BR: Blood & Flesh – The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (2019)

October 12, 2020 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Severin

Region: A, B, C

Released: April 21, 2020

Genre: Documentary / Biography / Sexploitation / Grindhouse

Synopsis: Lively and ultimately poignant profile of legendary sexploitation filmmaker Al Adamson, whose life ended in a weirdly cinematic murder.

Special Features: Outtakes (20:09): “The Cowboy Life of Denver Dixon” + “Russ Tamblyn’s Melted TV” + “Manson & Screaming Angels” + “The Prophetic Screenplay Makes Gary Kent Testify” / “Beyond This Earth” Promo Reel (3:10) / Trailer / Al Adamson Poster Gallery / Bonus 1971 Feature: “The Female Bunch” (86:00) + Interview Featurette “The Bunch Speaks Out” (15:25) + Extended Scenes (2:03) + Trailers.




There are genuine parallels between filmmaker Al Adamson and Herschell Gordon Lewis: both men specialized in outright exploitation fodder for the drive-in market, and although Lewis was christened the Godfather of Gore due to his pioneering gorefests (Blood Feast, The Wizard of Gore), Adamson, while a more proficient filmmaker, was nevertheless pegged as a hack, perhaps because his most notorious film is the low budget stinker Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971), a ridiculous monster mash-up starring Adamson’s lawyer (using the alias Zandor Vorkov) and featuring the final screen appearances of fragile actors Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish.

Adamson was cut from the same cloth as Roger Corman, a filmmaker making whatever was in vogue at the drive-in, but he one-upped Corman by re-cutting his work with revised material when a failed project required some goosing, like a western in need of biker chicks and boobery. Adamson also shot extra footage for the U.S. releases of a few European productions, such as the big budget Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which runs shorter and features more exploitive material.

While Corman did progress from indie filmmaker to prolific director-producer, seeing his work released by major studios before he stepped away from filmmaking and focusing exclusively on producing, Adamson stayed in the margins, cranking out sexploitation films before investing in real estate. As he slowed down his film activities, Adamson seemed to reflect on a career which he felt was pretty good – similar to the sentiments of goremeister Lewis, who shifted from film to advertising & marketing. Had Adamson lived as long as Lewis or Corman, he would’ve enjoyed retrospectives of his genre work, and seen a rare tertiary return on his filmography via special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases, but in a truly cruel and horrific twist of poisoned fate, Adamson was murdered by a live-in handyman in 1995, just at a time when he felt a pull to return to directing.

Corman had himself and brother Gene to help produce films & TV productions during the pair’s years with major studios Fox, UA, and AIP, whereas Lewis and co-producer David A. Friedman had the latter’s Box Office Spectaculars, a sexploitation / softcore company through which they could make whatever the market needed. Adamson was no less a pioneer, co-founding with Sam Sherman Independent-International Pictures, and the pair enjoyed a fruitful relationship making a variety of profitable nonsense.

That both had fun making movies is never in doubt – their wits and sense of humour enabled a long-term collaboration; Adamson wrote & directed, and Sherman shepherded other genre films in the Philippines, such as the classic Blood Island series for Hemisphere Films. Their ingenuity, humour, and crazy adventures making schlock both transcend the sometimes crudely made films or make them more distinct, with a special rawness that’s hard to imitate in contemporary homages.

David Gregory’s superb documentary – probably his best work to date – features a mass of interviews with friends & colleagues, of which Sherman is the driving force, but it’s also Adamson himself who narrates his career in lengthy segments from a documentary unit present at his house when his killer was hovering in the background, and filmed shortly before his murder.

Adamson’s father was a B-western star and savvy producer, and son Al benefited from his father’s mentoring and business genetics in surviving (and fixing) career dips, and by all accounts the director was a decent rascal whose trusting nature may have made him a target for a crafty itinerant handyman named Fred Fulford, a bully, a thief, and a killer. The doc’s momentum is expertly paced as director Gregory weaves through a mass of stills, footage, interviews, audio and excerpts, gradually moving from Adamson the outrageous filmmaker to business success; his devotion to former dancer / actress / wife Regina Carroll; and the changes in his life which didn’t always sit well with longtime friend and partner Sherman.

A major asset to the doc’s lively tone is Mark Raskin’s excellent main theme, and the variations which track the doc’s arc from amusing to hysterical, and ultimately grim & tragic.

Excerpts from crazy film shoots and eccentric movies do offer a distraction from the inevitable and lengthy conclusion, but we know that at some point during the documentary, hints of Adamson’s final years will appear, from Carrol’s death from cancer, and Adamson’s subsequent deep embracing of UFO conspiracy theories.

Adamson’s live-in maid recalls scary encounters with Fulford and her suspicions after he moved into the house, drove Adamson’s cars, and started to wear his clothes. The police investigation ultimately uncovered the director’s body packed where a Jacuzzi once lay. The resulting court case was dour, the details nauseating, and the sadness shared by his friends, partner, brother, and Sherman humanize a man who sadly became a true crime tale and subject of news pieces and sensational documentaries.

There’s a suspicion Fulford may have read a script sent to Adamson in which a man is killed with a hammer, but the filmmaker did leave a wealth of sleazy, hand-crafted delights which Severin saw fit to celebrate in this cheekily titled documentary, and in a multi-disc Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection Blu-ray set, which assembles 31 films (!) onto 14 discs.


Special Features

Severin’s standalone Blu-ray disc of the doc (which is also included in the boxed set) features a wealth of extras, including the bonus feature The Female Bunch (1971) – reviewed separately – which actually functions as the perfect example of Adamson as sexploitation auteur, made with close friends & colleagues.

Extras include outtake interviews that expand on aspects neatly addressed in the doc, including Adamson’s eccentric father Victor Adamson (aka Denver Dixon), a very savvy businessman who made a career starring and producing westerns, and engaging in chicanery legendary of early Hollywood film mavericks.

In another segment, screenwriter / Adamson collaborator / friend Gary Kent recalls the script he wrote from which Fulford may have gotten the idea to use a hammer as his murder weapon. Russ Tamblyn also appears in an amusing outtake, showing off an RCA TV set that (incredibly) still works after a nasty house fire. There’s also a promo reel used to sell a shot-on-video UFO documentary Adamson was working on prior to his death.

Titled Beyond This Earth, the doc currently exists as raw footage, and as a promo, the latter likely cut on SVHS and which survives as a cop-of-a-copy with serious and unfixable colour phase issues. The footage is cheesy & low-budget, but it would make a fascinating artifact if it’s ever reconstructed in a version close to what Adamson was proposing. Sherman apparently controls the footage, but it’s a bittersweet asset because it was during its making that Adamson went from skeptic to believer in alien abductions & meddling with humans, and Sherman’s sadness infers a change in his friend which may have strained their decades-old friendship, and blinded the director to Fulford’s shenanigans.



© 2020 Mark R. Hasan





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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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