The Doll Squad (1973) w/ Mission: Killfast (1980s)
Director: Ted V. Mikels
Starring: Francine York, Tura Santana & Lisa Todd / Cheng-Wu Yang & Sharon Hughes
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Exploitation label, Vinegar Syndrome, is back at it again with another dose of Blu-ray goodness for cult lovers everywhere. In true grindhouse fashion, this releases comes with not one, but two feature films from the Ted V. Mikels Collection. The man responsible for so many cult gems like The Black Klansman, The Astro-Zombies and The Corpse Grinders. Vinegar Syndrome have presented both films on Blu-ray for the first time in this release which is also chocked full of special features and a groovy reversible cover art option. Will a group of sexy female agents destined to bring down a criminal mastermind soothe the cult enthusiasts’ itch or will it be a master martial artist named Tiger, who goes toe to toe with weapons dealers resulting in shoot-outs and explosions be worth your time? Think quickly because in five seconds this paragraph will self-destruct so let’s take a gander at The Doll Squad and Mission: Killfast…
The Doll Squad tells the story of a gorgeous group of female agents who are assigned to a top mission where an evil mastermind plans on unleashing the bubonic plauge on the world. Interestingly enough, this film is said to have inspired the classic Charlie’s Angels television show. The film stars a terrific group of cult actors such as Francine York (It Takes a Thief), Michael Ansara (Batman: The Animated Series), Lisa Todd (The Devil’s Rain) and Tura Santana (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). Mission: Killfast focuses on marital arts master, Cheng-Wu Yang (credited as Tiger Yang), who is called upon by his government to face off against an evil group of weapons dealers. Violence, explosions and bikini clad women take care of the rest.
The Doll Squad quickly sucked me in thanks to its very colorful and very 70s title sequence which highlights the beauty of our core cast. As the leader of The Doll Squad, Francine York takes command of the film and has a hypnotizing beauty that truly shines. She’s joined by several other team members, most famously Tura Santana who also showcases her burlesque talents in the film. While, a film about gorgeous secret agents should be a sure thing, The Doll Squad tends to lose its focus at some point. The major drawbacks are the actual size of the team, there simply are just too many of them for us to really learn and appreciate their personalities. With the exception of York and Santana (who clearly has cult cred), the other girls just feel like blank canvas‘ who are just following orders and shooting wildly at evildoers. In addition, the plot of taking down a criminal hellbent on unleashing the bubonic plauge seems simple enough, but again that’s where another drawback is found. The film tends to get wrapped up in its own dialogue which congests the story and makes it a slight bore to watch at times. Thankfully, the redeeming qualities of this film come in the unexpected form of violence. Make no mistake about it, The Doll Squad is a very classy exploitation film for its time. If you’re looking for gratuitous nudity or raunchy sex scenes, look elsewhere because they’re not found in here. That said, when the guns come out, lots of blood goes flying. Bullet shots to the head and machine gun shootouts galore were a welcome surprise for what originally seemed like a very tame film. The handling of explosions and electrocutions in The Doll Squad are quite hilarious, it made me feel like I was watching an episode of the 1960s Batman. In addition, while most of the women are forgettable, there’s no denying how lovely they all look. Director Ted V. Mikels certainly knows how to cast a sexy group of agents and there beauty is one of the driving contributers of the picture. While The Doll Squad certainly beat Charlie’s Angels to the punch by a whopping three years, the television show perfected the concept of female secret agents. The Doll Squad presents a simplistic story that gets a little too wrapped up in itself causing a slightly bumpy viewing experience. Luckily, the film’s action and violence mixed with the lovely sight of the core cast makes the film a serviceable watch. There’s no way this film is a terrible one, it’s just not particularly amazing either. But, being from the Ted V. Mikels cannon, there’s no way any cult lover can’t have this in their collection. Recommended.
