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‘Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection’ Is One of the Year’s Best Home Video Releases

Al Adamson was something special, and now he’s gotten a Blu-ray box set to memorialize both the man and his work.
Director Al Adamson
By  · Published on August 2nd, 2020

Filmmaker Al Adamson was one of a kind, and while his movies appeal only to a small segment of film lovers those that dig his work really and truly dig it. His life was tragically cut short by murder, but what a life it was. Severin Films has done something amazing in the world of dwindling practical media by putting together an ultimate box set of his films. It’s an epic undertaking given the condition, availability, and conflicting information surrounding many of the films, but the result is among the very best of the year’s home video releases.

Thirty one films are collected here — most are standalones while some are variations on others — and all but two were new to me before digging in to the set. It’s quite the endeavor as the films are joined by an abundance of special features ranging from trailers to commentaries to interviews and more. There’s a lot to take in here, but this is a set deserving of time and attention.

Now let’s go explore Al Adamson – The Masterpiece Collection.

Disc One

A recent and excellent documentary called Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson is paired with one of the filmmaker’s more popular releases. The doc is a fascinating glimpse into the artist’s life with archival footage and interviews with friends and collaborators. He story is one of persistence, if not talent, and his end is tragic, and the film makes for an engaging introduction to his career and filmography as it explores his ambitions and efforts against the odds.

The Female Bunch opens with a chase that sees the survivor share a story of how she got there, and that story is the bulk of the film. She tells her story all the way until the final ten minutes, and the core of it involves a gang of women — feminists? not quite — who run rampage over the American southwest harassing men and women alike. It’s fun and violent, and Russ Tamblyn’s appearance as a man who threatens the gang only to pay a hefty price is an interesting wrinkle into the wild narrative. Less entertaining is the state of an unwell Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his final film appearances.

Special features:

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson

The Female Bunch (1971)

Disc Two

Three movies — that are essentially one movie as they share a lot of footage between them — are collected here. Psycho a Go-Go is a heist tale of sorts that sees the thieves stymied when the goods end up inside a child’s doll, The Fiend with the Electronic Brain keeps that same basic plot but moves it slightly to the side to make room for John Carradine’s mad scientist, and finally Blood of Ghastly Horror repeats step two by adding in even more crazy scientist shenanigans. Seeing the progression of ideas from one film to the next, each trying to land box-office gold in a different or bigger way, is actually more entertaining than the films themselves. You can see the thought process evolving even as the films grow sillier.

Special features:

Psycho a Go-Go (1965)

The Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1967)

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1973)

Disc Three

Here we get two westerns paired together with Half Way to Hell and Five Bloody Graves. The former is the oldest film in the set and technically directed by Adamson’s father, Victor (aka Denver Dixon), and it’s in many ways the most traditional film here too. Of course, it’s arguably the least engaging and entertaining for that very reason as it’s both straightforward and only teases the more exciting or exploitative elements that would become Adamson the younger’s trademarks.

Five Bloody Graves is a different story all together, though, as it offers up a saucy, bloody, rude slice of western exploitation. The Native Americans are bloodthirsty savages (and played by White guys in makeup), the women are whores (or dead), and the white men move between morally upstanding and utterly cruel. The film follows a man’s quest for revenge throughout the gorgeous landscapes of rural Utah, and while things get pretty nasty at times there’s a playfulness to it all starting with the realization that it’s narrated by Death.

Special features:

Half Way to Hell (1960)

Five Bloody Graves (1969)

Disc Four

Once again Severin brings together three films sharing some DNA. Blood of Dracula’s Castle sees a young couple inherit a castle in Arizona, but when they arrive in the hopes of moving in they discover a pleasant vampire couple have been calling it home for centuries. Oh, and there’s also a serial murderer who fancies himself something of a werewolf and a Frankenstein’s monster-like servant to contend with too. House Hunters International this isn’t. Dracula’s Castle, meanwhile, is simply a television edit that mixes things up slightly by completing the killer’s transformation into an actual werewolf.

