Wednesday, April 29, 2020



Label: Severin Films

Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 101 Minutes
Audio: English DTS- HD MA 2.0 & 5.1 with optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: David Gregory

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 &amp: 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.    

Special Features:
- 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. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986) (Severin Kids Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Kids!
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 86 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: Jimmy Murakami
Voice Cast:Peggy Ashcroft, John Mills, Robin Houston

Synopsis: “There have been enough post-holocaust nuclear winter films to constitute a genre” says Time Out, “but there has never been anything quite like this.” Three decades after it first shattered audiences worldwide, Severin Kids is proud to present the animated classic about an elderly couple – voiced by Academy Award winners Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft – attempting to survive the aftermath of a nuclear war. Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami (HEAVY METAL, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS), adapted by Raymond Briggs from his acclaimed graphic novel, and featuring an original score by Roger Waters with title song by David Bowie, experience what Rock! Shock! Pop! calls “a fascinating achievement in filmmaking, and one that remains timeless more than 30 years after its creation.” 

When The Wind Blows (1986) is based on Raymond Briggs' graphic novel of the same name, and it depicts the quiet life of an aging working class British couple, James (voiced by John Mills, The Quatermass Conclusion) and Hilda (voiced by Peggy Ashcroft, The 39 Steps), who live in a little cottage in the British countryside. Their seemingly idyllic Golden Years are thrown into chaos as the threat of the nuclear-Armageddon becomes reality as tensions with the Soviet Union mount. 

As the couple gather round the dinner table they read the newspaper and listen to the radio as both trumpet warnings of an imminent missile attack, inspiring James to pick-up some government pamphlets which give instructions on how citizens can protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack. Per the government's instructions 
James sets about painting the windows of the cottage white to deflect heat from a nuclear blast, removing interior doors from their hinges and using them to build a lean-to shelter in the very center of the house, padded with comfy couch cushions. Hilda thinks all these preparations are a bit useless, but it becomes clear that neither of them quite realize what their potentially in for. The couple nostalgically talk about the blackouts and the Nazi blitzkriegs they endured in their youth, but their expectations are outdated. Their naivete leans on the simple side, but their not stupid folks, they just don't seem to have a full appreciation of the current situation versus what they survived during the last great war. 

Eventually a Radio 4 DJ announces that the nuclear ICBM's have been launched by the Russians, revealing that they have only about three minutes to act. Surviving the initial blast due to James preparedness the startled couple subsist in the coming days on the supplies they gathered, acting very chin-up as they ponder who won the war and how much longer till emergency services respond to the situation. They curiously fantasize about fighting off a Russian soldier and continue to compare their current situation to the blitzkrieg and blackouts of the second world war. Eventually their supplies dwindle and they venture outside to scrounge, having a conversation bout what exactly does "nuclear fallout" look like, unaware that it is all around them, and gathering contaminated rain water to make pots of tea, unwittingly furthering their deterioration from radiation sickness. 

It's a heart wrenching watch as the aging couple carry-on as best they can, believing that things will soon turn for better, but  seemingly oblivious or in straight-up denial to the destruction all around them. As they continue to deteriorate from the effects of radiation sickness, something they aren't even aware of, they begin to notice their gums begin bleeding, the arrival of painful skin lesions, and their hair falling out, until eventually finding themselves completely bedridden and at death's door. 

The way it all comes to an ends had me streaming eye-stinging tears, it was so beautiful and deeply saddening at the same time, but also infused with a bit of dry British humor and a misplaced chin-up optimism. This is a film that I would put right up there with gut-punch animation classics like Watership Down (1978) and The Plague Dogs (1982), stuff that as a kid turned me absolutely inside out. It also has a kinship with the nuclear nightmare Threads (1984), and then throw in any lingering worries you might have about the welfare of your aging family members, it all adds up to a powerful watch.   

Audio/Video: When The Wind Blows (1986) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin framed in the original full frame (1.33:1) aspect ratio. There's no information about this being a new scan of the elements so I will assume this is sourced from the same master as previous Blu-rays released both here in the U.S. and U.K.. There's a natural looking layer of film grain present, and the colors of the charming animation style look great in HD, having a slight watercolor quality about it. It mixes in some grainy looking live-action stock footage as well at what looks to be live-action miniature stuff incorporated into it, it's a great looking presentation.  

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA mono with optional English subtitles. The charming English dialogue sounds great, it's a quiet sort of presentation punctuated by some louder action during the atomic blast. The music for the film is great, we get a fantastic David Bowie title track, and songs from both Genesis and the Squeeze, plus a score from Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and The Bleeding Heart Band. Apparently the former release from Twilight Time had a siblance issue, no such issues were noted during my viewing, it sounded great. We also get the option to view the film with an isolated 
DTS-HD music score, which I am enjoying right now while righting this review. 

I do not own any of the other HD releases to compare, but from what I have read the extras appear to the same as the previous U.K. Blu-ray, beginning with an audio commentary with the First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham and the late Nick Redman of Twilight Time, it's a good listen with Fordham offering plenty of insight into not just into the editing of the film but the animation and construction of miniatures. 

We also get the 88-min doc Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien (2010) examining the life of the late Jimmy Murakamai, with the director going deep into his backstory with he and his family being interred at a Japanese internment camp in California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and how that shaped his life.

We also get a 24-min vintage documentary The Wind and The Bomb: The Making of When The Wind Blows (1986) with author Raymond Brigg, producer John Coates, special effects director Steve Weston, art director Errol Bryant, and Jimmy Murakami that gets into the genesis of the film from graphic novel to animated film. Additionally there's a 14-min interview with author Raymond Briggs as he discusses the graphic novel and it's inspiration, including his own parent's influence on the simple main characters. 

The 23-min Protect and Survive is a public service film designed to be broadcast when a nuclear attack seemed imminent, which is a frightening proposition.  Watching it I wished the elderly couple from the main feature had the benefit of seeing it though, but if I was a kid and saw this on the TV I would have been beyond frightened! we also get a pair of theatrical trailers for the film.  

The single disc release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie illustration , the disc itself features the same key art. Inside there's postcard sized insert with directions on how to make a fall-out shelter with in accordance with the film.    

Special Features:
- Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien – Feature Length Documentary About the Film’s Director
- The Wind and The Bomb: The Making of When The Wind Blows (1986)(25 min) 
- Audio Commentary with First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham and Film Historian Nick Redman
- An Interview with Raymond Briggs (14 min) 
- Protect and Survive: Public Information Film Designed to be Broadcast When a Nuclear Attack Was Imminent (23 min) 
- Isolated Music and Effects Audio Track
- Trailers (5 min) 

When The Wind Blows (1986) is a wonderful animated film, the subject matter is absolutely frightening but it's beautifully animated and addresses a nightmare nuclear situation with subtlety, but that doesn't make it any less soul-destroying. I watched this with my teen kids a few days, and we're still talking about today, it got under their skin, and mine too, highly recommended.