• Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review (Part Two Of Seven)

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: June 2nd, 2020.
    Director: Al Adamson
    Cast: Caroll Montour, Al Adamson, Shirely Tegge, Robert Fix, John Carradine, John Bud Cardos, Barbara Bishop, Alex D'Arcy, Jennifer Bishop
    Year: 1960/1970/1969/1970
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    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection – Movie Reviews:

    Thirty-two movies! That’s right, there are thirty-two movies in Severin Film’s Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection boxed set, and so we’re going to split this review up over a week, two discs per day, so that I don’t pass out from exhaustion.

    You can read coverage of discs one and two here.

    Here’s a look at discs three and four from this voluminous effort.

    Disc Three – Half Way To Hell/Five Bloody Graves:

    1960’s Half Way To Hell is actually Al Adamson’s directorial debut. His work in the director’s chair on this picture may be uncredited, but it’s still definitely his work and an interesting glance at the utterly bizarre career that would follow. Adamson actually co-directed the film with his father, Victor Adamson, better known as old-timey cowboy movie star Denver Dixon. The making of this film and the importance of its role in Adamson’s ‘evolution’ as a filmmaker are well-covered in the Blood & Flesh documentary on the first disc.

    Anyway, what is this legitimate cinematic obscurity all about? Set in 1902 in the days before the Mexican Revolution, we meet Maria San Carlos (Caroll Montour), whose father is an influential and very wealthy land baron of sorts. Maria is set to be wed in an arranged marriage to a military man named Escobar (Al Adamson himself, credited here as Lyle Felice) but she’s not down with this at all since she isn’t in love with him. She and her friend Joanne (Shirley Tegge) run away and wind up crossing from California into Mexico unaware that Escobar, who is currently involved in some sort of military operations, has sent a gang of hired mercenary types out into the desert to get Maria back. Manuel (Sergio Virel), Maria’s former servant, is also sent with the mercenaries to make sure that the girls are returned in one piece and unharmed – and it’s a good thing too, as they’re abused pretty regularly along the way.

    When a few of the mercenaries wind up dead, a noble and heroic man named Jeff Lawton (David Lloyd) arrives to help out, unaware that nice guy Manuel is falling head over heels in love with pretty Maria. When the girls are brought back to Escobar and he slaps Maria, Manuel steps in and they duel with bullwhips – which is seriously all kinds of awesome – and afterwards Escobar relieves Maria from their engagement as he realizes she doesn’t love him. What happens then? We won’t spoil it but Maria gets kidnapped, matters of the heart prove truly complicated and, well, there’s a cool showdown at the end.

    This sixty-seven-minute black and white quickie is actually a pretty entertaining picture, and not just because we get to watch a bunch of very white people put on bad Spanish accents. Narrated almost entirely by Marian and presented, sometimes, from her point of view, the movie gets edgier than you might exact an older western to get, with Joanne the victim of an attempted raped at one point at the hands of a cowpoke named Blackie. There’s a whole lot of unnecessary melodrama here in terms of the romance and the themes of ‘revolution’ that the movie deals with, but Adamson himself is pretty neat to watch here, all decked out in black leather and playing the heavy rather well. The bullwhip fights are pretty awesome to watch, and quite dangerous looking, and we get a few nicely done punch-ups and shootouts as well. A minor effort in the pantheon of American B-westerns but an interesting movie in its own right and a worth addition to this collection.

