was then seven years sat in my chair next to me and behind my desk at the studio while I was watching over her, and that little girl has still been in touch. That's how it happened. I had to change Tura from what she was in Pussycat to be a real dragon lady.
She's an even bigger one in (MOTAZ) too! A lot of people are fascinated by that. The more bitch, the better. Her personality is different than Doc Wendy, so intelligent, so well scholared, and so learned, with her having been a world wide dancer in ballet, World Academy of Dance, it's different for her than Tura. But people are taken with her too, because she's very unusual looking. The trailer is on my website too, for Corpse Grinders 2. But she's also been in Kill Fast, Dimensions In Fear, she played a spy in Kill Fast, gets a bullet between the eyes.
I can't wait to meet her. How did Worm Eaters come about?
Herbie Robbins always wanted to make a movie. He did a part for me in Doll Squad, where I put him behind a closet door and I said, "Now you don't come out until you hear me yell 'Herb', right?" So I put him there, and we were filming, filming away, and about 45 minutes later the door opened and he said, "Ted? I need a drink of water..." (laughs) I forgot he was in that closet! That whole while, I forgot he was in the closet. I felt so bad about it. Four years later, he said he had done this script called The Worm Eaters and I said - no, he hadn't done the script yet, he had an idea - I said, "Herbie, if we show people eating worms, live worms going in the mouth, I'll make it, just for the sheer lunacy of it." And that's how that happened.
Herb was the star?
Herb was the star.
He's the old guy who grows the worm people.
We had a lot of fun with that. But it's odd, it's the only one of all of those that I didn't personally direct, although I'd go on the set, I was editing the Al Joseph movie then. Unfortunately I'd come to the set at three in the afternoon, seven o'clock in the morning call-up, and he hasn't shot anything yet! So between three thirty and sundown I would mastermind the whole shoot, gang crew, the whole thing, otherwise the day would be lost. But it was a fun thing, and Herbie is a good friend. A very fine talent and a good friend.
And he's still around?
Oh yeah, I just talked to him the other day. I sent him ten copies of Worm Eaters to give to his friends!
There's one film that you never seem to talk about. And I guess it's because you probably try to forget the 'nudie' period.
Which is that?
Oh yeah! That was one of my partnerships with Wayne Rogers.
Wayne Rogers from 'M.A.S.H.'?!
Yeah, same guy.
We did three projects together. We had done a little educational film together, he'd doubled his money quickly and thiswas just after he saw my film Strike Me Deadly, where he thought that I was some kind of a genius. Anyway, he thought I should go to London where they appreciate people who can write, produce, direct, shoot and edit, instead of Hollywood where they think you're an egomaniac. Anyway, so we put together that little story . We came up with these funny names, like Doctor Putz, Doctor Schmutz... he was a psychologist, and he was treating these people with these disorders. And so this one guy came and he was telling him he was a window dresser in a store. Are you familiar with the story?
I've only ever read the story, I've never seen the movie.
So he sits there and he talks to them, and he feeds them and enjoys their company. And then he said somebody came to him, he had a house. And he tried to get work done and these women would appear, without tops on. And they'd be housecleaning with their aprons on, and all that, and doing things for him. He said he didn't understand where they came from, so the doctor tried to console him and tell him it was all his imagination. But the doctor buys the house from him! And at the end he's got this party going with all these women without tops, they're vacuuming, they're serving him drinks, they're blowing balloons up and having a real party, and he sees they're all figments of everybody's imagination! They're gorgeous girls, there's no sex in it, nobody has anything to do with anybody, the girls are almost like appearances of ghosts, though they're very real and not transparent. Very pretty girls.
But I mean, that first five years of nudie films were about '59 to '64. I mean, they really do have that kind of goofy innocence about them.
