ADAMSONMANIA! Part 3: Things That Go Schlock In The Night

Horror films were always a reliable staple of drive-ins so it was inevitable that the prolific and money-conscious Al Adamson would make a few, often with business partner and vintage film enthusiast Sam Sherman pitching in. This installment of Adamsonmania takes a look at five senses-dazzling entries into the darkest of genres by Adamson, all available on the instant classic Severin films blu-ray box set, Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection. Background info for these capsule reviews is derived from The Flesh And Blood Files, the excellent liner notes booklet by Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes included in the box set.

Blood of Dracula’s Castle: Shot in 1966 and released in 1969, this was Adamson’s first foray into horror. It’s a confused affair: it starts like a sub-Addams Family/Munsters horror satire with a Mr. and Mrs. Dracula couple losing the rights to their desert castle when the heir who inherited the castle turns up. It’s also got lots of weird padding and subplots: one minute it’s doing a reel-length travelogue at Marineland, the next reel you might have Robert Dix killing people after escaping from prison. However, the final half-hour gets serious with a burning at the stake, torture and scuffles in a papier mache dungeon and one of those trademark run-around-in-the-wilderness Adamson film finales. The cast is full of the director’s regulars – Dix, Vicki Volante, Jennifer Bishop, John Carradine – but the top honors go to Paula Raymond and Alex D’Arcy as the prissy vampire couple who leave the dirty work to their staff. Solid photography by a young Laszlo Kovacs keeps you going through the tonal twists and pokey pacing.

Dracula’s Castle: this is the t.v. version of Blood Of Dracula’s Castle. The main differences here are 1.33:1 framing and the addition of new footage by an outside filmmaker (word has it the new scenes were directed by Don Hulette, who often worked with Crown International and gets an “additional music” credit here).  The changes here revolve around the Robert Dix character: in the theatrical version he’s merely a loony psycho-killer affected by the lunar cycle but in this version he becomes a full-blown werewolf with a fright-mask. The new scenes have the faux-fur werewolf running around in darkened hallways and the great outdoors but they also have a cool clavinet-and-mellotron soundtrack that falls somewhere between psychedelia and prog.  These beats manage to make the proceedings weirder and more padded at the same time. This version of the film probably worked well as a late-night t.v. feature, where your sanity could catch a breather during commercial breaks.

Horror Of The Blood Monsters: This is a particularly notorious and inventive example of an Adamson “patch-job,” i.e. a project where he shot new footage to Americanize a foreign film: the main source material is a black-and-white Filipino fantasy film with a primitive tribe fighting a rival vampire tribe as well as bat people and crab people. Adamson shot a new, ’50s-look wraparound plot in color where Earth is besieged by a vampire virus (Adamson even plays a vampire himself in the pre-titles footage!) and an astronaut team is sent to the planet it came from. John Carradine monitors from the ship’s control room as Adamson’s actors interact with the B&W Filipino footage, with random color-tinting being added to the B&W material and explained away via cockamamie faux-science about radiation in the planet’s atmosphere affecting the visible colors! If that’s not enough, there’s space travel VFX lifted from other films and Robert Dix and Vicki Volante have orgasmatron-styled future sex between their shifts at work. It’s more crazy than entertaining but the sheer gall of it is downright hypnotic. Of all the films in Severin’s Adamson set, this would probably the best one to throw on as background video at a party.

Dracula Vs. Frankenstein: this is tied with Satan’s Sadists as the most (in)famous of all Adamson films.  It’s a film that constantly mutates before your eyes, the result of a protracted production process that began as a pseudo-biker film and eventually became a horror opus involving Dracula forming a fractious alliance with a Frankenstein descendent trying to revive his family’s work at a seedy carnival. “Zandor Vorkov” plays a unique Lavey-as-lounge-lizard version of Dracula, J. Carrol Naish visibly reads cue cards as Frankenstein while his dentures audibly click and the Adamson/Sherman team also throw in a missing-girl subplot, axe murders, bikers and Carrol as a Vegas singer. It’s a real kitchen-sink affair that piles on the plot twists and budget-price guest stars with vigor in a way guaranteed to entertain fans of schlock. If you had to introduce someone to the Adamson oeuvre, this would be a solid choice.

Brain of Blood: Hemisphere Pictures found themselves in the lurch when the Filipino filmmakers they were working with didn’t want to give them their latest horror flick. Sam Sherman offered to make a quickie replacement for them, bringing in Adamson to quickly knock out a domestic film they could pass off as a faux-Filipino mad scientist shocker. This was the result, a crazy saga that involves secret operations, political intrigue, double-crosses, car chases, foot chases and a weirdly poignant and noir-ish version of the Adamson’s usual run-around-on-the-outskirts-of-L.A. finale. The breakneck production translated into some uniquely snappy pacing for Adamson, aided by a plot that grows more frantic with each reel. Adamson regular Kent Taylor does effective work as the mad doctor, Grant Williams of The Incredible Shrinking Man plays a sympathetic dupe and the backing cast includes regulars Carrol, Vorkov, Volante and John Bloom trading one Frankenstein-ian monster suit for another. Warning: this has the goriest brain surgery scene you’ll ever see in a PG-rated film.

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