Horror of the Blood Monsters may not recycle any of the footage from those films, but it’s still a vampire tale that mashes up scenes from different sources including a creature feature from the Philippines. It’s about a vampiric apocalypse that sees scientists send astronauts into space in search of help only to find all manners of trouble. The film plays around with color tinting as a story device and makes for a fairly trippy watch at times. It’s wonky fun with nonsensical science, an abundance of ascots, and some of the grooviest sci-fi sets you’ve ever seen.

Special features:

Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)

Dracula’s Castle (1969)

Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970)

Disc Five

Here we get two films paired together that share footage and ideas, and it starts with The Fakers (aka Smashing the Crime Syndicate, which is the actual on-screen title here). The story centers on an FBI investigation into a counterfeit ring but also makes time for mobsters, Neo-Nazis, Russian spies, and more. The hero is a pretend bad guy who draws the line at statutory rape which is how you know he’s a good guy. It’s a fun romp made with more skill and production qualities than many of Adamson’s films, and part of its appeal comes in its riffs on the James Bond films. Hell’s Bloody Devils takes that same film with its spies, counterfeiters, and underage girls and adds in a Nazi motorcycle gang. The sub-plot meshes poorly into the existing narrative, but worse, the difference in picture quality is never less than immensely noticeable. Does that make it entertaining? Possibly, but The Fakers is the stronger film.

Special features:

The Fakers (1972)

Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970)

Dracula Vs Frankenstein Lon Chaney Jr Al Adamson Collection

Disc Six

It’s a double feature starting with one of Adamson’s most popular films, Dracula vs Frankenstein, which sees a mad scientist team up with a bearded Dracula to resurrect Frankenstein’s monster. I already hear you asking, “but Rob, is there a biker gang involved somehow?” and to that I answer with a resounding yes, obviously. We also get some hip cats, gory beats, more sad Lon Chaney Jr., and archival footage of protests that appear to be ancestors of the ongoing Black Lives Matter marches. It’s an oddity all right.

Brain of Blood is Adamson’s attempt at aping the style of genre fare from the Philippines — for some reason — with a tale about a brain transplant gone awry. Has one of those operations ever worked out flawlessly in the movies? I think not. It’s suitably ridiculous, but as is often the case with his films that’s just part of its charms as a hulking brute with a “normal” guy’s brain is caught up in terrors beyond his apparent control.

Special features:

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1972)

Brain of Blood (1971)

Disc Seven

Two biker flicks filled with leather, denim, exhaust fumes, violence, and sexual assault, are paired here, so proceed accordingly. Angels’ Wild Women opens with a woman being chased and attacked by two men, and her gang of tough women arrives too late to stop it but in plenty of time to kick the rapists’ asses. Adamson tosses in a killer cult and some time at Spahn Ranch for good measure. Satan’s Sadists focuses more on the guys in the gang as antiheroes, possibly, who wreak havoc across a desert on the men and women who cross their paths. They eventually collapse from within but not before a lot of carnage and death unfolds. Both films go heavy with the tough gals/guys theme as they take apart others, and while punishment wins out it’s a long, dusty ride getting there.

Special features:

Satan’s Sadists (1969)

Angels’ Wild Women (1972)

Disc Eight

Things gets saucy with a double feature of stewardesses out of control. The Naughty Stewardesses features plenty of the title character shenanigans, but rather than be a straightforward T&A story line Adamson adds in a kidnapping too. Boobs, butts, and bad guys abound, but even with an assault the film’s most questionable scene involves a little boy watching as a stewardess drops her underwear and gets fondled — it’s all in a master shot, so that kid got an eyeful. And then there’s Blazing Stewardesses… the buxom flight attendants are back, and the film opens with more of their naughty shenanigans, but the main story line shifts to focus on some older film/TV stars in a western tale. Bad guys on horseback, Yvonne DeCarlo as a madam of a cowboy-themed brothel, and some belabored attempts at comedy follow as the film tries and fails to balance two halves. Still, the Adamson beats you know and love are all present.

Special features:

The Naughty Stewardesses (1973)

Blazing Stewardesses (1975)

Disc Nine

Severin triples down on the saucy antics with a trio of T&A fueled thrillers populated with double-dealing dudes and bad-ass broads as only Adamson can deliver. Girls for Rent is up first and follows a road trip of sorts as two tough women chase down a third while dealing with all manner of perverts and complications. It’s a solid ride even with budget limitations thanks to some fun interactions, car chase antics, and action beats. Keep an eye out for a pretty nasty mid-coitus kill, too.