Well, like the little dog, the French girl's dog, that talks like a man, you know and so on. Cute stuff. We didn't call it a nudie then. Fact is, we were so apprehensive of even putting our names on anything that had a bare bosom in it, that all of us used a funny name! I used Theo Micachecki - and I still call my composer Nico Caracas! And these people have done some big marvelous international works, you know. So we only used funny names.
The Black Klansman. That's the first of your movies that's actually on video over here.
It did big business in the theatres.
Oh yes. Big, big, that's what I was telling you about, I made it for $57,000, it made $25,000 in one week in one theatre in Newark. I was shooting this picture called The Hostage in DeMoines Iowa, and I had this conversation with Joe Solomon. He called me and said, "Give me a budget on this thing I want you to write." I said, "Well, I'm shooting this movie," I couldn't give him a budget, so right while we were talking I opened up a paper napkin and I wrote down so much for film, so much for developing, so much for cutting, the whole thing. And I came to $55,000. Joe asked me if I would write it. I said well I can't write it, but I've got two friends that are good writers. Both of them had a enormous identification with the South, they were both from Texas. They grew up in an area where they totally understood all about black culture and so on. So anyway, I gave a budget, and he says, well, when you get back we'll get started. So I started my two friends on writing the script, and within three weeks they came up with a script, it was a good script, and I had told Joe I want a good harmonious ending where we show people of all cultures getting together and learning to live together in comfort - "something good could come of it." So in any event we went to Bakersfield, we dug into a hotel there that had some burned out rooms and so on, we took the bar up, we shot there, we shot at the canyon, we shot at the river. I had extras under hoods, the white things, the KKK thing, I had about forty extras, and we had this HUGE thirty foot cross on fire, and people reported there was a KKK thing going on in the canyon, down along the river. The sheriffs and the police guards converged on us - and we're making a movie! Of course, nobody knew we were making a movie. And then I had the guys in the white robes take off their outfits, and they were all black people! (laughs) We made national Wire-Photo news on that one. We had a lot of fun on that.
It seems like that whole era of the civil rights movement, that's just ripe for filmmaking.
Yeah, yes it was, it was good. It was a tough shoot, a lot of fog, a lot of really late night stuff. But Joe Solomon said, "You can't bring it in on budget" and I said, "Well, I think I can." He said, "I tell you what - you bring it in on the day you say and I'll give you a bonus of five hundred bucks." Would you believe the morning of the last day, we had finished the movie and he handed me a cheque for five hundred bucks. That was my bonus, because I brought it in on time and on schedule, the whole movie.
The Undertaker and His Pals. That would have been a fun thing to be a producer on.
Well, I wasn't the producer on it. I released it, I recut it, the guys who produced it had something nobody wanted. All the distributors, all over Hollywood - they couldn't get anyone to touch it. Well, I was about to form a distribution company in 1966. So I took it on and everybody said I was nuts, some people said it'll never play in theatres, so I recut it. I did some changing around, took out some stuff that went too far...
Because it really does play as a comedy.
It wasn't so much comedy before, it was just gore. I didn't like the gore, it was a lot of hospital footage of operations, stuff like that.
Wow. So they were trying to outdo someone like Herschell Gordon Lewis?Well, they were. That's exactly what they were trying to do. I didn't like that much gore. I cut it down to about sixty, sixty-one minutes. I took out half of the film almost! Anyway, I put it out, and was successful with it, it got outlawed in Washington and wherever, a few other places. It did some business. Astro-Zombies and Corpse Grinders played with it, first with Astro-Zombies taking the top of the billing, and then it came out with Corpse Grinders, with Corpse Grinders, Undertaker... and The Embalmer.
That old Italian thing.
Yeah, I got that from Allied Artists, I bought the license to distribute that. Then I had to end up buying fifty prints of the movie to play with my others. There's something that I noticed. I've never actually seen Scam, but I noticed that the scam that was featured behind the scenes of the film ended up in Bowfinger. Did you see that film?
