This ’70s exploitation sleaze has a single virtue, but it is one not to be underestimated: it is so ridiculous that one cannot take it seriously. Whether intentional or not (director Ted V. Mikels claims he intended a spoof of horror films), the result is that all of the myriad faults of THE CORPSE GRINDERS (silly scripting, bad acting, cheap sets, dingy photography) become part of the entertainment value, turning the film into a campy laugh riot.
The story follows a doctor and his nurse-girlfriend, investigating the death of a woman who was apparently killed and partially eaten by her pet cat. Working on the questionable theory that domestic felines can acquire a taste for human flesh (as tigers are erroneously said to do in the wild), the amateur detectives follow a trail that leads them to a cat food company. It turns out that the sleazy proprietors knocked off their investor before he could pull out of the business, and they disposed of his body by feeding it into the food processor (or the “corpse grinding machine,” as the trailer calls it). Since then, they have been paying someone to dig up bodies from the local cemetery, and if supply runs low they are not above the occasional murder, just to keep production running.
Most of the entertainment value derives from several cat-attack scenes, in which the actors strive mightily to act as if the cute little fur-balls are straining to nip their jugular veins (if you freeze frame your DVD, at one point you can see an actor smiling during his “life-and-death” struggle with an allegedly man-hungry feline).
The highlight has to be the hot secretary from the consumer watchdog agency, who gets off early one day. What does she do with her free time? Heads home, pops a beer open, strips down to her black bra and panties, and settles on the couch to watch some television. There’s a chick who knows how to have a good time! In a more reputable movie (say hardcore pornography), this would be the cue for a studly plumber or electrician to knock on the door; here, this is merely a prelude for kitty to hop onto the hapless damsel in distress. The thought of all that female flesh exposed to naked feline claws should have yielded a cheesy thrill or two, but the briefly seen struggle is so unconvincing that it is good only for a chuckle or two.
More mirth awaits, in various forms:
- Despite his alleged girlfriend, the leading many looks rather obviously gay.
- The wall outside the door of the single room we see in the “hospital” is obviously paper.
- The sleazeball cat-food proprietor communicates with his deaf subordinate with what is supposed to be sign language but is rather obviously random hand gestures.
- An unexplained mystery character watches most of the action from afar, then conveniently saves the day at the end, revealing himself to be an investigator.
- When the villain receives the expected poetic justice, the cats allegedly feasting on his corpse are obviously disinterested, wandering off at random. (The film really botches the ending by having the investigator shoot the cat-food proprietor, instead of having the hungry cats claw him to death.)
- And let’s not forget the oh-so-unappetizing sight of the ground-up meat spilling out of the food processor – a shot on which the camera lovingly lingers, so that we may appreciate it to the fullest extent.
In short, THE CORPSE GRINDERS is just goofy enough that you can believe it was intended as a joke, but it is probably much funnier if you imagine it was meant to be taken seriously. It’s crude, cheap, and not very good, but that’s all part of the charm.
Judging from what we see on screen, the cats were not always treated very well. Although there is little or no spring-loaded cat action (i.e., cats hurled through the air to simulate leaping on humans), there are several shots of actors flinging cats away from them. On at least one occasion, we see a close-up of a cat making a hard – and apparently painful – landing on top of its food bowl.
The Cult Classics Collection DVD features a grainy print (which preserves the grindhouse feel of the movie). Bonus features include a trailer, a photo gallery, and an audio commentary by Mikels. The trailer sums up THE CORPSE GRINDERS so well that you almost do not have to see the complete film. The photo gallery is amazingly extensive; low-budget movies do not usually have the time or money to bother with documentary the production so thoroughly (including some nudity that did not find its way into the final cut). And Mikels is an amusing raconteur, with no pretensions about his work.
THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1972). Directed by Ted V. Mikels. Written by Joseph Cranston, Arch Hall Sr, Ted V. Mikels (uncredited). Cast: Sean Kenney, Monika Kelly, Sanford Mitchell, J. Byron Foster, Warren Ball, Ann Noble, Vincent Barbi, Harry Lovejoy.