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Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review (Part One Of Seven)

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  • Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review (Part One Of Seven)

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    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: June 2nd, 2020.
    Director: Al Adamson
    Cast: Al Adamson, Nesa Renet, Lon Chaney Jr., Russ Tamblyn, Roy Morton, Tacey Robbins, John Carradine
    Year: 2019/1971/1964/1971/1964
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    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection - Movie Reviews:

    Thirty-two movies! That's right, there are thirty-two movies in Severin Film's Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection boxed set, and so we're going to split this review up over a week, two discs per day, so that I don't pass out from exhaustion.

    Here's a look at the first two discs in this massive set.

    Disc One - Blood & Flesh/The Female Bunch:

    Al Adamson led an interesting life and David Gregory's 2019 documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson does an excellent job of exploring that life, as well as the late filmmaker's unusual death.

    We open with a bit of a teaser as to how this all ends before then settling down into a more linear look at Adamson's life and times. We learn a bit about his childhood, about his parents and how his father, Denver Dixon, starred in plenty of early western films, which led to Adamson's first getting into the film business as an actor. From here we learn that he was better at telling people what to do than at being told what to do, and he made the switch from actor to director with his first feature, Psycho-A-Go-Go. The flood gates soon opened and once he paired up with distributor Sam Sherman, he was off and running, cranking out a run of low budget B-movies from the mid-sixties on into the eighties.

    Adamson and Sherman were more than happy to cash in on any and all cinematic trends. Horror was hot when they got their start but when biker movies came along and then Blaxploitation pictures and sexy stewardess films, they had no trouble shifting their focus on those genres in an attempt to make a few quick bucks. The results weren't likely to be considered high art by anyone who saw them, but Adamson's stated goal was to entertain the audience, and most of them time, no matter how poor the finished product, he managed to at least do that. Along the way he married muse/actress Regina Carrol, worked with Russ Tamblyn, made Dracula blink a lot and squabbled with Sherman about sex films.

    And then, in 1995, Adamson hired a handyman named Fred Fulford to do some work on his home in Indio, California. Before long, Fulford was doing his hair like Al, dressing like Al and signing Adamson's name to checks. When it was found out that Fulford was stealing from Adamson, he told his girlfriend he was going to confront him about it. A short time later, Adamson was missing and after that his body was found buried in cement under the floor of a room in his home where a hot tub used to be.

    Gregory's documentary does a great job of putting together an interesting snapshot of Adamson's life by way of archival interview footage with the man himself and plenty of newly shot material with his brother as well as frequent co-conspirator Sherman as well as plenty of other people who knew and worked with him like John 'Bud' Cardos, Robert Dix, Marilyn Joi, Gary Kent, Worth Keeter, Russ Tamblyn and Vilmos Zsigmond and quite a few more. There's talk here about Adamson's penchant for shooting one take and one take only, not paying people he worked with and using fading Hollywood stars in his films like John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. but so too is there talk about shooting on the Spahn Movie Ranch while the Manson family was hanging about and Adamson's believe in extraterrestrial life in his later years (this part is particularly fascinating as we learn from some of the interviewees that he may have gotten 'too close' in this regard - it's definitely one of the more unusual aspects of the picture).

    The whole thing is very well put together, never feeling too clip heavy but using enough footage from Adamson's films to complement the different interview clips and illustrate the various points made during the films. The editing is solid, the cinematography is quite good and there's some nice technical polish to all of this.

    Part bio-pic, part true crime story, the film serves as a fascinating and fitting tribute to a filmmaker whose leaves a fascinating legacy in the pantheon of cult films and B-movies.

    But what about The Female Bunch from 1971? In Las Vegas, poor Sandy (Nesa Renet), a waitress, is so despondent after a bad run with the men in her life that she decides to take her own life. Thankfully, a co-worker named Libby (Regina Carrol) stops her from that and decides that she should be introduced to her girl gang pals who all ride horses and live out in the middle of the desert. There are no men around, save for Monti (Lon Chaney Jr. in his final role), an old Hollywood guy who is as loyal to the gang's leader, Grace (Jennifer Bishop) as can be. Grace wants to see if Sandy has what it takes to join their gang and so she puts her through an initiation test of sorts. But what these women, who purport not to take any crap from men, are really up to is smuggling drugs across the southern border! When a man named Bill (Russ Tamblyn) does manage to show up at their camp, he has his forehead branded with an X and is made an example of!

    At first, Sandy is intrigued and excited by her new friends and the lifestyle that it offers her, but once she starts using the drugs that the gang is smuggling, things start to get a little iffy and when she finally decides to try and make it away from Grace and company, well, it may no longer be up to her at all!

