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Ted V. Mikels on The Undertaker and His Pals by Vince Bonavoglia


Things are finally slowing down now. I'm putting the finishing touches on the ending credit scroll for CG2 (CORPSE GRINDERS TWO). It runs a full four minutes, but I want the folks who worked hard to have their names scoll up slowly enough to be READ. They deserve that.

On the subject of UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS:

When Tom Swicegood and David Graham first brought it to me at my offices across from the front gate of Paramount Studios on Melrose St. in Hollywood, they had been to many distributors, but no one was interested in even attempting to market the film. I had suggested they exhaust all efforts to find a distributor that could promise something, as I could promise nothing. They told me they were at the end of trying, so I set up a screening and invited distributors who represented both thirteen western states and also national distribution, saying that I may take on the film as a releasing company. Everyone laughed at me, and said things like, "It will NEVER play a theater!" and "Good luck. However, we're not interested in it at all." etc.

Somehow, Ron Nickolas and Jay Fineberg both said if I would re-edit it, they would come to work for me and try to get bookings. I set about the task of replacing the opening credits and title, came up with a GREAT pressbook, great trailer, and teaser ads, radio spots, etc. After cutting ALL of the REAL operating room footage from the pic, and other much-too-grisly scenes, I had only a sixty minute film. Nevertheless, the film was at first outlawed in some cities. That helped us, believe it or not. I sent Ron by air to several sub-distribution centers where we screened the print, booked trial dates, then spent some fair money on promotion, then the rest is history. After it made its run, it became second feature material, as was the custom, then I put it out again as a second feature to ASTRO-ZOMBIES. It was tough competing then, as ASTRO-ZOMBIES as well as UNDERTAKER had not achieved any real boxoffice successes.

Then, after I did CORPSE GRINDERS, I put it in as a second feature, then acquired rights to THE EMBALMER from ALLIED ARTISTS for a period of three years, and formed a very successful triple bill show. We had a GREAT promotional campaign for CORPSE GRINDERS, and along with its successes, UNDERTAKER became known, even though then it was a four-year-old second feature. The triple bill played extensively across the country, and set some box-office records. CORPSE GRINDERS was noted in BOX-OFFICE magazine in 1971 as number eleven of the top fifty grossing films in the nation (now, thirty years later, I have CORPSE GRINDERS TWO ready for the world to see!). There are no more drive-in's to speak of, although several [theaters] have already communicated that they want to play CORPSE GRINDERS TWO as soon as it's ready. No one who ever saw CORPSE GRINDERS has ever forgotten it, and the theaters and drive-in's made a fortune from it.

On the question of whether he had further contact with UNDERTAKER'S cast and crew:

No, I had had no contact whatever with the cast of UNDERTAKER. However, I did use the 'embalmer' from Undertaker in one or two of my films: THE BLACK KLANSMAN and THE CORPSE GRINDERS. Have had no communication from the music folks. I have managed to keep up communications with everyone who ever worked in a film I produced and directed. However, since UNDERTAKER was brought to me after it was first put together, I didn't have communications with anyone except Ray Dennis (the Undertaker), a very talented actor.

Ted V. Mikels

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