• Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: April 21st, 2020.
    Director: David Gregory
    Cast: Al Adamson, John 'Bud' Cardos, Sam Sherman, Marilyn Joi, Gary Kent, Russ Tamblyn, Vilmos Zsigmond
    Year: 2019
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    Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson – Movie Review:

    Al Adamson led an interesting life and David Gregory’s 2019 documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson does an excellent job of exploring that life, as well as the late filmmaker’s unusual death.

    We open with a bit of a teaser as to how this all ends before then settling down into a more linear look at Adamson’s life and times. We learn a bit about his childhood, about his parents and how his father, Denver Dixon, starred in plenty of early western films, which led to Adamson’s first getting into the film business as an actor. From here we learn that he was better at telling people what to do than at being told what to do, and he made the switch from actor to director with his first feature, Psycho-A-Go-Go. The flood gates soon opened and once he paired up with distributor Sam Sherman, he was off and running, cranking out a run of low budget B-movies from the mid-sixties on into the eighties.

    Adamson and Sherman were more than happy to cash in on any and all cinematic trends. Horror was hot when they got their start but when biker movies came along and then Blaxploitation pictures and sexy stewardess films, they had no trouble shifting their focus on those genres in an attempt to make a few quick bucks. The results weren’t likely to be considered high art by anyone who saw them, but Adamson’s stated goal was to entertain the audience, and most of them time, no matter how poor the finished product, he managed to at least do that. Along the way he married muse/actress Regina Carrol, worked with Russ Tamblyn, made Dracula blink a lot and squabbled with Sherman about sex films.

    And then, in 1995, Adamson hired a handyman named Fred Fulford to do some work on his home in Indio, California. Before long, Fulford was doing his hair like Al, dressing like Al and signing Adamson’s name to checks. When it was found out that Fulford was stealing from Adamson, he told his girlfriend he was going to confront him about it. A short time later, Adamson was missing and after that his body was found buried in cement under the floor of a room in his home where a hot tub used to be.

    Gregory’s documentary does a great job of putting together an interesting snapshot of Adamson’s life by way of archival interview footage with the man himself and plenty of newly shot material with his brother as well as frequent co-conspirator Sherman as well as plenty of other people who knew and worked with him like John 'Bud' Cardos, Robert Dix, Marilyn Joi, Gary Kent, Worth Keeter, Russ Tamblyn and Vilmos Zsigmond and quite a few more. There’s talk here about Adamson’s penchant for shooting one take and one take only, not paying people he worked with and using fading Hollywood stars in his films like John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. but so too is there talk about shooting on the Spahn Movie Ranch while the Manson family was hanging about and Adamson’s believe in extraterrestrial life in his later years (this part is particularly fascinating as we learn from some of the interviewees that he may have gotten ‘too close’ in this regard – it’s definitely one of the more unusual aspects of the picture).

    The whole thing is very well put together, never feeling too clip heavy but using enough footage from Adamson’s films to complement the different interview clips and illustrate the various points made during the films. The editing is solid, the cinematography is quite good and there’s some nice technical polish to all of this.

    Part bio-pic, part true crime story, the film serves as a fascinating and fitting tribute to a filmmaker whose leaves a fascinating legacy in the pantheon of cult films and B-movies.

    Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson – DVD Review:

    The AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 fullframe transfer on this 50GB Blu-ray disc looks excellent, with the feature taking up just over 28GBs of space on the dual-layered disc. The archival clips are all over the place in terms of quality, the mid-nineties TV broadcast footage and analogue tape-sourced interview clips with Adamson showing their age and their source limitations, but the newly shot material looks excellent. Some of the film clips are a bit worse for wear, some look almost spotless. The disc is nicely authored, there are no problems with any noticeable compression problems or noise reduction or anything like that. All in all, this is a fine presentation.

    24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Master Audio tracks are provided in English only. The 5.1 mix spreads the score and a few effects around while the 2.0 track, obviously, keeps everything up front. Both of them sound quite good. Again, some of the archival clips aren’t quite pristine but they’re all audible enough. Closed captioning is provided in English only. One gripe – when Adamson’s former maid starts speaking in Spanish, automatic subtitles appear on the screen, which makes sense, but then every time she does it the closed captioning says ‘speaking a foreign language’ which covers up some of the subtitles! Otherwise, no problems here. Subtitles are provided in Spanish, French and Portuguese.

