If you’re into exploitation cinema, there are certain filmmakers and production outfits that fans of this form love to debate. For example, consider the works of Independent-International Pictures. This company, run by Sam Sherman with partners Dan Kennis and Al Adamson (the director of the trio), was known for reworking films, both their own productions and the work of other filmmakers, to generate commercial hybrids that could ride the trends of the marketplace. Drive-in fanatics debate the entertainment value of their work but Sherman and his collaborators rode their style of exploitation cinema all the way to the bank with drive-in staples like Satan’s Sadists and Dracula Vs. Frankenstein.
A company known for wild and woolly exploitation fare like the films mentioned above inevitably has some interesting stories behind their releases – and Sherman, who is as much film fanatic as he is filmmaker, has always been generous about sharing the lore behind his work. Over the years, he’s done a number of fascinating print interviews and contributed commentary tracks and featurette appearances to the DVD and blu-ray releases of his back catalog (anyone interested in Sherman’s video supplement work is directed to Severin’s wonderful Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection box set).
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan of this kind of thing, you can’t get enough of these stories – and now, the biggest compendium of Sherman lore has been created by the man himself in the form of When Dracula Met Frankenstein. It’s a combination autobiography and annotated filmography for the Independent-International’s productions and, like its author, it’s informative and charmingly free of pretension at the same time.
The first half of the book allows Sherman to tell his story in the context of the company he co-created with partners Dan Kennis and Al Adamson. It reveals Sherman to be a true-blue fan of genre fare, covering everything from horror to westerns with a special emphasis on indie/exploitation fare, who transformed his passion into a career. A running theme is how he befriended his old heroes and like-minded people in the exploitation trenches, which leads to chapters that pay tribute to his partners as well as people like Denver Dixon, a self-made Western star and the father of Adamson, and fellow distributor Jerry Gross.
This section of the book also gets into the unique challenges of the exploitation business during the ’70s, including a chapter on tax shelter releases that shows the interesting relationship major studios had with exploitation distributors during that era and a chapter on how new ad campaigns, retitling and reshoots helped transform three moribund existing properties into box office successes. Along the way, you get a sense of how Sherman’s focus on building and maintaining relationships was the backbone of his business as well as the changes in distribution that forced indie genre types out of theatrical releases and into home video during the ’80s.
The second half of the book delves into the catalog of Independent-International Pictures’ original productions plus their unique reshoot/reedit/remix versions of other filmmakers’ works in alphabetical order. Major favorites like Satan’s Sadists and Dracula Vs. Frankenstein get plenty of page space, with the latter title’s story revealing how the film evolved conceptually throughout its two-year (!) production process. Banter about his creative back-and-forth with in-house director/co-partner Al Adamson informs several of these chapters. Those familiar with the company’s Adamson era might also be surprised to learn about a few films where Sherman himself took on the reshoot/reedit process after Adamson left the company. The most unique is Raiders Of The Living Dead, an outside production that Sherman remade not once but twice!
Sherman presents the history of these films with polish, lacing each chapter-length history with amusing anecdotes and insights into how market trends influenced his approach (case in point: Black Heat had unique edits with different footage to appeal to both sexploitation and blaxploitation audiences). He also touches on the challenges of dealing with the fly-by-night operators and shady business practices that were part of distribution: Schlockmania’s favorite example of this is the story of how The Dynamite Brothers was financed and released. Said story involves an elaborate fake-out designed to scare a reluctant distributor into paying overdue revenues. There’s a darkly funny punchline to the story that fans will want to discover for themselves.
All in all, When Dracula Met Frankenstein is a fine read for exploitation movie buffs. Sherman brings you into that magical era when the industrious and crafty could carve out a career on the fringe of major studio operations – and he does with a modest yet witty voice that is endearing to those of us who feel deep nostalgia for that time.
You can purchase When Dracula Met Frankenstein directly from its publisher here.
For more on the careers of Sherman and Adamson, check out Schlockmania’s coverage of their films here.