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

    Ian Jane

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

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: June 2nd, 2020.
    Director: Al Adamson
    Cast: Broderick Crawford, John Carradine, Kent Taylor, Colonel Sanders, Vicki Volante, Zandor Vorkov, Lon Chaney Jr., John Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, J. Carrol Naish, Angelo Rossitto, Regina Carroll
    Year: 1968/1970/1971/1971
    Purchase From Amazon

    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 my brain doesn't fry.

    You can read coverage of discs one and two here.
    You can read coverage of discs three and four here.

    Here's a look at discs five and six of this ridiculous boxed set.

    Disc Five - The Fakers/Hell's Bloody Devils:

    1968's The Fakers (which is how it is credited on the packaging), uses a title card that calls the film Smashing The Crime Syndicate. This movie starts off with a weird animation showing swastikas, hammer and sickle logos and ending on an American twenty dollar bill. It doesn't use the title of The Fakers though it does use a song called The Fakers in it. Silhouettes of naked ladies gyrate behind the rest of the opening titles. It's quite a sight.

    A man falls out of a car just before it goes over a cliff and bursts into flames. He's injured but thankfully a kindly truck driver picks him up and takes him to a hospital. While in bed, we flashback to some time he spend in Las Vegas where he's given a mission and told to 'play it with your usual style, nice and smooth.' Elsewhere, a man peering into a house using binoculars is shot by a guy brandishing a pistol with a silencer on it.

    At the Federal Building, agents Brand (Scott Brady) and Jill Harmon (Emily Banks) hand in a report to their boss, Gavin (Broderick Crawford). They need to find out who killed the guy with the binoculars - he was a good man. This is somehow related to a counterfeit operation intended to refinance the Nazi party in Germany and America, quite understandably doesn't want that, because fuck Nazis. Anyway, the guy who lost his memory is Mark Adams (John Gabriel), and he's also an agent who winds up having to stop the Nazis. The 'commies' are in on this too, it seems. A connection with Count Otto Von Delberg (Kent Taylor) proves to be a valuable lead and later Adams has to fend off the advances of sexually aggressive blonde Amanda Whitfield (Anne Randall).

    Before it's all over, Marineland shows up again and we see a dolphin show, Colonel Sanders provides a delicious meal, Polaroids will be taken and romance will bloom, John Carradine will show up as a pet shop owner, people will fight on a boat, we'll witness a shoot-out or two and there will be a double cross! It's a reasonably coherent movie in this form, progressing from point A to point B in a manner that makes sense. It isn't quite as goofy as a lot of Adamson's other films but it's still reasonably goofy. It's a fairly typical mid-sixties Bond-inspired spy picture with some pretty ladies, a few decent scenes of action and a dashing leading man. Not a remarkable film by any stretch, save for the bizarre Colonel Sanders cameo, but amusing enough. And the theme song is cool.

    Not one to let a reasonably coherent movie to go waste, Adamson and Sherman took Smashing The Crime Syndicate and added some new footage to it to create Hell's Bloody Devils to cash in on the biker movie craze. Part spy film, part biker trash epic, Hell's Bloody Devils shows all of the insane Adamson characteristics and all of the incoherence associated with much of his output from the time period in which it was made, most of which is due to the fact that, well, it's a bunch of random stuff just sort of all put together.

    Story wise, again John Gabriel plays a hunky federal agent named Mark Adams who poses as a thug in order to sneak into of a local group of white power/neo-Nazi types' base of operations so that he can bring them all to justice. It seems that these scum-balls like money so much that they've started printing their own and they intend to team up with a local gang of criminals to make it big and keep the neo-Nazi spirit alive. The leader of the Nazi punks is Count Von Delberg (Kent Taylor), a war criminal relocated to the United States. He was responsible for some seriously bad stuff during the Second World War, and an Israeli secret agent named Carol (Al Adamson regular, Vicki Volante, of Five Bloody Graves) wants to bring him in to stand trial. It doesn't help matters much that the Count was the man who killed her parents. Eventually she and Adams team up to fight crime, but not before Adams has a chance to make a move on the Count's lovely daughter (Erin O'Donnell). Will Adams and Carol be able to put a stop to the sinister plans of the racist scumbags or will the biker trash Nazi punks get the cash they need to turn their plans up a notch and do whatever it is that they're setting out to do that must surely be very, very bad?

