Astro-Zombies M3: Cloned – Florida Premier
When I first received the news that the world premier of cult director Ted Mikels’ latest feature film Astro-Zombies M3: Cloned was scheduled for the end of April in Las Vegas, I was bummed. I already had long standing plans to be in Sin City a few weeks later and there was no way I could spring an additional trip so soon. Luckily, a Florida premier was scheduled simultaneously for the end of May in Deland which was a whole lot closer to home. Almost as soon as this showing was announced though, it was withdrawn due to scheduling conflicts with the theater.
A few weeks later when I met Richard Lester of Blue Heron International Pictures, who produced the film and oversaw the second unit work done in and around Daytona, I pressed him for details on a screening for the Florida cast, crew and fans. He had his hands full coordinating the Vegas premier but was agreeable to my offer of taking the Florida one off his hands. Since I had a pretty good idea in mind for a location and access to just about everything else I could think of to go with it, I decided to give it a try.
Ted Mikels’ third time out with his zany zombies builds on the stories from the first two features. The Astro-Men created by Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine) way back in 1968 were unstable to say the least. They did not improve any when the technology was stolen by aliens planning to use them to spearhead an invasion in 2002’s Mark of the Astro-Zombies. After some benevolent beings put an end to the villainous invaders in that film, the Astro-Zombies were presumed destroyed. In reality, the United States government managed to recover one along with the remains of several others. With the help of Dr. DeMarco’s granddaughter Stephanie (Donna Hamblin) who has followed in her famous ancestor’s footsteps, they use this genetic material to create an army of their own. As in the other two films, the synthetic psychos get loose and a murderous rampage ensues. The fun really starts in this one though when another of Ted’s creations, those sultry secret agents in The Doll Squad, are called in to clean up the mess with explosive darts that atomize the Astro-Zombies! What a plot!
In October of last year, I was involved with a screening of Jacksonville’s own ZAAT at the historic Five Points Theater in Riverside and was extremely impressed with their set up. This single screen theater has been in operation since 1927 and was one of the early adaptors of both sound and Cinerama projection. During the 1980’s, it was converted into a night club to cater to the surrounding shops and community but thankfully it was restored to it’s former glory two years ago. The revived cinema features not only traditional 35mm film projection but also digital. In addition to a roomy theater and stage, the Five Points also has a full concession stand and even serves beer and wine.
After securing the location with the help of Manager Peter Mosely and Charlie Ragsdale, we put the word out among the cult film community with flyers and a trailer Blue Heron created especially for this screening. We even got some nice coverage in the local newspaper and the entertainment papers and a few write ups in conjunction with the Vegas premier. It also didn’t hurt to have a large one sheet poster for the film prominently on display in the Five Point’s lobby for a month or so in advance of the event.
Originally we had hoped to get a few of the Vegas cast to appear at the Florida premier, including star Donna Hamblin but one piece of bad luck after another prevented this. In an ironic twist, I ended up the sole representative of the Las Vegas shoot (see http://www.popretrorama.com/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-astro-zombie/) but we did have several of the Daytona actors including Paula Carroll who plays the first victim, Audrey Parente who plays the unlucky nature photographer, and Doll Squad member Melanie Robel who donned her costume for the reception. Also in attendance were Richard and Gary Lester from Blue Heron and Kevin Sean Michaels who directed the definitive Ted Mikels documentary, The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels. Jacksonville was represented by our own cult film director Don Barton, of ZAAT fame, and artist Alex Ojeda who designed Ted’s infamous Lotus cat food labels and advertising materials for Mark of the Astro-Zombies. We were even graced by media coverage from none other than Tampa’s Fangrrl, Lisa Scherer!
Our reception began at 5PM with a meet and greet of the cast and crew and a display of Mikels’ memorabilia and AZ3 props from my collection. In addition to Melanie reprising her role in the Doll Squad, I tapped my friend Dan Tuchmann to stand in as an Astro-Zombie so guests could get some cool photos. The photos turned out to be the only thing that was cool though as Dan found out that even inside in the air conditioning those costumes get hot! While the Astro-Zombies may not need to eat, we knew our guests did so Gene’s Seafood of Lakewood provided us with an awesome buffet of hot wings, shrimp and three of their signature dips that proved to be crowd pleasers. The theater even went the extra mile and broke out a selection of wines for anyone who wanted to liven up their evening more than it already was.
At 7PM, the crowd filed into the theater for the main event they had all been waiting for. Following an encore of the preview Blue Heron had created for this screening came a very special surprise. At 81, no one could fault Ted Mikels for not wanting to make a cross country trip if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, but this didn’t stop the dedicated director from wanting to be with us in spirit. While I was in Vegas back in May, we filmed a short introduction which gave him his opportunity to thank everyone personally without having to endure a marathon plane ride. This put the crowd in the prefect mindset as the theater plunged into a few seconds of dramatic darkness and the feature presentation boomed onto the screen!
I did not have the luxury of being able to remain in the theater for the entire film but between the two showings I managed to see everything and, of course, watched my scenes twice. While everyone else was enjoying the movie, we had to break everything down and pack up so we could return normal operations back over to the Five Points Theater. We had everything wrapped up about thirty minutes before the end of the second show so I was able to relax for a few minutes and discuss cult films and their impact on Jacksonville with Peter and Charlie. They certainly have their hearts in the right place and if anyone can nurture a midnight movie scene in this city, I am sure they can.
By the time the special 11PM screening of the original Astro-Zombies started, I was running out of energy fast. As much as I was looking forward to the rare opportunity of seeing the film that started it all on the big screen, I was forced to bow out after about twenty minutes. I had a cross town drive home ahead of my which wouldn’t be quick even at this hour but I was thankful I did not have to drive back to Daytona like many people did that night.
Filming my brief part in this movie gave me a new respect for what filmmakers and actors go through to get their visions on the screen. Coordinating a movie premiere gave me a new perspective on the hard work that goes on before film fans can plop down in a theater seat with their popcorn and soda. Both are a tremendous amount of work but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As I told Richard Lester in a follow up E-mail after the event, by the time they get the next Ted Mikels’ feature film completed I just might be ready to tackle another premier!