    Partially shot at the Spahn Ranch while the Manson Family was hanging about and titled to cash in on the success of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (it was originally to be called A Time To Run), The Female Bunch is a moderately entertaining slice of sleaze of low budget trash. Chaney isn't in it very much and he's clearly in bad shape here, having battled throat cancer and thrown himself into a bottle at this point. It's bittersweet to see him here, really. Tamblyn appears to be having fun (and mentions in the documentary that it was indeed fun) and makes an interesting impression when he's on screen, but his part isn't all that big or important to the movie. Nesa Renet is decent enough and likeable here, but limited in range. Adamson's future wife, Regina Carrol, handles the material well enough but again isn't going to win any awards here. What stops the movie from being as over the top and entertaining as it should be is the lukewarm performance from Jennifer Bishop. She's certainly attractive enough but isn't quite as intense or convincing as she needs to be to really make Grace the queen bitch character that she's meant to come across as.

    Disc Two - Psycho A Go-Go/Blood Of Ghastly Horror/The Fiend With The Electronic Brain:

    Adamson's 1965 crime picture, Psycho A Go-Go, was originally released as Echo Of Terror (and shot by none other than Vilmos Zsigmond!). It flopped, and so some new footage of curvaceous go-go dancers was edited into the picture and it was re-released with the more lurid and eye-catching Psycho A Go-Go title. The more you know.

    Anyway, the story revolves around a tough guy criminal named Joe Corey (Roy Morton) and his rag-tag band of thieves who work for a guy named Vito (Lyle Felice). They knock over a jewelry store with a few other guys (one of whom is Adamson -see him get shot early in the film!) dressed in surgical gowns and masks, but it doesn't go well. They tie up a woman in the store and she manages to trip the alarm and in the ensuing chaos Adamson's character is shot but not before he tosses the bag of jewels only to have it land in the back of a truck owned by a guy named David Clark (Kirk Duncan) who may or may not be a cop. Gang member Vicky (Tanya Maree), who also happens to be Vito's main squeeze, sees what happens and is savvy enough to jot down the license plate number.

    A short time later, Roy and company track David down and decide to pay him a little visit in hopes of getting their loot back. They beat him up, unaware that his little daughter Nancy (K.K. Riddle), has found the jewels and claimed them as their own, hiding them away inside what is by modern day standards a less than politically correct singing 'minstrel' doll she plays with. Linda's mom, Linda (Tacey Robbins), is a singer in a go-go bar by trade, has taken her daughter off to Lake Tahoe to enjoy some rest and relaxation when this happens, leaving poor David to deal with this all by himself. Anyway, Joe and a crazy guy named Curtis (John Talbert) find Linda and Nancy before they can get on their bus, kidnap them and then take them to a cabin in the middle of nowhere all while Vicky starts to fall for hunky gangster Nicky (John Armond) - things go downhill quickly for all involved at from this point on.

    Psycho A Go-Go is not very good. The go-go dancing scenes are kind of cool if you enjoy seeing curvy ladies shake their moneymakers (for the record, I do), but the story is just sort of there and Adamson, being Adamson, never manages to conjure up any real tension or sympathy for any of the characters. The whole thing is poorly written and poorly directed, but it does have an interesting score and Roy Morton is a genuine kick to watch as the man we can safely assume if the film's titular psycho. It's watchable enough, passable entertainment, though the scenes with Robbins' singing in them are genuinely strange and wonderfully out of place.

    The film was reedited and released again in 1964 as The Fiend With The Electronic Brain, which uses some newly shot flashback footage where Dr. Howard Vanard (John Carradine), a mad scientist of some sort, experiments on a Vietnam vet by putting a radio transmitter of some sort into his brain - he wears a construction helmet during this scene and is strapped down with seatbelts. This man, played by Roy Morton and represented by yet more footage from the original film, turns into the killing machine that we all know and love and starts working for the mob as an enforcer of some sort? Yeah, that works. Anyway, cue the jewelry heist, the lost gems and then the whole plot about Morton's character killing people.

    But then, we get 1971's Blood Of Ghastly Horror (presented in Chillorama)! What a title, right? This one starts off with some pretty cool 'new' footage shot for this edition wherein we witness a zombie running around killing some people. Cops are called in to check out the scene, and as they discuss what could possibly be happening here. We get twenty-minutes or so worth of Echo Of Terror footage. Then we get the same flashback footage with Dr. Howard Vanard (John Carradine) putting the radio transmitter into the man's brain. Again, cue the jewelry heist, the lost gems and then the whole plot about Morton's character killing people but before it's all over Adamson does kinda-sorta wrap up the zombie sub-plot from the beginning of this mess of a movie. A few interesting bits make this stand out from Psycho A Go-Go. We do get a head in a box, for instance, as well as Adamson's muse, Regina Carrol, as a zombie.

    It would appear that the original Echo Of Terror version on the movie is lost, otherwise that probably would have been included here as well, and brains all over the planet would have melted from going through four different cuts of the same nonsense.

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection - Blu-ray Review:

    The AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 fullframe transfer for the documentary on disc one, a 50GB Blu-ray disc looks, excellent, with the feature taking up just over 28GBs of space on the dual-layered disc. The archival clips are all over the place in terms of quality, the mid-nineties TV broadcast footage and analogue tape-sourced interview clips with Adamson showing their age and their source limitations, but the newly shot material looks excellent. Some of the film clips are a bit worse for wear, some look almost spotless. The disc is nicely authored, there are no problems with any noticeable compression problems or noise reduction or anything like that. All in all, this is a fine presentation. The Female Bunch from 1971, which is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen, was taken from several different prints with varying degrees of print damage and color fading, so it doesn't look amazing in that regard but it does certainly best previous DVD releases.