    The new biker footage involves lots of shots of… motorcycle riding. We also see the gang trick and trap some motorists only to beat them to death. We also see them watch a woman use a payphone, smoke a lot of cigarettes and pick up a pair of hippie chicks for a stoned make-out party.

    Adamson keeps the neat animations on the opening credits as well as the theme song.

    The fact that this was pieced together from two different projects, Godfrey Ho style, to make one bigger and better (?) film is obvious from the very start. Characters' hair changes depending on what scene they are in, as do their outfits, as does the lighting and location work as well. The editing is shoddy and the continuity has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. Not much of the movie makes sense, but despite the many, many flaws Hell's Bloody Devils still manages to entertain. Maybe it's the fact that it was, until (released by Media Blasters on DVD in 2005), the 'lost' Al Adamson film or maybe it's the sheer lunacy of the biker scenes or the contrived slickness of John Gabriel's Bond-style acting, I can't really say, but the movie is a lot of fun, and more fun than the original Smashing The Crime Syndicate version even if it makes way less sense. It's certainly not a film to take seriously but if you're entertained by films that nonsensical trash then this is one that you might want to keep an eye open for as it definitely delivers unintentional laughs aplenty.

    The film's biggest hindrance is that there's not enough biker trash action in it. The spy-jinks take up the bulk of the running time and it just isn't as interesting as the seedier element that the leather clad bad boys bring to the screen. But again, John Carradine will make you smile and Playboy Playmate Anne Randall looks great. And of course, Adamson kept the Colonel Sanders cameo in this version as well.

    Disc Six - Dracula Vs. Frankenstein/Brain Of Blood:

    One of Adamson's better known horror efforts, 1971's Dracula Vs. Frankenstein shows off an old cemetery where the Frankenstein monster is buried before then introducing us to Count Dracula (Zandor Vorkov) himself! But before we get to that, there's the matter of Dr. Durea (J. Carrol Naish), a descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, who is currently involved in a series of experiments involving dead young ladies and a blood serum. He has some help from a hulking man servant named Groton (Lon Chaney, Jr.).

    Anyway, Dracula meets with Durea and tells him he'll help him bring the Frankenstein monster back to life if, in return, Durea will give him some of the serum which, for reasons never properly explained, will allow Dracula to roam California during daylight hours. The pair decide to work out of the Creature Emporium, a haunted house style attraction on the nearby boardwalk, because why not. The succeed in resurrecting the monster (John Bloom) and Durea asks Dracula and the monster to get revenge on Dr. Beaumont (Forrest J. Ackerman), the man responsible for crippling him and confining him to a wheelchair. There's a strange subplot involving a biker named Rico (Russ Tamblyn) and then some hippie types that wind up at the Creature Emporium, more young women go missing, the monster kills some cops and Dracula falls for a showgirl named Judith Fontaine (Regina Carroll). Oh and a dwarf Grazbo (Angelo Rossitto) shows up too.

    This one is a lot of fun. It doesn't always make sense and it was clearly made on a ridiculously small budget for a movie that shows some legitimate ambition. The makeup effects are laughably bad and the set dressing appears to be courtesy of a thrift store. The acting is bad and the plot completely nonsensical. But somehow it works in its own weird way?

