Corpse Grinders (1971)

The Corpse Grinders Turn Bones and Flesh into Screaming, Savage Blood Death!

Poster image to 1971's The Corpse Grinders

When the crooked operators of the Lotus Cat Food Company (“For Cats Who Like People”) realize that their ingredients are too expensive, they turn to a cheaper alternative: human flesh procured by raiding the graveyards for the recently deceased. Being feral by nature, though, once the felines get a taste for man, they’ll accept nothing less, and they begin to turn on their masters. And…that’s pretty much all you need to know about this flick.

Cheap and cheesy, schlocky and sleazy, those are the ingredients in this morsel. THE CORPSE GRINDERS knows what it is and has a good time with it, and that’s why we do, too. It’s lowdown drive-in horror without pretensions, and a good bit of fun.

THE CORPSE GRINDERS may not have a lot going for it in the way of plot, but it’s certainly filled with interesting characters: the sleazy owners of the cat food company, Landau and the slightly-remorseful Maltby (Sanford Mitchell and J. Byron Foster); the dour bearded grave robber Caleb (Warren Bell) and his decidedly-unwell wife Cleo (Ann Noble), who carries around a doll as if it were a real baby; the simpleton Willie (Charles Fox) and the one-legged deaf-mute Tessie (Drucilla Hoy); the mortician and his assistant with (of course) dark senses of humor; and the list goes on. Basically everybody is some bizarre caricature or another, except for our heroes Dr. Howard Glass and Nurse Angie Robinson (Sean Kenney and Monika Kelly), who are actually rather bland alongside this parade of weirdos, despite the fact that they appear to be extras from either a pornographic film or a milquetoast soap opera.

The cats were reportedly pets of the cast and crew, and none were harmed during filming. Not seriously harmed, anyway, though there are a few uncomfortable moments when the felines are being manhandled and tossed about by the performers. It’s still a far cry from the infamous Italian cannibal films, though, where actual animals were killed for effect. Take comfort in the fact that the cat autopsy scene featured an obviously fake body double.

Cat attack from 1971's The Corpse Grinders

The cat attack scenes aren’t frequent enough for this to fully be a movie about killer cats—it’s much more about the seedy dealings of Landau and Maltby. When they do happen, though, they’re…not well done, but quite entertaining. And when you’re dealing with a film of this caliber, entertaining is really the best that you can ask for.

The eponymous grinder should have been one hell of a contraption, with steam whistles and crunching gears and whirring gizmos. Instead, it’s a very simple device: a bag of grain goes into the hopper, a corpse (stripped down to its undergarments) slowly enters the machine via conveyor belt, and ground meat comes out the other side. Easy peasy, and apparently quite delicious.

Lotus Cat Food from 1971's The Corpse Grinders

There are touches of what one can only assume were intended to be artistry, such as the quick flickering of images during otherwise unrelated shots, but THE CORPSE GRINDERS never tries to elevate itself beyond what it is. If it did, it would never work as well as it does. The best moment in the film has Landau realizing that they can cut the middleman out of the deal if they supply the corpses themselves. “The world is full of ingredients,” he says, which could easily have worked as the tagline if they hadn’t opted for the more salacious “The corpse grinders turn bones and flesh into screaming, savage blood death!”—which doesn’t even make all that much sense, if we’re being honest.

The flaws here are part of the charm, but there is one aspect that feels like a glaring oversight rather than a filmmaker trying in earnest: in the finale, when comeuppance is due, it comes in the dullest of manners and without the slightest hint of poetic justice. I won’t spoil how it ended, but there are at least two unused methods in which the villains could have gotten a taste of their own medicine.

As a whole, THE CORPSE GRINDERS is a hell of a lot of fun, and although it has a tongue-in-cheek approach, it still manages to play it pretty straight despite the ludicrous premise. It’s more along the lines of a BLOOD FEAST than it is THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS.

The proprieters of the Lotus Cat Food Company from 1971's The Corpse Grinders

The screenplay was written by Arch Hall Sr. and Joseph Cranston. According to the IMDb, Cranston (father of BREAKING BAD’s Bryan Cranston) didn’t work in the business much, but he is listed as producer on the 1962 horror flick TRAUMA, and he received a story credit for 1963’s THE CRAWLING HAND. As an actor, he did some scattered television appearances and very minor parts in films. He has one single directorial credit—1988’s THE BIG TURNAROUND, which featured his son Bryan.

Hall is a different story all together, with a hand in quite a few low-budget productions as writer, director, producer or actor—EEGAH! and WILD GUITAR (both 1962) probably the best known among them, both of which starred his son, Arch Hall Jr.

It was produced and directed by Ted V. Mikels, whose filmography in those fields boasts some amazing titles if nothing else—GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS (1968), THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968), CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS (1973), THE WORM EATERS (1977), and TEN VIOLENT WOMEN (1982), to name a few. Mikels delivered belated sequels to THE CORPSE GRINDERS in 2000 and 2012, with a full-fledged remake in the works.

He passed away on October 16, 2016—news I heard about days after the fact, as I coincidentally worked on a review of another of his films.

So long, Ted.

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