Nurses for Sale shares a similar sounding title, but instead of being bad girls these ladies are good women forced into action by circumstance and bad guys. It all starts straightforward enough — nurses getting naughty in between patient care — but soon enough the action shifts to a third world country filled with bandits, rebels, and a need for visiting nurses to do their stuff. Adamson tosses in some broad comedy here alongside a surprising amount of time spent with soldiers, thugs, and weirdos. I say surprising because, come on, there’s a bunch of nurses just standing around! Adamson remembers that fact for the third act just in time for things to get nasty with assaults, acid attacks, and more.

The disc wraps up with a rape/revenge western called Jessi’s Girls that sees a wronged woman team up with some female outlaws to dish out justice with a side of fleshy shenanigans. Adamson once again takes good advantage of his rural locations and delivers some entertaining action leading up to a solid shootout in the end. It’s honestly one of Adamson’s better films, and even with his indie budget he delivers a pretty well crafted slice of western exploitation.

Special features:

Girls for Rent (1974)

Nurses for Sale (1976)

Jessi’s Girls (1975)

Disc Ten

Adamson dips his toes into the blaxploitation sub-genre with this double feature, and it starts with Black Heat. The film pits a determined cop named Kicks against a vicious gangster played by Russ Tamblyn (in his final collaboration with the filmmaker), and the action features shootouts, skinny-dipping, car crashes, and more. Title aside, it actually avoids most of the tropes of blaxploitation cinema and instead plays it straight with a tough Black cop kicking ass to avenge his partner and bring down the big bad. It’s good stuff although this being an Adamson film, there’s of course an out of the blue and fairly vicious rape scene too.

Dynamite Brothers sees an Asian and a Black man — named Larry Chin and Stud Brown, respectively, and of course — handcuffed together and forced on the run. Gangsters and bad memories plague their journey, but it’s a dirty cop who’s the biggest threat. This one’s again categorized under blaxploitation, but the Asian element actually gets more screen through martial arts fight scenes, a central subplot, and the always welcome presence of James Hong. Brown’s storyline sees his friends crossing paths with rival tough guys and nameless cops, though, too. It’s the weaker of the two films as things drag at times, but it’s still a somewhat more mature effort from Adamson even if it does feature a car explosion and another crash recycled into Black Heat.

Special features:

Black Heat (1976)

Dynamite Brothers (1974)

Disc Eleven

Adamson’s foray into blaxploitation films continues with these two titles, and both are a bit closer to what you’re probably expecting from the sub-genre. Well, within reason. Mean Mother is an odd hybrid of a film utilizing footage from a Spanish feature alongside new material shot by Adamson. The new scenes are focused on a Black Vietnam veteran who returns to America and finds himself knee deep in criminals, dead bodies, and beautiful women. His friend from the war, meanwhile, heads to Spain with similar results. The two halves don’t quite gel, but we get plenty of tough dialogue, mild shoot outs, action beats, and T&A. It’s not a highlight in Adamson’s filmography, but it’s an interesting oddity.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin might seem like a strange bedfellow with Adamson — might? it absolutely is — but the story of its production is exactly what you’d expect from the filmmaker. The film existed for a decade before Adamson was brought in to kick things up a notch with extra sex and violence, and the result is something. The bulk of the film is original with his additions spliced in fairly well. They blend in in part because the original film, while essentially rated G, is still a grim affair that suggests plenty. Adamson just leaves little to the imagination.

Special features:

Mean Mother (1973)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1977)

Black Samurai Al Adamson Collection

Disc Twelve

Two more films round out Adamson’s foray into blaxploitation, but once again these films don’t quite meet expectations for the sub-genre. Instead they’re action films with a Black lead in Jim Kelly who kicks ass across the board. Secret agents need vacations too, but when the Black Samurai learns that his girlfriend has been abducted by baddies he jumps into action. Jumps, punches, kicks, drives, and flies a mother fucking jet pack. It’s silly and rough as hell around the edges, but you can’t argue with a movie that pits Kelly against a pissed off vulture in a battle of fists and beak.