    The bulk of the extras are made up of outtakes and extended scenes like The Cowboy Life of Denver Dixon, Russ Tamblyn's Melted TV, Manson & Screaming Angels and The Prophetic Screenplay Makes Gary Kent Testify. All of this material is quite interesting, and more Russ Tamblyn is always a good thing. Likely cut for pacing reasons, this is definitely worth checking uot.

    Rounding out the extras for the feature attraction area trailer for the documentary as well as a promo reel for Beyond This Earth, the unfinished U.F.O. movie that Adamson was working on (which, quite honestly, looks pretty amazing) and a pretty great still gallery of theatrical poster art for Adamson films!

    But wait – that’s not all! Severin has also included a full-length bonus feature in the form of The Female Bunch from 1971, which is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen with 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio and optional English closed captioning. Dubbed tracks are also provided in Spanish and German! The presentation was taken from several different prints with varying degrees of print damage and color fading, so it doesn’t look amazing in that regard but it does certainly best previous DVD releases.

    What’s it all about? In Las Vegas, poor Sandy (Nesa Renet), a waitress, is so despondent after a bad run with the men in her life that she decides to take her own life. Thankfully, a co-worker named Libby (Regina Carrol) stops her from that and decides that she should be introduced to her girl gang pals who all ride horses and live out in the middle of the desert. There are no men around, save for Monti (Lon Chaney Jr. in his final role), an old Hollywood guy who is as loyal to the gang’s leader, Grace (Jennifer Bishop) as can be. Grace wants to see if Sandy has what it takes to join their gang and so she puts her through an initiation test of sorts. But what these women, who purport not to take any crap from men, are really up to is smuggling drugs across the southern border! When a man named Bill (Russ Tamblyn) does manage to show up at their camp, he has his forehead branded with an X and is made an example of!

    At first, Sandy is intrigued and excited by her new friends and the lifestyle that it offers her, but once she starts using the drugs that the gang is smuggling, things start to get a little iffy and when she finally decides to try and make it away from Grace and company, well, it may no longer be up to her at all!

    Partially shot at the Spahn Ranch while the Manson Family was hanging about and titled to cash in on the success of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (it was originally to be called A Time To Run), The Female Bunch is a moderately entertaining slice of sleaze of low budget trash. Chaney isn’t in it very much and he’s clearly in bad shape here, having battled throat cancer and thrown himself into a bottle at this point. It’s bittersweet to see him here, really. Tamblyn appears to be having fun (and mentions in the documentary that it was indeed fun) and makes an interesting impression when he’s on screen, but his part isn’t all that big or important to the movie. Nesa Renet is decent enough and likeable here, but limited in range. Adamson’s future wife, Regina Carrol, handles the material well enough but again isn’t going to win any awards here. What stops the movie from being as over the top and entertaining as it should be is the lukewarm performance from Jennifer Bishop. She’s certainly attractive enough but isn’t quite as intense or convincing as she needs to be to really make Grace the queen bitch character that she’s meant to come across as.

    As far as extras for the bonus feature are concerned, we get a fifteen-minute featurette called The Bunch Speaks Out which is made up of interviews with Leslie McCray who talks about her connection to Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and how she got into acting as well as how charming Al was and how much she liked working with him. Russ Tamblyn talks about some of his early roles and how he got into the business and hit it big in West Side Story before then winding up in two Adamson films. Sharyn Wynters talks about how she landed the part through her agent, how she also liked Adamson and enjoyed the part she had as well as the opportunity to work with Tamblyn. Bud Cardos pops up here as well as assistant cameraman Michael Ferris and props guy R. Michael Stringer. There’s talk here about shooting on location in Utah, what it was like on set, what Chaney was like to work with and his alcohol problem, who could and couldn’t really ride horses, some of the stunt work required in the film, the Manson Family presence on the Spahn Ranch and quite a bit more. There are archival slips from the same tape-sourced Adamson interview featured in the documentary included here as well and some of the snippets used here are in the documentary as well, but it’s an interesting piece that offers some welcome insight into what it would have been like working on this picture.

    A couple of trailers for The Female Bunch are also included on the dis alongside two-minutes’ worth of extended scenes.

    Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson – The Final Word:

    Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson is a legitimately great documentary sure to appeal to anyone with an interest in the weird side of low budget filmmaking, B-movie history or true crime stories. It’s a fascinating film, sometimes very funny and sometimes genuinely sad, but always interesting and Severin has done an excellent job bringing it to Blu-ray with some nice extras. Highly recommended!

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