    In 1970’s Five Bloody Graves, Ben Thompson (Robert Dix) is a rogue gunfighter who wanders from town to town until he finds out that an Indian named Setago (John Bud Carlos) has been slaughtering innocent folk trying to farm the lands. When Ben discovers this, he does his best to warn an ex-girlfriend of his named Nora (Vicki Volante) and her family, but he winds up having to take matters into his own hands. When a group of burlesque dancers and an elderly man of the cloth (John Carradine) need to be escorted through a valley, Ben is brought on board to make sure they make it there alive, but of course, once Setago finds out about the caravan he and his men attack…

    Five Bloody Graves is a bad film even by Al Adamson standards. Not much really happens for the first hour or so of the film and it isn’t really until Ben has to escort the ladies through the valley that things pick up. By that point, you probably won’t care what happens to Ben or his new friends, you’ll instead be reaching for the remote so that you can put something better on. The effects are bad, the costumes unimpressive (most of the native Indians are obviously played by white dudes in bad make up) and the finale is far from grand. The result? The film is boring. It had potential and Robert Dix and John Carradine are fun in their respective role,s but so little actually happens in this film that it’s just flat out dull and rather difficult to pay attention to.

    The only redeeming quality that Five Bloody Graves has going for it is some truly wonky narration courtesy of Gene Raymond, speaking as if he were death incarnate, and going on and on about how Setago and Ben are acting as his messengers on the Earthly plain. It’s not that the narration is particularly good, it’s just that it’s so flat out strange that it almost makes the movie entertaining. Almost, but not quite, though it does have a bit of nice topless nudity in it and a genuinely bad ass score. The opening credits with an animated grim reaper riding across the plains is also very cool and as terrible as he might be, anytime John Carradine shows up I smile. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is pretty solid here as well. I guess, now that I look back on that paragraph, Five Bloody Graves has a few redeeming qualities.

    Disc Four – Blood Of Dracula’s Castle/Horror Of The Blood Monsters:

    In his 1969 feature Blood Of Dracula's Caste, Al Adamson made for Crown International Pictures, a photographer Glen named Cannon (Gene O'Shane) and his sexy fiancé, a model named Liz Arden (Barbara Bishop) inherited a castle called when his strange uncle Thomas passes away. When they arrive, they find that Falconroc is already home to a strange old couple made up of Count Charles Townsend (Alex D'Arcy) and his wife, Countess Townsend (Paula Raymond). It seems that Uncle Thomas was renting the old abode out to the pair for a few decades now and they're not really keen on leaving. Neither is Glenn really looking forward to the idea of kicking the old folks out.

    What Glenn doesn't know, but which the title of the film really gives away, is that Count Townsend is actually Count Dracula and that he and the Countess have been using the castle to imprison all of the beautiful young women who seem to be so prevalent in the area. With some help from their man slave, the monstrous looking Mango (Ray Young) and their suspicious butler, George (John Carradine sporting a pretty cool dye job), they've turned the castle's basement into a veritable prison of hotties whose blood they drink and who they periodically sacrifice to their dark god, Luna! Making matters even worse is the appearance of the count's old pal, Johnny Davenport (Robert Dix) who has broken out of jail and decided to hide out at the castle despite the fact that the impending full moon will almost certainly transform him into a killer. When Glenn refuses to sell the castle to the Count, he and Liz find themselves in very dire straits indeed...

    Goofy even by the ridiculous standards of Adamson's filmography, this is a fun time waster of a film. You can't take any of it too seriously as the entire cast overacts from start to finish and the dime store effects are about as convincing as your next door neighbor's Halloween decorations, but the picture moves at a good pace and features some pretty neat horror clichés in action. Spiders, monsters, girls in chains and fake blood - it's all here, and you get an extra hammy John Carradine on top of all that, the icing on this wonderfully stunted cake that includes a sweet vintage Ford Mustang in the opening scene and some superfluous footage shot at Marineland clearly intended to pad out the running time.

    Note that Severin has included both the eighty-four-minute theatrical cut and the ninety-one-minute TV cut of the film under the alternate title of Dracula’s Castle. The TV version includes werewolf footage that pads out the running time by a few minutes. This footage was not included in the theatrical cut.

    Horror Of The Blood Monsters is another Adamson patchwork job. By using footage from One Million Years B.C. and a black and white Filipino monster film called Tagani, producer Sam Sherman was able to use Adamson to shoot some new footage that could be used alongside the footage from the existing movies to create… something.

