BLOOD &:FLESH THE REEL LIFE
& GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON (2019)
Label: Severin Films
Region Code: A
Duration: 101 Minutes
Audio: English DTS- HD MA 2.0 & 5.1 with optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Low-budget filmmaker Al Adamson made lot of
z-grade drive-in programmers of the exploitation variety, seriously lousy films, but he lead an fascinating life and the telling of it makes for a mesmerizing watch in David Gregory's latest documentary Blood & Flesh - The Reel Life & Death of Al Adamson (2019), the follow-up to his equally long-titled documentary Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014).
The doc begins with a salacious tease by previewing the strangest bit about the director, his as advertised ghastly death, in 1995. Before it gets to all that we get a semi-chronological history of the man and and his prolific career making z-grade cinema, it begins with his father, Denver Dixon, a cowboy actor with a knack for rope tricks. Al Adamson followed in his father's footsteps, appearing in a few westerns himself before realizing he was better at telling people what to do rather than being told, something he discovered on the set of the western
Halfway to Hell (1960), where he took up the directing chores after his father and the director walked off the film following a disagreement with the producer.
After that he teamed-up with film distributor Sam Sherman and made a couple of cheapie exploitation films that didn't do that much box office, stuff like Psycho A Go-Go (1965) and Blood of Ghastly Horror (1967), films that didn't perform well, but eventually Al would tap into a drive-in film market and later a profitable arrangement selling these films to late-night TV programmers.
Adamson would develop a stock cast of characters who appeared often in his films, including John Carradine (The House of Seven Corpses) beginning with Blood of Ghastly Horror (1967), and the busty Vicki Volante (Brain of Blood), the latter of whom he crushed on hard but she was not interested. He did manage to find love one day when a waitress spilled hot coffee into his lap, that was busty blonde Regina Carrol (Satan's Sadists), who would go onto be Adamson's muse appearing in all his film from that pint onward. Al always seemed to have an uncanny knack for working with talented people willing to work for nearly free, working with stuntman/director/actor John 'Bud' Cardos (Kingdom of the Spiders), writer/director Greydon Clark (Without Warning), stuntman Gary Kent (The Savage Seven), even working with talented cinematographers like Gary Graver (The Other Side of the Wind) and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close encounters of the Third Kind). everyone tells stories of working with Adamson, and they all seemed to have loved him but the through lines seems to be that his sets were fun and that he was a notorious cheapskate.
Along the way we get additional stories of working with actors way past their expiration date, including a sad telling of Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolfman) on his last film, the stinker The Female Bunch (1971). At that point he was on his last legs battling throat cancer and drowning in alcohol. Also brought up is the way that Adamson would buy foreign films and cut new footage into it to make a hodge-podge of bad cinema, as well as shooting films on the Spahn Ranch during the era of Manson Family and working with friggin' Col. Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken, which meant that all the meals on set were free KFC buckets!
It's a wild and fun recounting of working with Adamson through the eyes of people who surrounded him, making films the fast and furiously, exploitatively cashing in on the evolving films trends. He did a little bit of everything, from shoddy monster pictures (Blood of Dracula's Castle) to seedy biker flicks with actor Russ Tamblyn (Satan's Sadists), action-packed blaxploitation (Black Samurai), dusty westerns (Lash of Lust) and plenty of sexploitation by way of Cinderella 2000 (1977) and Nurse Sherri (1978), before dipping his toe into the realm of matinee kiddie films with the 'let's save the carnival' entry Carnival Magic (1983), complete with a talking chimp, before calling it quits in the eighties.
In the eighties and nineties Adamson was more focused on his business ventures, even more so after his beloved muse Regina Carrol lost her battle with throat cancer in the early 90's. Eventually he attempted to return to movie-making in the early-90's with an alien abduction thriller starring Stevee Ashlock (Fortress of Amerikkka), but it was never finished. This is where the strange story of Al Adamson gets even more bizarre, with others telling of his belief in alien conspiracy theories, including Ashlock saying that he clandestinely met with a "strange being" and that he felt his life was in danger. She seems a but nuts, but at one point during the interview she looks directly at the camera and says "are we filming?", before nervously discontinuing the conversation, and she seemed legit scared, so...
