BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON (2019)

Blood and Flesh - The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson.jpg

Studio:      Severin Films
Director:    David Gregory
Writer:      David Gregory
Producer:  Heather Buckley, Carl Daft, Nicole Mikuzis, David Gregory
Stars:     Al Adamson, Samuel M. Sherman, Ken Adamson, Robert Dix, Bud Cardos, Russ Tamblyn, Stevee Ashlock, Gary Kent, Fred Olen Ray

Review Score:

95.jpg

Summary:

Friends, filmmakers, and classic clips recount the wildly weird career and tragic murder of B-movie director Al Adamson.


Synopsis:     

Review:

If Al Adamson¡¯s name sounds unfamiliar, interviewees in the deeply fascinating retrospective ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± can sum up the kind of kooky career he had in two simple sentences. ¡°What other director worked with Colonel Sanders, Charles Manson, bikers, and porn people?¡± When it came to an Al Adamson picture, ¡°you could be sure there were gonna be midgets, a lot of breasts, blood and gore, all kinds of fun people and strange things going on.¡±

The quirky characters populating Adamson¡¯s life in the B-movie muck weren¡¯t all sexy stewardesses, talking chimpanzees, and Hollywood has-beens who were half-blind as well as half in the bag, however. Adamson¡¯s offscreen adventures detoured down a darker path that began with a Vegas showgirl, sidetracked into men-in-black danger, and ultimately ended with a handyman who horrifically took Adamson¡¯s life both figuratively and literally. Behind-the-scenes stories name-dropping everyone from Lon Chaney Jr. to The Three Stooges should provide endless intrigue. If somehow they don¡¯t, ¡°Blood and Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson¡± takes a grisly turn that becomes as provocative as any true crime tale you can find.

There¡¯s a good reason why Al Adamson never became a popularly known name in the wider world of underground exploitation. Shockingly for someone in his line of work, he was simply too much of an ordinary average guy. Adamson¡¯s personality wasn¡¯t as loud as Larry Cohen¡¯s. He wasn¡¯t quite as clean at cutting corners as Roger Corman. He wasn¡¯t as weird as Ed Wood. Adamson fell somewhere in between Corman¡¯s refined schlock and Wood¡¯s obliviously awful camp. Adamson fully realized his low-budget limitations, yet still thought of his movies as ¡°pretty good,¡± all things considered.

You hear about a lot of sleazy people on this side of cinema. ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± presents Al Adamson as one of the rare good guys, which makes the story of his life all the more endearing, and the story of his death impossibly more tragic.

The talking heads are all terrific. Everyone has such colorfully vivid recollections, it feels as though they¡¯re recalling fresh memories from yesterday, not 30 to 50 years ago. Even if they end up exaggerating or heaping on hyperbole, you can believe what they¡¯re saying because of their detailed conviction. Their sincerely appreciative enthusiasm for Adamson translates into engaging entertainment for the audience.

The amount of ground director David Gregory covers to craft an exhaustive yet compact biography is on a Ken Burns level of comprehensiveness. I don¡¯t know if there is a relevant living person who isn¡¯t interviewed. Longtime producers who were there at the start of Adamson¡¯s career in the 1960s all the way down to a camera assistant on his last shoot in the 1990s sit down with smiles to contribute. ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± could have made do with far less without anyone noticing. Yet the film still goes through the trouble of talking to six different law enforcement personnel in addition to an attorney and housekeeper, who is still emotionally distraught 25 years later, to paint the full picture of Adamson¡¯s murder.

Success as an Academy Award-winning collaborator with Steven Spielberg and Brian DePalma doesn¡¯t keep renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond from adding a tale of being paid his $100/day fee in coins and singles because Adamson scraped the money together by delivering newspapers between takes. It doesn¡¯t get more Hollywood than that! Even when Zsigmond and others talk about getting cheated out of cash while calling Adamson a prick, they bend forward laughing about it. This reverent affection makes for refreshing reveals that are heartfelt while still being unafraid to lance the boils of badness when less favorable anecdotes come into play.

I assumed the only person ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± couldn¡¯t get would be Adamson¡¯s killer Fred Fulford. Unexpectedly, Fulford¡¯s voice does speak briefly via a 2019 telephone interview. David Gregory and his producers really did think of everything, and then made sure they had coverage that would count.

Gregory works with editors Michael Capone and Mark Hartley to make a movie that¡¯s smartly cut with tremendously energetic pacing. Through new interviews in addition to archive footage, over forty unique people participate. ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± builds its narrative by having those voices pitch in on singular thoughts, sometimes having them complete another¡¯s sentence, so they tell a complete story collectively without anyone needing to take a breath.

One great bit cheekily documents a notorious discrepancy over how much money ¡°Satan¡¯s Sadists¡± made by having four different men cite four different numbers in a downward waterfall from 20 million to 10 million to 600-700k and finally just ¡°a lot of money.¡± ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± lets each talker tell individual tales, then packages their sound bites into a presentation designed to be as enjoyably offbeat as it is informative.

¡°Blood and Flesh¡± further eliminates dull lulls and pregnant pauses with copious clips from Al Adamson¡¯s complete catalogue. The film already bursts with content yet makes it seem like you get more than a mere 100 minutes of material because of its slick style and sense of snappiness. Pay no mind to the additional hours you¡¯ll be inspired to expend tracking down and lapping up all the juicy goofs and gaudy gore of Adamson¡¯s oeuvre once the documentary concludes.

Over a full hour of that runtime is devoted exclusively to Al Adamson¡¯s career. ¡°Blood and Flesh¡± doesn¡¯t dive into the before, during, and after of his gruesome murder until about 30 minutes are left. Then the switch flips with unbelievable access to actual police footage of investigating the crime scene and exhuming the body.

A minor hump gets hit when the movie scratches the surface of a strange story about Adamson becoming entrenched in UFO conspiracies. It¡¯s hard to hear Adamson¡¯s girlfriend recount the couple meeting a being that supposedly proved its extraterrestrial origin only for her to frustratingly clam up before offering evidence. Ditto Adamson¡¯s producing partner Sam Sherman, who implies his friend¡¯s life was endangered by shadowy government agents yet refuses to name names. David Gregory tries to overturn this oddly abrupt stone, but the two people teasing it insist on hiding the worms back in the ground.

¡°Blood and Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson¡± also has a touch of trouble wrapping up neatly before cutting to end credits, but that may just be me looking for points to dock from what is really a practically perfect documentary. It¡¯s the right length. It¡¯s got the right attitude. The right people are working hard on both sides of the camera. Goldilocks would love it. So will guerrilla filmmaking aficionados anxious to hear wonderful war stories of working without a net in a bygone era, as well as crime fans captivated by a bizarre bio with an unbelievable journey to an unfortunate ending.

Review Score: 95