Director Ted V. Mikels doesn’t have a film on Spike Lee’s “Essential Films” list passed out to grad students at NYU. Mikels doesn’t get taught at the AFI, NYU or UCLA. This is a shame since Mikels belongs with that unique indie film movement that gave us Russ Meyers, Radley Metzger and others. These men who made their names outside the studio system in the ’60s and ’70s. Their pioneering work allow a filmmaker like Spike Lee to beg for movie funding on Kickstarter. Mikels was featured in the seminal Re/Search #10: Incredibly Strange Films book for his cult work. He was known from living with a harem of women who also served as his film production crew. While this sounds like an amazing way to make a movie, there are technical shortcomings. There’s a roughness to this pioneer filmmaker’s productions. The Doll Squad w/ Mission: Killfast are two secret agent movies made for with the budget of Sean Connery’s shoestrings in a Bond flick.
The Doll Squad (1973 – 101 minutes) features an evil organization blowing up an American rocket. Senator Stockwell (John Carter) and CIA agent Victor Connelly (Anthony Eisley) had been tipped off that someone was going to pull off this stunt and sell their secret. But neither man thought it could really happen. They consult a supercomputer nicknamed Bertha for a lead to who could unmask this new terror. The digital supergenius recommends The Doll Squad. Who are they? This is an all female group led by Sabrina Kincaid (Francine York). When she lands the gig, she goes out to put her team back together. However the unidentified evil organization is tracking her. They immediately dispose of her early recruits for the mission. There’s a mole in the organization. Sabrina won’t give up putting her crack team. Her big score turns out to the Tura Satana (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). This leads to a massive battle when she locates the heart of the evil organization. The film is blissfully ragtag and always cutting corners to capture something on the celluloid. This is not a Michael Bay visual action overload. But it does feature women with huge hair taking on a larger opponent. Mikels is famous for saying Aaron Spelling may have used The Doll Squad to create Charlie’s Angels. But it’s probably easier to say that this movie gave Andy Sidaris inspiration to make his espionage laced action films starring Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets.
Mission: Killfast (97 minutes) was released in 1991, but the production started in the early ’80s. There’s a slight jump in cool haircuts and cars without time shifting. Don’t get confused. Once again we get a CIA based thriller as the core of the plot. Nuclear detonators have been stolen and might fall into the wrong hands. Agent Harry Brennan (Ronald Gregg) must convince marital arts master Tiger Yang to get back in the game. The film has great comic moments as Yank admiring Yang’s trophies at his studio. The audio on this is all over the place as far as levels go. Was the sound guy allowed in the same room as the actors? Thankfully the film is subtitled so you can catch the lines that got away from the microphone. You’ll get to hear all of Tiger’s stunning pep talk before his “There’s the camp. Kill fast. Get the Detonators.” This film is a bizarre trip into action filmmaking. There are moments when you just ponder who certain actors were allowed in the film. Then again, odds were high that they were the kind of actors who might not remember their lines, they were at least prompt to the set. Yang does have a few moments where his martial arts performance distract you from his bowl cut hairdo. Mikels even has a cameo to show off his nifty mustache.
This is a fine double feature since both The Doll Squad and Mission: Killfast have that same rough appeal in both the action and the performances. Mikels should be taught in film schools simply to aspire the students to just make a movie without getting too overwhelmed with techniques, effects and craftsmanship. Mikels wasn’t out to make art. He turned the camera on to entertain the audience with action from tough women and a martial arts master. He didn’t wait for a major studio to fund and distribute his films. Mikels practically invented the intern position on the film shoot with his legion of lovers working crew. Maybe Mikels doesn’t get the clout love from Spike Lee, but he has received the when one of his film was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s an honor reserved for only the most memorable of directors.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic for both films. The 1080p transfer shows off Mikels didn’t fuss too much about lighting and film stock. The grain levels are all over the place. The higher resolution does let you enjoy the fierce big hair of The Doll Squad. There’s more Tura Satana on your TV set. The audio is The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. There’s a lot of audio issues and Mikels didn’t seem to care too much for ADR. Thankfully there’s subtitles so you won’t miss out on the dialogue.
Audio Commentary lets Mikels explain what happened during the making of The Doll Squad. He swears Aaron Spelling saw a sneak preview of the film. Maybe Sabrina from Charlie’s Angels was lifted from the movie?
Interview with Ted V. Mikels (8:05) is outtakes from the American Grindhouse documentary. Marvel at Ted’s amazing mustache. He got his start as a magician before he turned to film. He worked with Mandrake the magician early in his career. His love of magic gave him a sense of how to edit to misdirect the audience.
Ted V. Mikels on Mission: Killfast (8:51) lets him explain how the film happened. He rented a school bus and took the cast and crew to Reno. Because of budget issues, he shot the film nearly nine years part. He’s thrilled that Tiger Yang didn’t age.
Interview with Francine York (7:06) lets the actress from Doll Squad praise Ted. She liked getting to run the Doll Squad. She liked the speed of the production. She marvels at the performances he was able to bring out of people who were like rocks on the set.
Doll Squad Original Theatrical Trailer (3:22) promises us to see America’s newest and deadliest weapon.
The Doll Squad w/ Mission: Killfast is a classic Mikels double feature filled with secret agents and huge fight scenes. These films are rough all over which is what makes them so endearing. It’s hard to say which one is best since they both have to quirky moments. The good news is that Vinegar Syndrome has made a reversible jacket sleeve so you shelve the Blu-ray with the movie that you love most. It’s good to see a pioneer in indie film getting respect in the form of high resolution.
Vinegar Syndrome presents The Doll Squad w/ Mission: Killfast. Directed by: Ted V. Mikels. Starring: Francine York, Tura Satana and Tiger Yang. Boxset Contents: 2 Movies on 1 Blu-ray Disc. Released: September 10, 2013.
Tags: Spike Lee, Vinegar Syndrome