Eventually we get to what was teased at the beginning, the strange death of Al Adamson in Indio, California, where he had hired a handyman named Fred Fulford. Things begin to get weird when the handyman begins imitating Adamson's appearance, which was unsettling to his friends and associates but not so much for Adamson. Eventually the guy starts stealing money and signing checks with Adamson's name, that's when the director told his then girlfriend Ashlock that he was going to confront that guy, and shortly after that he went missing. It would be months before the truth came out, that Fulford brutally murdered the director, wrapped him in a comforter and buried him in the basement of his own house under several feet of cement.
Afterward the killer continued to sign the director's name on checks and to use his personal cars and property for his own pleasure, eventually fleeing town with Adamson's housekeeper's daughter before being apprehended in Florida. The sensational case made headlines in 1995, and probably lead to a bit of cinematic notoriety for the z-grade director that he probably wouldn't have had otherwise. Not to be disrespectful, but that sort of sensationalism certainly lends a strange longevity to careers, and it couldn't have hurt.
Audio/Video: Fresh & Blood: The Reel Life &: Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (2019) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films framed in 1.78:1 widescreen. It's looks good, the new interview footage looks sharp and clean. The archival stuff varies wildly, looking rough at times and quite good in others, but it all comes together nicely in the documentary style.
Audio comes by way of both 2.0 and 5.1 English DTS-HD MA with optional English subtitles. It sounds great, again the new stuff is delivered crisp and clean, and the vintage clips are more varied and not as stable, owing to the condition of the source elements, but it sound fine.
Extras for the doc include 20-min of outtakes trimmed from the film, and they're all pretty great and worth watching. There's also a 2-min promotional reel for Adamson's never-completed film Beyond This Earth. There's also a theatrical trailer for the doc.
Severin also give us a second feature film as an extra, Al Adamson's western-y exploitation flick The Female Bunch (1971). This is sourced from several theatrical prints of varying quality so it doesn't look that great, framed in 1.66:1 widescreen with English DTS-HD MA mono audio with optional English subtitles, with alternate German and Spanish language dubbed DTS-HD MA audio options, which I thought was mighty fancy for an extra.
The extras don't stop there, we get an extra for the extras, a 15-min featurette covering the making of The Female Bunch, with actors Leslie McCray, Russ Tamblyn, Sharyn Wynters, Bud Cardos, cameraman Michael Ferris and prop guy R. Michael Stringer. There's talk of some of the ladies lying about knowing how to ride horses to get the parts, and working on Spahn Ranch where the infamous Manson Family was living at the time, as well as working with Lon Chaney Jr. who was on his last legs. The rest of the extras include 4-min of trailers, and 2-min of extended scenes.
The single-disc release comes housed in a black keepcase with one-sided sleeve of artwortk, the disc artwork itself is split down the middle with artwork for both the doc and The Female Bunch.
- Outtakes: The Cowboy Life Of Denver Dixon, Russ Tamblyn’s Melted TV, Manson & Screaming Angels, and The Prophetic Screenplay Makes Gary Kent Testify (20 min)
- Beyond This Earth Promo Reel (2 min)
- Trailer (3 min)
- Bonus Films: The Female Bunch (84 min) (English, Spanish, German DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles)
- The Bunch Speaks Out (15 min)
- The Female Bunch Trailers (4 min)
- Extended Scenes (2 min)
My own experiences watching Al Adamson's z-grade movies have always left a bad taste in my mouth, even as a lover of what my wife would call 'awful movies' I find his low-budget offerings bad beyond the pale. That said, this documentary has given me a new appreciation for the man behind these terrible films. If you're into weird, strange and cult cinema you are probably gonna dig this documentary, David Gregory did good work digging into not just the bad movies, but into the man behind the bad movies, offering a curious, sad and often humorous look into the life and ghastly death of Al Adamson.