Next up, Mission: Killfast pits martial arts master, Tiger Yang, against a group of ruthless arms dealers. Shoot-outs, blood and sexy women are all on board for this flick as well. Mission: Killfast is a film that had a tremendously hard time being completed, starting in 1980 and principal photography not wrapping until 1989 with an actual release not occurring until sometime in 1991. The trouble with this film is similar to what plagued The Doll Squad but on a larger scale. The story is simple and easy enough to follow but as the film takes off, it just gets derailed with too many random plot points. We get introduced to many characters and learn the criminals want to get their hands on nuclear detonators but never understand exactly why they want them. The film just tends to drag itself to the finish line and even action-orientated moments aren’t enough to save it. Unfortunately, even having a real martial artist like Tiger Yang onscreen doesn’t bring anything exciting to the table. Yang’s talents are grossly underused in the film and fighting sequences come off laughable as a result. While The Doll Squad kept itself classy with no nudity, Mission: Killfast sheds some skin on many of the ladies in the film. By the time the final act comes around, it just seemed like a carbon copy of The Doll Squad with the good guys storming the bad guys‘ base, fighting ensues, inevitable victory for the good guys, etc. It’s tough to be so critical of a film that probably lost sight of itself after many years in production. Mission: Killfast clearly had a very long road from start to finish and unfortunately it just doesn’t make for a terrific viewing experience.
The Doll Squad has been restored in 2K from 35mm original camera negatives and is presented in 1.85:1. Simply put, the film looks stunning! Colors are bright while flesh tones are natural and crisp. Grain levels are near perfect and detail is beautifully apparent in close-ups. The film has minor moments of softness and scratches that are so minimal, it wouldn’t take away from this fantastic transfer.
Mission: Killfast has also been restored in 2K from 35mm original camera negatives and is presented in 1.85:1. Softness and scratches are a little more apparent here but the film still looks quite nice with flesh tones looking good and colors popping where needed. The transfer received the same great treatment that The Doll Squad was given but the added softness and scratches slightly took away from it. Overall, still a terrific job!
The Doll Squad sports a DTS-HD Master Audio mix which sounds stellar. Dialogue and action are clear as bell with no noticeable hissing anywhere. Anyone wanting to see how audio on a cult release should be handled, look no farther than The Doll Squad.
Mission: Killfast was given the same DTS-HD Master Audio mix and sounds fine although there were moments during dialogue scenes where the audio sounded muffled. Dialogue could still be heard but it just wasn’t as clean as The Doll Squad. Still, nice work and arguably the best sound treatment this film will ever get.
Vinegar Syndrome went above and beyond with special features utilizing the helping hand of American Grindhouse Director Elijah Drenner.
- The Doll Squad Commentary with Director Ted V. Mikels: American Grindhouse Director Elijah Drenner moderates this chatty commentary with Director Ted V. Mikels. Mikels has nothing but fond memories of the film and the two touch on a variety of topics including Mikels’ love for machines and his enjoyment incorporating them into his films. In addition, the expensive title sequence is explained as Mikels expresses his dislike for boring black background title sequences. Drenner does a terrific job conversing with Mikels as he injects his own interesting anecdotes about cult cinema.
- Interview with Director Ted V. Mikels: This interview is composed of outtakes from Drenner’s American Grindhouse documentary that were shot between 2006-2008. Mikels discusses his early beginnings performing magic shows with Leon Mandrake which morphed into his desire for filmmaking. Mikels’ perseverance to never quit at his age is an inspiring one.
- Mustache Commandos!: The Making of Mission: Killfast: Mikels is interviewed about the long road to making and completing Mission: Killfast. Investments falling through, reels being stolen and only having three cast members return to finish the film after nine years makes this interview quite a watch.
- Interview with Francine York: The leader of The Doll Squad sits down to reminisce about filming the movie. York discusses the enjoyment she had working with Tura Satana and the admiration she holds for Mikels. York still looks beautiful at her age and has nothing but fond memories of the film.
- English Subtitles
The Doll Squad is a classy piece of early 70s cult cinema, the core cast of Dolls are just gorgeous and the violence found in the film was unexpected but certainly welcome. The film tends to get wrapped up in itself which makes for some boring moments but as a whole, it still walks away being a fun watch. Unfortunately, Mission: Killfast was a tougher pill to swallow as it suffers from the same missteps as The Doll Squad but manages to be more boring and not as satisfying. Luckily, Vinegar Syndrome has given both these films top quality treatment with spectacular video transfers, more than adequate audio mixes, as many special features as one could expect from films of this caliber and groovy reversible cover artwork. While, The Doll Squad ends up being the fan favorite for me, this package of films is a stellar release from Vinegar Syndrome and one all cult fans should add into their collections!