    Zandor Vorkov makes for a legitimately interesting Dracula. He might not be particularly good in the traditional sense, never scary or sexually intriguing the way the best Dracula's are, but he's got a big shock of poofy hair, some dime-store fangs and a makeup job that wouldn't feel out of place on stage at a black metal show. His narration is flat and uninspired in terms of its delivery, but that somehow adds to the occasionally surreal feel of the film. The movie would also prove to be the last cinematic hurrah's for both Lon Chaney Jr. (who was clearly in rough shape when this was shot) and J. Carrol Naish, so it's got some historical significance for that reason. It's run to see Russ Tamblyn show up here and it's also kind of cool to see Carroll do her stage act thing in a Vegas setting and to see Adamson himself hanging out in the audience at a back table. Filmmaker Greydon Clark also has a role as one of the hippie types in the movie.

    When the Blood Island films struck box office gold and the Filipino filmmakers behind them were off working on other projects, Al Adamson was brought in to make a film in the same vein. The results? 1971's Brain Of Blood (previously released by Severin Films as part of their Hemisphere Box Of Horrors collection)!

    Shot entirely on location in the United States but meant to look somewhat exotic, the story begins when Amir (Reed Hadley, somehow), the ruler of the kingdom of Kalid, has his two assistants, Dr. Robert Nigserian (Grant Williams) and Mohammed (Zandor Vorkov), take him see an American scientist named Dr. Lloyd Trenton (Kent Taylor). Why? Because Amir has cancer and is dying, this won't be good for the people of Kalid. They need Trenton to perform a brain transplant on him - which puzzlingly involves being wrapped in tinfoil - and put his sharp mind into a healthy new body!

    Trenton and his dwarf assistant Dorro (Angelo Rossitto) agree but when they have trouble finding the proper body, they resort to using the one belonging to a massive, lumbering idiot named Gor (John Bloom)! To make matters worse, when Gor was a child he had car battery acid dumped on him by two thugs, so he's horribly scarred. After the transplant is complete and things go predictably wrong, Trenton has to grab his laser gun, hunt down Gor/Amir and try to set things right. Meanwhile, Dorro tortures the women shackled up in the basement (one of whom is Vicki Volante) while buxom blonde Tracy (played Adamson's wife Regina Carrol) runs around getting into trouble.

    Bad brain surgery, a few great dummy deaths, horrible makeup and seriously questionable makeup decisions make this one that Adamson devotees will gobble right up, particularly as its cast with quite a few faces that will no doubt look familiar to those who have followed his work. Yeah, it's all cheap as cheap can be and it doesn't always make much sense, but if you've got a soft spot for Z-grade schlock, this is bound to float your boat. The aforementioned brain surgery goes on too long, but Adamson and Sherman probably wanted to get their money's worth out of that calf brain they bought and those dime store laboratory props, so you'll take what they give you and you'll like it.

    Diminutive Rossitto, who played Angeleno in Todd Browning's classic Freaks, steals every scene that he's in. running around in a floppy golfer's cap causing trouble, he's an entertaining little dude with a lot of manic energy. Seeing Reed Hadley cast as a Middle Eastern statesman is amusing as well, while Kent Taylor does a fine job as the fairly insane doctor… you know the kind, his methods are effective but his moral code is suspect. Maybe not the best film in the set, but definitely an entertaining one.

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

    All four movies are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Smashing The Crime Syndicate is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and takes up just under 27GBs of space. This one looks quite nice. Colors are reproduced beautifully and black levels look great. There is very little print damage here at all but the transfer shows no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. Hell's Bloody Devils takes up just over 21GBs of space and is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen as well. The elements for this one were clearly in rougher shape, at least the biker footage was. The footage from the first feature looks very close, if not identical, to the transfer for the first one. So expect some shifts in picture quality, which is understandable given the film's history.

    Dracula Vs. Frankenstein gets 19GB of space on the 50GB disc and is framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. It looks very nice overall. Grain can be heavier in some scenes than others but generally speaking the picture quality is quite nice. Colors are handled well and black levels are pretty solid too. There's very good detail, depth and texture here. Nothing to complain about at all, really. Brain Of Blood takes up 15GBs of space and is framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, “now featuring a new 2k CRI scan” (again, according to the packaging). This is clean, colorful and quite nice looking, a nice upgrade over the old DVD release. Detail is pretty solid, even if it is still soft in spots, and colors reproduced very nicely, bringing all of those garish hues to life. There are no noticeable compression issues here and the picture is free of noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. This is definitely the best of the transfers in the set and the 1.33.1 framing looks good.