    The film opens with a nonsensical scene where a group of vampires, one of whom is played by Adamson himself, prey on some people while Brother Theodore of all people narrates what’s happening in an attempt to provide context. It turns out there there’s a vampiric scourge around the world. Uh oh.

    Anyway, from there, Dr. Rynning (John Carradine) commands a crew of male and female astronauts, one of whom is Dr. Manning (Robert Dix), on a mission to land on a remote planet and find whatever it is that they need to cure the Earth of its vampire problem. When they land and start exploring the alien planet, Adamson and Sherman inject the film with footage from the aforementioned Filipino film, tinted into different colors to convince the audiences that they were, in fact, watching a color film shot using ‘Spectum-X’ technology. Lots of cavemen run around and fight different monsters and dinosaurs do battle with one another. Some vampiric-looking creatures do show up, as do some wonky dwarves out to cause trouble and some badass lobster men. The crew meets a beautiful alien girl (Jennifer Bishop) and then eventually heads back to Earth to sort everything out.

    Patchwork or not, this one is actually quite a bit of fun. The footage from Tagini is genuinely impressive, it’s a shame that the entire original version of the movie couldn’t be included here as it looks seriously awesome. The movie, as disjointed as it is, moves at a pretty good pace and again, John Carradine will make you smile. At least he made me smile. John Carradine always makes me smile. The newly shot footage that Adamson made for the beginning is so goofy and disjointed that you can’t help but love it and the ultra low-fi effects used for the spaceship are… charming?

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    The two westerns are presented on a 50GB disc, with Half Way To Hell taking up 19Gbs of space and Five Bloody Graves given 25GBs of space. Both transfers are AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The black and white 1.77.1 transfer for Half Way is in fairly rough shape, lots of print damage and the like and with fairly regular contrast blooming. There are skips and frame jumps here as well, and the black levels often times look like grey. As to Five Bloody Graves, framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, it looks pretty decent. There’s mild print damage here and there but the colors are nicely reproduced and look very good. The image is quite stable, always looking nice and filmic.

    The theatrical version of Blood Of Dracula’s Castle is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks pretty soft (and rather tight in some spots in regards to the framing), though it gets 15GBs of space. It’s thick with grain and detail is less than perfect here. Still, it’s more than watchable enough and bests the old DVD versions that have been floating around. The TV cut is in better shape, framed at 1.33.1 and it gets 17GBs of space on the disc. It too is a bit soft but detail is stronger here and there’s more depth and texture. Either way, keep expectations in check. Both are in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The Horror Of The Blood Monsters is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and takes up 14GBs of space on the disc. It actually looks quite nice, even the insert footage looks nice and clean. There is some mild damage here and there but nothing to be concerned about and the colors look really nice here throughout.

    All five films get 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks with subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality can and does jump around a bit throughout all of the movies. Not surprisingly, Half Way To Hell fares the worst of the bunch, with constant hiss throughout and some noticeable sibilance. The other three movies sound quite a bit better, they’re properly balanced and much cleaner sounding.

    Extras for discs three and four are as follows:

    Disc Three – Half Way To Hell/Five Bloody Graves:

    There are no extras related to Half Way To Hell on this disc but Five Bloody Graves is well represented with supplements starting with Outside Of Tuscon, a featurette that interviews actor/screenwriter Robert Dix. Over the span of sixteen-minutes, Mr. Dix, who comes across as insanely likeable, talks about how his dad was a silent film actor who managed to transition to sound, his family history and where the name Dix came from, how he got into movies as a teenager with small one or two line parts before then getting bigger roles including on movies like Forbidden Planet. He talks about getting his break through Sam Fueller before then talking about writing the screenplay for this film originally as The Lonely Man, where some of the ideas came from, working with Al Adamson on the project, where the funding came from on the picture (some of which came from Adamson’s father who was friends with Robert Dix) and more. Then we hear from John ‘Bud’ Cardos about what it was like on set, the locations that they used for the film before then going back to Dix who shares some interesting stories from the set, how he had to wear many hats on the shoot, how the crew worked very much ‘cash and carry’ knowing that Adamson was getting money day by day by working a paper route and lots more. Great stuff.