    24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Master Audio tracks are provided in English only. The 5.1 mix spreads the score and a few effects around while the 2.0 track, obviously, keeps everything up front. Both of them sound quite good. Again, some of the archival clips aren't quite pristine but they're all audible enough. Closed captioning is provided in English only. One gripe - when Adamson's former maid starts speaking in Spanish, automatic subtitles appear on the screen, which makes sense, but then every time she does it the closed captioning says 'speaking a foreign language' which covers up some of the subtitles! Otherwise, no problems here. Subtitles are provided in Spanish, French and Portuguese. As far as audio for The Female Bunch goes, we get a 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional English closed captioning. Dubbed tracks are also provided in Spanish and German! Audio quality is on par with the video quality in that it's a bit rough due to the elements available but serviceable enough overall.

    As far as the presentations on the second disc go, the three films are all presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc and in 2.35.1 widescreen. Psycho A Go-Go takes up just under 13GBs of space, Blood Of Ghastly Horror just over 20GBs of space and The Fiend With The Electronic Brain gets just short of 15GBs of space. As these are all patchwork productions, you have to expect that picture quality will vary depending on the source material being used in any given scene, and it does, but overall these transfers are pretty good. Some mild compression artifacts pop up in a couple of spots but there are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. Print damage is there in each of the three movies but it's all quite forgivable when you take into account their respective histories.

    All three films get 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks with subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality can and does jump around a bit just like the video quality does between the three movies but despite some hiss here and there and some occasional sibilance the quality here is fine, again, when you take into account the origins of the films.

    Extras for discs one and two are as follows:

    Disc One - Blood & Flesh/The Female Bunch:

    Extras on disc one start off with outtakes and extended scenes from the documentary like The Cowboy Life of Denver Dixon, Russ Tamblyn's Melted TV, Manson & Screaming Angels and The Prophetic Screenplay Makes Gary Kent Testify. All of this material is quite interesting, and more Russ Tamblyn is always a good thing. Likely cut for pacing reasons, this is definitely worth checking uot.

    Rounding out the extras for the feature attraction area trailer for the documentary as well as a promo reel for Beyond This Earth, the unfinished U.F.O. movie that Adamson was working on (which, quite honestly, looks pretty amazing) and a pretty great still gallery of theatrical poster art for Adamson films!

    There are bonus features for The Female Bunch too! We get a fifteen-minute featurette called The Bunch Speaks Out which is made up of interviews with Leslie McCray who talks about her connection to Lizard In A Woman's Skin and how she got into acting as well as how charming Al was and how much she liked working with him. Russ Tamblyn talks about some of his early roles and how he got into the business and hit it big in West Side Story before then winding up in two Adamson films. Sharyn Wynters talks about how she landed the part through her agent, how she also liked Adamson and enjoyed the part she had as well as the opportunity to work with Tamblyn. Bud Cardos pops up here as well as assistant cameraman Michael Ferris and props guy R. Michael Stringer. There's talk here about shooting on location in Utah, what it was like on set, what Chaney was like to work with and his alcohol problem, who could and couldn't really ride horses, some of the stunt work required in the film, the Manson Family presence on the Spahn Ranch and quite a bit more. There are archival slips from the same tape-sourced Adamson interview featured in the documentary included here as well and some of the snippets used here are in the documentary as well, but it's an interesting piece that offers some welcome insight into what it would have been like working on this picture.

    A couple of trailers for The Female Bunch are also included on the dis alongside two-minutes' worth of extended scenes.

    Disc Two - Psycho A Go-Go/Blood Of Ghastly Horror/The Fiend With The Electronic Brain:

    Extras for the second disc include a trailer for Psycho A Go-Go, a trailer for Blood Of Ghastly Horror and a trailer for The Fiend With The Electronic Brain. We also get an alternate title sequence for The Man With The Synthetic Brain cut of the movie, which was the TV version of the film with some of the violence removed.

    The best extra, however, is carried over from the old Troma DVD release of Blood Of Ghastly Horror and that's an archival audio commentary with producer Sam Sherman. For those yet to hear it, like all of Sherman's commentary tracks it proves quite interesting. He talks about taking what Adamson considered to be a fairly serious endeavor and re-editing it into the reasonably terrible film that it turned out to be, so you've got to appreciate his honestly. He talks about the marketing of the film, getting Carradine to appear in the picture, working with Adamson and quite a bit more.

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection - The Final Word:

    The first two discs of the Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection are pretty great even if the movies are not. The documentary is legitimately fascinating and should be considered essential for anyone with an interest in cult cinema. The features are all over the place in terms of quality but their presentations are decent, marked improvements over their old DVD versions (where that applies, obviously). Lots of schlocky fun to be had here.

    Click on the images below for full sized Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection Disc One Blu-ray screen caps!

    Click on the images below for full sized Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection Disc Two Blu-ray screen caps!

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