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

    Ian Jane

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

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: June 2nd, 2020.
    Director: Al Adamson
    Cast: Herbert Lom, Marilyn Joi, John Kitzmiller, Olive Moorefield, Dobie Gray, Clifton Brown, Dennis Safren, Jim Kelly, Felix Silla, George Lazenby, Aldo Ray, Harold Sakata
    Year: 1972/1976/1976/1978
    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 don't have to toss myself out a sixth story window.

    You can read coverage of discs one and two here.
    You can read coverage of discs three and four here.
    You can read coverage of discs five and six here.
    You can read coverage of discs seven and eight here.
    You can read coverage of discs nine and ten here.

    Here's a look at discs nine and ten of this mesmerizingly silly boxed set.

    Disc Eleven - Mean Mother/Uncle Tom's Cabin:

    Directed by Adamson in 1976, Uncle Tom's Cabin features a genuinely strange series of text screens early in the film that almost feel like they were meant for a trailer. This text alerts us to how the film was based on the 1852 novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe and how Abraham Lincoln called it the book that started the Civil War. It's odd timing and placement for the text, but there it is anyway.

    When the story itself starts, a young slave woman (Marilyn Joi) is raped by white plantation workers, her father on a chain gang nearby. It's a harsh opening that then leads into a storyline where we meet the Shelby Family who are in tough financial straits and needing to sell some of their slaves to a cruel plantation named Simon Legree (Herbert Lom), a cruel man with a burn mark of some sort on his face. He visits the family and is insulted by their son, George (Thomas Fritsch), who is an abolitionist, at the dinner table. Regardless, the elder Shelby does indeed sell off some of his slaves to Legree, including an older man named Uncle Tom (John Kitzmiller), who has been with the family forever.

    Legree also takes a liking to Cassy (Olive Moorefield), a black woman who he parades about with in public and who he dresses in the finest clothes, which can and does cause a bit of a stir with some of the other white people in town. Cassy's sister, Eliza (Catana Cayetano), and young nephew were freed by the Shelby's before Legree could buy them, and he's got his men looking for them because Eliza's marriage to a male slave that Legree wants who was also freed by his master. Meanwhile, a slave named Napoleon (Prentiss Mouldon) escapes by jumping off of a steam ship. He's shot by Legree but makes it to shore where he's rescued by a white woman named Meliisa (Mary Ann Jenson). The two fall in love and even have sex in a surprisingly graphic scene, only for Napoleon to leave her a 'Dear John' letter and split - he knows that society will never accept their interracial love.

    As the different plot threads weave together, Uncle Tom encourages the slaves at Legree's plantation to escape, which leads to a violent conclusion.

    Released in conjunction with Kroger Babb (the man behind early exploitation classics like Mom And Dad), this version of Uncle Tom's Cabin was clearly meant to cash in on the success of films like Mandingo and its follow up, Drum, which was also released in 1976 but it works reasonably well at times as a serious film. The reason for that? Most of it was directed by someone else. In 1965 Géza von Radví¡nyi directed a German production of the novel. Adamson shot some new footage - mostly racier stuff involving rape, sex and abuse, and cut that into the existing version of the film, which was then dubbed and released to the North American market. The German scenes show good costumes, solid production values and quality cinematography and Adamson and Sherman were obviously able to quite happily capitalize on this.

    The dubbing harms what could have been some pretty decent acting, but even still, Lom does a very good job as the villain in this picture. He's quite sadistic and the kind of guy you love to hate. The rest of the cast fare reasonably well here too - John Kitzmiller is very likeable as the wise character that the story is named for and Olive Moorefield quite good as Cassy. Not surprisingly, the film leaves out large chunks of the source material and contains footage (mostly, though not all of which, Adamson is responsible for) that will and should make viewers uncomfortable as it deals with an absolutely horrible part of American history. Still, even when this gets sleazy, and it does get sleazy, it'll make you think about how horrible the concept of slavery was and still is.

    Adamson and Sherman created Mean Mother out of some newly shot footage mixed in with pieces from a film entitled El Hombre Que Vino Del Odido (made by Leon Klimovsky!), which had been released in Europe a little while earlier. The result? A total mess of a film... but not an unlikable one.

    Semi-famous crooner Dobie Gray (who appears here as Clifton Brown) plays Beauregard Jones, a soldier who has gone AWOL from the Vietnam War. He ends up in Los Angeles and involved in a heroin smuggling ring based out of Saigon. When a deal goes wrong, Jones heads back to The 'Nam and meets up with his old platoon where he hangs with Joe Scott (Dennis Safren, from the original film this was shot around). It doesn't take long for the two of them to split up and get out of the jungle during a Vietcong raid. Jones ends up in Spain, while Scott ends up in Rome.

