As a fan of grindhouse exploitation cinema, I felt great shame for never seeing a single Al Adamson flick until now. Adamson was a god of the drive-in screen, directing film after Z-grade film throughout the 70’s. His story gained further notoriety when he was tragically murdered in 1995 by his live-in handyman, who, in an act worthy of an Adamson film, buried his corpse in concrete under the house and went on the lam. It’s a hell of a story, and knowing I had the opportunity to check out David Gregory’s new documentary BLOOD & FLESH: THE REEL LIFE & GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON, I did the only sensible thing and started cramming Adamson films like a slacker before the big exam.
Much like the narrative in Gregory’s documentary, I started with Adamson’s first feature length “film”, Psycho A Go-Go, and worked my way from there. I traced his “growth” as a filmmaker through wonky biker films (Satan’s Sadists), cheap and nasty horror (Dracula vs. Frankenstein), the glory days of blacksploitation (Death Dimension) and finally into supernatural sexploitation (Nurse Sherri). He really ran the gamut, and while I only managed a sampling from Adamson’s directorial cheese platter, I think I prepared myself just enough to appreciate BLOOD & FLESH in full.
Over the years, David Gregory and his company Severin Films have taken a lot of my money, mostly because they produce wonderful DVD and blu-ray editions of forgotten cult cinema and I just can’t help myself. But besides that, it turns out Gregory is an adept documentarian. His last film as director, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, was a fascinating journey into filmmaking gone wrong, and this new piece on Adamson is a fitting followup.
BLOOD & FLESH is billed as a passion project for Gregory, and has, from what I understand, been in the making for at least several years now. He managed to pull together an excellent line-up of prominent figures in Adamson’s life, many of whom are just as intriguing as Al himself. I love listening to old fellows tell stories, and oh boy is there ever a range of quality old fellow’s tales told here.
BLOOD & FLESH covers Adamson’s early years as the son of a silent film director, all the way through his directorial career, and to the grisly details of his death. Using interviews, film clips, and archival material featuring Adamson himself, Gregory paints a portrait of the man through the spectrum of his work, relationships, and business dealings. The documentary, as a necessity, changes gears about two-thirds of the way through, and becomes more about Al’s final bizarre, UFO-believing years, then swerves into full-blown crime-doc territory as we hear the details of his murder at the hands of Fred Fulford. It’s warts and all but done tastefully.
In contrast, Adamson’s filmic creations are the opposite of tasteful, and would no doubt turn off more than a majority of modern audiences. However, there’s no way to discredit his ingenuity and persistence. He may not be around today to tell his side of the story, but you can tell that he was passionate about what he was doing. That’s why his films – as bad as some of them may be – still have such an energy about them. Everyone Gregory interviewed about Adamson has a smile on their face as they recall the man, and that says a lot about the mark he made on those he worked with, let alone on cinema itself through the vast catalogue of delirious drive-in madness he left behind.
With BLOOD & FLESH, David Gregory manages to impart both Adamson’s and his own passion for these kinds of films in a deft, engaging way and leaves you wanting more. I’d like to think that some of the money I bleed into Severin’s coffers when buying their excellent blu-ray releases goes to making further documentaries like this one.
BLOOD & FLESH: THE REEL LIFE & GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON is part of the line-up at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2019.