The eye of a common director is a simple lens. Focused, uncomplicated, and infused by whatever pseudo-calm and palatable vision they are honing for the major and minor leagues out there in filmland. Al Adamson, on the other hand, was far from a common director. The man possessed a vision that was akin to a carnival funhouse run by brilliant but mad carnies all hopped up on goofballs and 3 tabs of dirty acid. Vampires, shaggy-haired bikers, slack-jawed hunchbacks, sexy girl gangs, rubber masks, possessed lovelies, Nazis, sexy stewardesses, bloodthirsty psychos, cowboys, crazed scientists, and more, were all created within the enrapturing circus tent of Al Adamson’s mind-as-a-lens.
Looking at Adamson’s wild and woolly filmography is akin to a sugar rush enjoyed by a young kid’s dirt-lawn dull existence blown apart by a steady diet of comic books, well-worn pulp novels stashed away from prying (and praying) parental eyes, and monster magazines. It’s an imagination that isn’t always reigned in by things like logic or fleshed out by lavish Hollywood budgets, but it is one that holds a blue spark all its own. Unfortunately, we live in a landscape where high-moneyed sheen is revered by the willingly blind. But does that mean there is no love for a b-movie filmmaker in a world bloated by CGI and nostalgia as regurgitation?
Absolutely not, as Severin’s beyond lavish boxset, Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection, beats it chest as a testament of real ardor and preservation of one of America’s own working-class cult movie directors. In fact, not since Criterion’s pop-art-riot in hot pink, greens, and a neon yellow boxset of the Showa era Godzilla films, has a boxset centered around cult and genre film been so….so….gorgeous! (Of course, since I received this, Severin has subsequently released an equally impressive looking set dedicated to another infamous American cult film auteur, Andy Milligan. That must be saved for another day and article!)
Despite the putting out fire with gasoline atmosphere we have all been surviving in (which is an amazing feat unto itself, despite the Darwin Awards daisy chain that tends to circle our very existence like a googly-eyed hyena), releases like this are as much a Valentine to a filmmaker who was more dismissed than celebrated as it is a beacon of light. Was Adamson the most talented and visionary in his field? Not really, but that’s okay. How many can be the golden art goose? Were all of his films brilliant? God, no, but again, what’s so bad about that? Everyone has their off days, weeks, months, etc etc. Isn’t it too late in the game to hold on to the dried festering husks of high-art snobbery? Like beauty and preservation are only viable for “respectable” artists? Who do you want to dance with at a nightclub? The respectable person who is more fixated on jutting out the right airs and images or the sweaty hot mess who is frugging for the gods and stopped giving a shit between Dylan going electric and Toni Basil releasing “Mickey” in Spanish? Judgement is for the dead and dying, so no worries about your pick, but I will personally say, give me the dance partner with the cockeyed smile and loose swagger any day.
If anything, it is more imperative to preserve the works of directors like Adamson, Milligan, and other genre figures because of their scrappy dog reputation. Adamson’s filmography is the place where entities like the American Film Institution fear to tread. This is not a dig to besmirch the AFI, since there can not be too many film preservationists in this world, but more a statement of gratitude for such a beast to exist.
This boxset is your one-way entrance into the cinematic world of genre jubilee, with lavish reproductions of vintage posters and ad art accompanying each disc. Every title boasts various supplementals to keep your seedy little cineaste heart sated to the point of being engorged. Flipping through this, you get a true taste of how wide of a thematic net Adamson really cast as a director. Before this boxset, I knew about the big game cult titles, like his biker film Satan’s Sadists, z-grade horror with Dracula vs Frankenstein (all hail the awkwardness of Zandor Volkov!), and early slasher-roos like Psycho-a-Go-Go. (Spoiler, the latter isn’t really quite a slasher film but that hardly matters, cause it will leave you feeling like someone slipped something psilocybin in your nog anyways. But more on that one in a minute.) Earlier in my own film writing career, I even covered both his gritty western, Five Bloody Graves (1970) and his take on the theme of demonic possession, Nurse Sherri (1971).
All of the above is enough to paint the picture of cult film’s richest Whitman sampler and that’s not even taking into account his forays into crime (1960’s The Fakers), sexploitation (1974’s The Naughty Stewardesses), blaxploitation (1972’s Mean Mother and a 1976 adaptation of Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with the immortal tag line of “ Before “Mandingo” and “Drum” there was….), and even kids’ movies (1983’s Carnival Magic). I need a nap just thinking about such a filmography and yet, despite his untimely demise at 65, Adamson achieved more in his life than most filmmakers could even dare to dream of.