Death Dimension is more of the same as Kelly chases thugs in possession of a “weather machine” capable of instant freezing people with targeted snow storms. Sure, whatever. It opens with a precise but nasty little surgery — I still can’t decide if it’s special effects or someone actually getting their hairline sliced open to insert a small disc — before shifting into more traditional martial arts fights, car chases, and shootouts between helicopter and gondola. As with Black Samurai, it’s a film that entertains despite itself.

Special features:

Black Samurai (1976)

Death Dimension (1978)

Disc Thirteen

A trio of one-offs take up the thirteenth disc, but they’re arguably some of Adamson’s most accomplished (ie professional looking) filmmaking. First up is a high school T&A comedy called Sunset Cove, and while it sounds like a soap opera the shenanigans are far sillier. It feels very much in league with other skin and sin romps from the 70s and 80s as the “kids” enjoy some sexual antics, and the plot pits the “teens” against greedy developers as some kind of underdog tale. The humor rarely earns an audible laugh, but it’s a fun enough romp for fans of the sub-genre.

Nurse Sherri sees a young woman possessed by a dead cult leader and willed into doing some heinous things, and it’s an oddly atmospheric little thriller. There are beats throughout that play into the bloodletting and T&A of the genre, but there’s also a lot of downtime as the film moves slowly between set pieces and interactions. Better is the overall atmosphere as the opening with the cult shifts into the supernatural shenanigans at the hospital. There’s a low-rent uneasiness to it all — it never quite reaches sleaziness — that adds to the vibe.

Last up is a rare foray into science fiction for Adamson, and it’s an unexpectedly fun time. The plot involves a world where sex is declared illegal which, of course, leads hot young couple to want all the more of it. Oh, and it’s a musical that riffs on Cinderella? The effects move between the nifty and the cheap, but Adamson delivers a good-looking indie comedy. Softcore sci-fi is a relatively small sub-genre, but Adamson nails it right out of the gate with a goofily entertaining romp.

Special features:

Sunset Cove (1978)

Nurse Sherri (1977)

Cinderella 2000 (1977)

Disc Fourteen

The final disc in the collection features the filmmaker’s final two features — fittingly — but they’re not quite what you might be expecting. Adamson isn’t exactly the kind of director you’d expect to see directing a kids movie, but that’s just what we get we these two. That said, they’re definitely family films through his peculiar lens. Carnival Magic involves a small circus struggling to survive, but in addition to there being no children in the film it’s entertainment that leans decidedly adult with its lecherous chimp, abusive animal trainer, and sketchy humor. It’s not a good movie, traditionally speaking, but there’s entertainment to be had in its ridiculousness.

Sadly, the final film in the set is easily the least interesting. Lost is another family feature, but where Carnival Magic entertains with its talking chimp and inappropriate antics this one is just all kinds of dull. A family moves to the wilds of Utah, and while they try to make it a new home the young daughter heads out into nature and loses track of herself. It should be an engaging tale of survival, but it’s never suspenseful and the little girl is annoying enough that we really don’t want her to be found.

Special features:

Carnival Magic (1983)

Lost (1983)

My previous awareness of Adamson’s filmography was limited to a handful of titles to the point that I never really connected the singular filmmaking voice behind them. Exploring this glorious love letter of a box-set one to two films at a time offers a new appreciation for the ultra low budget auteur. Are they all winners? Not even close, but with only an exception or two the films are never boring or dull. They’re entertaining exploitation fare powered by as much by violence as they are by memorable dialogue and silliness, and more often than not they’re good, inappropriate fun.

Severin Films shows epic amounts of affection for Adamson and his films with this set from the packaging on through the presentations. The sturdy slip case houses the book-style set of all fourteen discs, and an included booklet offers detailed breakdowns of each film’s production and release. The films themselves will never be reference material quality despite the TLC afforded them by Severin, but there’s no denying that they’ve never really looked better. Given the scope and cost of this set, it’s ultimately a release for true Adamson fans only — casual viewers need not apply — but if that describes you then Al Adamson – The Masterpiece Collection is a necessary pick up.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.