    All four 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 throughout all of the movies. The first film sounds great, no problems at all. Hell's Bloody Devils sounds a bit rough in the biker scenes, again elements were limited here, but fine during the rest of the movie. The other films are generally clean and properly balanced throughout. You might pick up on some occasional hiss now and then if you're listening for it but it's never a real problem. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Dracula Vs. Frankenstein also includes a Spanish language dub

    Extras for discs five and six are as follows:

    Disc Five - The Fakers/Hell's Bloody Devils:

    Extras for the first film are limited to an alternate title sequence for The Fakers alternate version.

    As far as Hell's Bloody Devils goes, Sam Sherman produced this puppy and he's on hand to offer up another one of his truly fascinating commentary tracks. Anyone who has had the pleasure of listening to a Sam Sherman commentary in the past knows that the man is a veritable encyclopedia of exploitation movie making knowledge and that he's not shy about discussing the films he had a part on making. Sam covers all manner of criteria relating to this production and gives some interesting details on how the cast was assembled, some of the locations used, and where some of the ideas for the film came from and what they were going for when they made the movie. He also goes into a fair bit of detail about his rather unusual working relationship with Sam Sherman and how he was as a person to deal with, which gives the track a very interesting and personable touch, and he also details how the film was put together using a few different left over ideas and how it made it from a spy film into a biker movie… sort of. This is a very fun, very lively and very informative commentary track and it makes for a great addition to this package.

    Up next is a video interview with Sam Sherman and the star of the film, John Gabriel. Both men discuss working with the late Al Adamson and Gabriel fills us in on what he's done aside from this film, including some appearances in a soap opera or two and a turn as the original professor on the Gilligan's Island pilot episode. The two men seem to genuinely like each other and this little interview makes for a fun reunion of sorts for them as they get to trip down memory lane together.

    A trailer and a TV spot finish off the supplements for this disc.

    Disc Six - Dracula Vs. Frankenstein/Brain Of Blood:

    The special features for Dracula vs. Frankenstein are extensive, starting with an archival partial audio commentary from Sherman. Again, it's a great talk. He talks about the founding of Independent International Pictures and how this film is one of their best known, but was also one of the hardest to get made, as it took three years to get made and went through many incarnations. He also talks about how the original film didn't have either Dracula or Frankenstein in it. Acknowledging the film's many flaws, how the movie started as 'Blood Freaks' based on a script called 'Blood Seekers.' He talks about original casting choices, how the movie morphed into the form we see it in now, how Zandor Vorkov wound up in the film, where Dracula's ring came from, how and why the Las Vegas film featured in the picture came to be, why Regina Carroll does her song and dance number in the film, Adamson's cameo in the film, the use of sets in the film versus location shooting, how Adamson got Lon Chaney Jr. in the film, filling the set with 'electronic junk that I bought at a surplus store for fifty dollars' and lots, lots more.

    Zandor and Friends is a twenty-three-minute featurette that interviews Zandor Vorkov (a.k.a. Roger!), about how he got into acting, his work in NYC at a record store which connected him to producer Gary Katz which led to doing mini-concerts, his service in Vietnam, meeting Adamson and Sherman at a deli for the first time and how much fun Adamson in particular was to work with. He talks about what it was like working on the shoot and lots more. He covers moving to Hollywood, how well he was treated on set and how nice everyone was, working with Angelo Rossitto, Chaney and the others, Ackerman's cameo, undergoing the makeup required for the role and plenty more. Sherman shows up here and talks about the production as well, and there's some archival interview footage featuring John Bloom, Gary Graver and we also get some insight from Sean Graver (Gary's son) on his father's work on the picture.