One of the best treats of this set is that in addition to getting to see these films look better than they have since their initial theatrical debuts, you have the opportunity to see the alternate cuts of certain titles back to back. If you ever want the colorful experience of doubting your own sanity, sit back for the triple feature of Psycho a Go-Go, The Fiend With the Electronic Brain, and Blood of Ghastly Horror. Seeing elements from one feature repurposed for another film was nothing new even in the 1960s. (Hell, especially in the 1960s!) It’s a way to stretch out a limited budget and increase your box office returns. It’s also a way to experience the effects of Brion Gysin’s legendary Dream machine but in a yellow label off-brand way involving killers, mad scientists, and a little girl’s awful looking baby-hell-doll. I watched all three films twice and yet, I still feel like it was all some weird fever dream.
Then there’s Blood on Dracula’s Castle (1969) and a latter-day variation of it, Dracula’s Castle. Both films are a goofy charmer involving an inheritance of a small castle nestled in the American desert, a newly engaged pair of quippy lovebirds, a sociopathic killer who is either a werewolf or merely a lunatic in the truest definition of the word, depending on which version of the film you’re watching, a lumbering hunchback with the unfortunate name of Mango who has a proclivity for pretty young girls, and a well-groomed older European debonair couple that also happen to be Mr. and Mrs. Dracula. This is a quieter gem in the Adamson filmography that sports one of the man’s superpowers, which was his cast. You have some Adamson semi-regulars like John Carradine, Robert Dix, Vicki Volante, Jennifer Bishop, and John “Bud” Cardos, mixed in with the lovely Paula Raymond and Euro-cult character actor Alex D’Arcy as the suave vampiric couple. Raymond would go on to be in Adamson’s Five Bloody Graves, but this would be D’Arcy’s sole Adamson effort.
Such a cast is a tight little peek into Adamson’s gift of always mixing in a colorful mosaic of actors. Adamson would often use the occasional Hollywood Legend (ie. John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Russ Tamblyn, Yvonne DeCarlo, Aldo Ray, Broderick Crawford, etc..), working character actors (ie. Kent Taylor, Robert Dix, Ray Young, Scott Brady, etc…) and then a special crew of faces and forms that are instantly held near and dear to even the most casual Adamson viewer, with the big standout being one Regina Carroll aka “The Freak Out Girl.” The moment in life when I first heard about Regina “The Freak Out Girl” Carroll, I loved her, sight unseen.
I would have to wait until later on in high school when I found Satan’s Sadists at ye olde local video store to see her in action. (Let’s all hold our sanitized hands together and have a moment of silence.) I was not disappointed. Big smile, bigger blonde hair that could whip the forces of nature itself if she ever wanted to use her powers for evil, but Regina Carroll, lucky for all of us, was always good. This professional dancer, singer, and actress became Adamson’s wife in 1972 and they remained married until her untimely death in 1992 due to cancer. But spirits like both Regina and Al Adamson’s can never truly be snuffed out and one would be hard-pressed to think of a more dynamic of a duo than these two.
A set like this merits, at the very least, a treasure map to key locations and insights of each film. At the very most? An actual tome guiding us not only to the world of Al Adamson’s cinema but making each film an exquisitely researched pit stop for every title? Lucky for us, Severin opted for the latter. Not only that, but we have writers and culture historians Amanda Reyes (who wrote the incredible Are You In the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999) and Bill Ackerman (creator and host extraordinaire of the Supporting Characters podcast) at the helm and they do not disappoint. The care and respect the duo have for Al Adamson is only surpassed by the attention to history and detail. Have you ever seen research so thorough that you can practically smell the sweat beading on the writer’s brow? That’s the informative nectar brewing right here in The Blood & Flesh Files.
So, dear reader, this is where my role of carnival barker giving you a sneak glimpse into this world comes to a close. I gotta hang up my red and white striped jacket and try to wash the clown white smudges off of my face due to making out with Marco the magician while you were distracted by all the vampire bikers fighting Jim Kelly. It’s a hardy but colorful life, much like Al Adamson himself and his one-of-a-kind contributions to cult film history.