    Carried over from past editions is a partial audio commentary with Sherman who goes into a fair bit of detail about the history of the film as well as his relationship with Al Adamson. The track also contains audio snippets from Robert Dix that were recorded a few years ago, spliced in with Sherman’s thoughts. The track is quite interesting as Sherman talks about the films that he and Adamson were influenced by and what fads they were trying to cash in on with this picture. Sherman also details casting issues, location shooting in Utah, and more – it’s definitely worth listening to.

    But wait, there’s more! We also get the alternate title sequence for the Five Bloody Days To Tucson retitling of the movie, a radio spot and a few TV spots.

    Disc Four – Blood Of Dracula’s Castle/Horror Of The Blood Monsters:

    Aside from the two different cuts of the film, we also get a partial audio commentary with ‘expert’ Brian Albright. This is more than just a look at the history of the film but also at the career of Adamson and producer Rex Carlton. He talks about the music used over the opening credits, how actress Vicki Volante only appeared in Adamson films, the alternate TV version and the changes that were made to it, the locations that were used on the California shoot (the castle in particular), details of the different cast members in the picture, the not insignificant Carradine factor, Sam Sherman’s influence on the picture and his love of classic monster movies, Bud Cardos and Gary Kent’s involvement (and an unfinished movie they made called The Devil Wolf Of Shadow Mountain that was a werewolf western!). Lots more in here as well, it’s a very interesting commentary that might be ‘partial’ but which covers an hour or so of the feature.

    There are also some audio interview excerpts here, taken from a recording with actor Alex D’Arcy. Here, over three-minutes, David Del Valle talks to him about the film’s amusing charm, the film’s writer who committed suicide, why he did the film in the first place and how the picture is an embarrassing joke, how Carradine was used for about ten days, shooting on location at an ‘old castle in the desert, somewhere… a hundred miles from here.’ D’Arcy is upfront about the fact that he’d really like to forget about this movie all together.

    A theatrical trailer for the feature is also included.

    Extras for Horror Of The Blood Monsters include an archival audio commentary with Sam Sherman. He talks about how the son of Tex Ritter’s sidekick wound up in the film and his tragic end, the ‘mish mosh’ at the beginning of the scene that were made four or five years after the movie was completed, his own desire to make sure there was enough legitimately color footage in the film to make the advertising okay, how all the into was ad-libbed and made no sense, Adamson’s own cameo in the film as a vampire, the history of the original film that was edited into this movie, how Horror Of The Blood Monsters played extensively in theaters only to be retitled as Vampire Men Of The Lost Planet when it went to play TV (TV stations didn’t want titles with the word ‘blood’ in them), how and where they got some of the cast members for the feature, how red tinting will make the eye tired if it us used too long (oops!) and how this was created as a ‘fun little low budget package with minimalist package that took advantage of a picture that had some production value.’

    Also included is the alternate Space Mission Of The Lost Planet title sequence, two trailers for the feature and one for Tagani, a minutes' worth of TV spots, and some radio spots.

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection - The Final Word:

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection discs three and four offer up a couple of oddball westerns, some monster movies and a weird mix of horror and sci-fi that doesn’t make any sense. It’s a fun selection of films presented in presentations that are less than perfect but still far better than we’ve seen before. Throw in some decent extra features and yeah, this’ll do just fine.

    Click on the images below for full sized Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection Disc Three Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      The timing of this review is interesting as well; Fred Fulford is up for parole this year, I believe.
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      I'm really enjoying these, Ian! More than watching the films for sure.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Glad to hear it, it's a lot of work, haha.

      And Mark, that is interesting for sure, I hadn't heard that.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ian Jane View Post
      Glad to hear it, it's a lot of work, haha.

      And Mark, that is interesting for sure, I hadn't heard that.
      I was just curious about Adamson's death and noticed that he'd been convicted for 25 years without parole in 1995.