director Kevin Sean Michaels
Cult movies are a wondrous thing. Even before I ever laid eyes on Incredibly Strange Films by Boyd Rice and V. Vale or the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film by Micheal Weldon, before I ever knew what Cult film was, I was into it. Even before I ever found on Famous Monsters of Filmland, I knew what I liked.
One of the great things about the present time from the past is the access to information, the interwebs. You don’t have to live in ignorance (though maybe in misinformation-land at times). And all the weird things you ever had curiosity about are now essentially at your fingertips. The loss of obscurity has some downsides (the “coolness” of being into something no one else knew about is radically diminished), overall it’s actually great to know and learn about the backgrounds of things, the people behind them, the stories that were hidden by circumstance.
One of the other things has been the proliferation of documentaries about some of these odd subjects. Costs of production going down with digital video and new outlets in streaming for marketing and distributing, there have been a number of films about Cult icons capturing them in their late years, recounting their experiences and thoughts. And lucky so. A lot of them are getting on in years, if not already passed.
Where Ted V. Mikels sits in regards to the pantheon of Cult cinema, I’ll let others posit. Though I was familiar with his films, namely The Astro-Zombies (1968) The Corpse Grinders (1971), and to a lesser extent The Doll Squad (1973), I had never seen them until last year when Fandor got a spate of them and I couldn’t have told Ted V. Mikels from a hole in the ground.
The documentary The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels answers a lot of questions. He’s here, already almost 80 when interviewed, recounting his life from childhood magician to eventual independent filmmaker of 50 years (or even more). The film recounts in chronological order the more significant of Mikels oeuvre and gives background on them.
John Waters narrates (always a good thing). And Tura Satana (R.I.P.), Francine York, and Shanti are on hand to give their insights. It’s telling that Mikels has remained good friends with Satana and others, employing Satana in a number of films even into his more recent digital video efforts (he has continually made films, switching to digital in the 1990’s for cost concerns). It’s telling because one of the other aspects of his life is his “castle” home into which he moved in the 1970’s after splitting with his wife, where he maintained a rotating harem of 7 beauties with whom he collaborated, both literally and with lots of innuendo there too.
This is the one shortcoming of this film. It’s hardly an objective one. It allows Mikels to tell his story as he wants with supporters who share those views. And it’s all reasonably good fun. But the stories behind his discreet bragging must be very interesting. All that may be left to obscurity and speculation.
Which is kind of interesting since his films, bizarre and exploitative as they are, are also extremely tame by other standards of Cult and Exploitation peers of his. There is a distinct lack of blood, guts, and nudity where you might expect to find them.
It also calls to question what is his most significant film. Presently, though I have yet to watch it, I might speculate that it’s The Doll Squad which they openly state that Aaron Spelling stole and turned into television’s Charlie’s Angels a few years later.