There's something that I noticed. I've never actually seen Scam, but I noticed that the scam that was featured behind the scenes of the film ended up in Bowfinger. Did you see that film?
Oh, I know the film, but I didn't see it.
They actually try a similar scam. The filmmakers in the film try a similar scam, where you've got to pay $25 to audition for a film.
That's probably where they got the idea. Because the guys that were down one door from me would charge people, and then they said they were going to introduce them to directors and producers, and they'd take the twenty-five bucks and they'd walk them over to MY door, twenty feet away! But you know what? One of the guys, the stunt man who was doing a fall off the top of a building, had a pistol in his hand and he did his flip and landed on the mat all right - but the hammer of the pistol hit him in the middle of the forehead and gashed him open. I butterflied it right on the spot and they took him off to the doctor. The doctor told him that whoever did that really knew what he was doing.. They didn't even need to stitch it. So that guy became my stunt coordinator on the next several movies. And we're still friends.
I'm sitting in my living room, and I am seeing what looks like a museum. Bits and pieces...I had a collection of a hundred and five swords at one time. When things get tough and I can't buy film, I sell some swords. I have pistols all over the walls, and armour, I've got a cannon sitting down here in front of me, I've got collectables coming out my ears. And my lady is perturbed that I have all this stuff sitting around, and I'm always fighting, struggling for financial survival. So I'm going to tell my web guy to put some collectibles on e-bay. I've got a matching pair of throwing tomahawks -they balance, nice balance for throwing - from Blood Orgy. So I'm going to have him put those on the website, and a few other things that are stuck underneath tables that you can't even see. I've got an elephant ceremonial chain from India, underneath the coffee table. All kinds of stuff like that.
Oh, I could imagine that castle would have been the perfect setting for it.
Well, when you see Blood Orgy..., I shot most of it in the castle. And some of Corpse Grinders. And on the grounds. In any event, I've got so much stuff that you couldn't haul it in with a truck. It took nine five-tone moving vans to move me here from Hollywood. That was fourteen years ago. Now I've got about five times more stuff than I had back then. Just tons and tons of it. I've got nine mannequins.
Oh my god!
I can't let them go! Ever since that movie, that was what started me collecting mannequins, Dr Sex (laughs). Because you couldn't rent one Nobody wanted to rent them. You had to buy them. I've been buying mannequins ever since. At the castle, I had nine mannequins, now I've got nine mannequins in my house! No - I've got about five in the house, the other are stored awayin my studio. But you know what? They become very real to you after a while. People don't understand that. I've got several up in my room, and as crazy as it may sound, they've taken on personalities.
I'm sure they would, after what, thirty something years.
Yeah, really. Cynthia is the one that would sit on the couch at my office at Columbia Picture Studios. People would come in and say "Hello," that's how it all started. Then I got one that was sitting on a barstool at the bar, with a champagne glass in her hand, and people would talk to her! So that's how I got onto it; it blows people's minds when they realise that they're mannequins. That's when I decided that I'd get a bunch of them! (laughs)
So they're kind of like the new 'ladies'.
Yeah, they really are the ladies. Hey, by April, Corpse Grinders 2 may be taking off, because I have not really released it. And Dimensions In Fear could be also. Mission: Kill Fast I don't know yet, it's not a cult movie, it's more martial arts. In any event, the Apartheid Slave Woman's Justice pic has got a limited market, because it's an all-female, black female cast.
Yeah. But that sounds like pure exploitation.
Oh, it is.
There HAS to be a market for it!
I play the bad guy. They kill me.
What happens to you?
They trample me.
Yes, because I was a murderer, I murdered their brothers, I hung them, I shot them, I raped all the women, I owned all the land, I misused everybody.
So you get your comeuppance?
When they take over, they take over the plantation and the mansion, they put me in chains, try me and kill me.
Anyway, it's far out.
Hey, it's been fun talking about making movies. Don't know what I'll make after I finish MOTAZ, but I'll think of something to shoot.