    Feed Your Head! Lose Your Head!: An Appreciation by Cult Film Historian Howard S. Berger is a fifty-six-minute piece in which Berger provides a thematic deconstruction of the film, by giving us a quick rundown of Adamson's history and speaking of his adeptness at moving with the trends in theaters at the time. He talks about Sherman and Adamson's love of monster movies, the James Warren connection, how Dracula Vs. Frankenstein is in many ways a modernization of the classic Universal Monster movies, the history of the different actors that appear in the, the marketing behind the film and how important it was to its success, the psychology behind danger and violence as depicted in the film, the editing in the film, the use of the 'film within a film' technique in the picture, how the film works like a carnival thrill ride, the unique look of Dracula in the film, how the whole concept of 'blood seeking' plays out in the movie visually and thematically, the significance of the church scene and lots, lots more. Berger clearly got a LOT more out of this movie than anyone else on the planet and while I don't agree with all of his points, this is a legitimately thought-provoking read of the film that goes super in-depth and provides a lot of food for thought. Whether you agree with him completely or feel he's reading way too much into it, this is a genuinely interesting piece and one of the more unique extras in this boxed set.

    Monster Protest Home Movie Footage is a five-and-a-half-minute collection of footage showing a 'protest' with a bunch of people in monster makeup that took place at a screening of the film. This was shot silent, probably on 8mm, but music from the film plays overtop of it and it's an interesting document of a genuinely odd publicity stunt!

    Sam Sherman Interviews Forry Ackerman is a five-minute bit shot at Chiller Theater where, as you'd expect given the title, Sherman interviews the man behind Famous Monster Of Filmland to talk about the DVD debut of Dracula Vs. Frankenstein. Sherman talks about finding some unused footage featuring Ackerman, how Ackerman has done ninety-three film cameos, what it was like getting strangled by the monster and how he tried to play a dead guy convincingly in the film. We see the Ackerman/Dracula footage play out once the interview ends.

    The disc also contains almost twenty-one-minutes of outtakes and extended scenes from the film. There's no audio for some of the clips, so music from the movie plays out over those chunks of footage instead. Lots of go-go bar footage, some great bits from the lab, some extra bits with Chaney and a fair bit more. Finishing up the extras for this Dracula Vs. Frankenstein are a trailer, a TV spot and a selection of vintage audio spots for a triple feature of Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror and Horror Of The Blood Monsters.

    The main special feature for Brain Of Blood is a partial audio commentary with producer/co-writer Samuel M. Sherman, which is quite good if you haven't heard it (it's been ported over from the old Image Entertainment DVD release). He speaks here about not just producing the film but coming up with the story and assisting in writing the picture as well. He tells lots of stories about being involved with the cast and crew, talks up Adamson's direction quite a bit, shares some info on the locations and more. It's interesting stuff.

    Also worth checking out is Memories Of Blood, a featurette made up of interviews with director Al Adamson, producer Samuel M. Sherman, associate producer J. P. Spohn, actors Zandor Vorkov and Sean Graver and filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. Made up of selections from a longer documentary yet to be released, this is quite interesting. Sherman and Spohn talk about needing to follow up the Blood Island films and doing it in the United States, the influence of H.G. Lewis and more. Adamson, appearing in archival footage obviously, shares some fun stories about the shoot and seems amused by all of this while Graver notes what it was like working on the film as a kid. Zandor talks about his character and the gore effects while Ray offers his insight into the entertainment value that the film provides.

    Rounding out the extras on this disc is a radio spot and a remarkably garish trailer.

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection - The Final Word:

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection discs five and six offer up a lot of fun! The first disc offers up two variations on the same theme and gratuitous Kentucky Fried Chicken, while the second disc contains what is probably Adamson's most iconic film in Dracula Vs. Frankenstein and the fun Brain Of Blood as well. Presentation quality is pretty solid overall, and we get a nice selection of extra features.

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

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

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