    Of course, trouble follows each of them to Europe and the Spanish mafia and a gang of Communists ends up hunting them down. Jones eventually finds Scott and convinces him that what they need to do is head to the land of high sales tax and good beer, so they grab their hoochies and head off to Canada. But little do they know, the Euro-mobsters are hot on their trail as they make their way to The Great White North, and things are gonna get worse before they get better.

    Like I said earlier, Mean Mother is a complete mess of a film. But it's a lot of fun. Dobie Gray is pretty charismatic as he overacts his way through one goofy set piece after another, and Safren is amicable enough in a slimy seventies criminal kind of way. While most of what occurs on screen is more or less just a bunch of random set pieces strung together by a threadbare storyline, if you're into camp appeal and seventies cinema in general, you won't really care that none of it makes any sense by the time that the credits role - you can just enjoy it for what it is.

    The film also benefits from a good score and it opens with a pretty decent rooftop shootout sequence. Bonus points to Adamson for including Marilyn Joi in this one as well, that's never a bad thing. It isn't hard to figure out which footage Adamson shot versus the footage that was originally used in the Klimovsky movie, it doesn't really match up all that well, but there's entertainment value to be had here and the movie is a fun Blaxploitation picture, as goofy as it all is.

    Disc Twelve - Black Samurai/Death Dimension:

    Black Samurai, how do I love thee? It's a shame that Jim Kelly didn't make more movies, really. He showed so much promise in Enter The Dragon, and the man really did know how to fight. He had some pretty serious Karate moves going on, and his afro always seemed perfectly rounded and never once looked out of shape. And while it may be lamentable that he only made a dozen or so films, at least the ones that he did make are starting to find their well-deserved place amount cult movie aficionados, and there is none more deserving of a place in trash film history as Al Adamson's 1976 Jim Kelly vehicle, Black Samurai, based on the semi-successful series of novels of the same name.

    Kelly plays Robert Sand, agent of D.R.A.G.O.N., who's happily playing tennis on his vacation when he's upset by his commanding officers. Why? Because Toki Konuma (Chia Essie Lin), the daughter of a Hong Kong official bent on stopping the flow of illegal narcotics into the country, has been kidnapped. She also happens to be Sand's girlfriend, so he begrudgingly cuts his vacation short and sets out to save her.

    It turns out the man behind it all is none other than a short, middle-aged cult leader named Janicot (Bill Roy), who happens to be a self-proclaimed master of evil. He also lords over an army of henchmen, many of whom are dwarves or seem to want to spend their time dressed as African tribesmen (this is not a culturally sensitive film). Janicot also has a well-endowed lady friend named Synn (the lovely Marilyn Joi) working for him, and he keeps a giant vulture named Voltron as a pet. In other words, he's got it made.

    At any rate, it's up to Sand to infiltrate their operation and fight his way to save his girlfriend from Janicot and his evil gang (who also happen to have a room full of snakes that they periodically throw people to). Along the way, we get to see Kelly fly around on a jetpack (part of this journey puzzlingly looks to have been shot near Niagara Falls/Lewiston New York for some reason - you can clearly see Fort Niagara at one point), take on a jungle dwelling bullwhip-wielding dwarf named Reinhardt (the great Felix Silla) and travel around in a purple roadster. But that jetpack scene, it's jaw-droppingly incredible and worth the price of admission alone - but if you need more, you also get to see Jim Kelly punch two guys in their dicks at the same time!

    Let me get one thing straight - Black Samurai is not a good movie. Not at all. None of Adamson's films really are. But it's got an interesting enough mix of characters (evil cult leaders, buxom ladies, combative dwarfs as well as other assorted pimps, thugs, lowlifes and a Wayans brother look-a-like) that when you combine all of these with Kelly's genuinely cool screen presence, it never fails to entertain. Even if it's entertaining for all the wrong reason.

    Highlighted by moments of sheer absurdity, and crazy dialogue (witness Kelly in the final fight scene, dancing like Muhammad Ali and saying 'Come on, hit me sucker. Chump. You're a chump!' or addressing one of the thugs as a 'whitey faggot'), Black Samurai is a total piece of crap that you can't help but love.

    This version of the film is presented completely uncut, unlike past DVD editions. That means that 'one of the world's greatest prostitutes' gets pretty naked and that there's some language and a bit of blood here that was missing from prior editions.

    In 1978, two years after Black Samurai, Kelly and Adamson would collaborate again with Death Dimension and while it isn't nearly as insane as the first movie, it's still a pretty fun mix of Blaxploitation, martial arts and James Bond-inspired nonsense. It also marks a milestone in trash movie history in that this one saw Adamson collaborating with none other than Dick Randall!

    Kelly plays Lt. Detective J. Ash, a bad ass cop Los Angeles who answers to Capt. Gallagher (played by George Lazenby of all people!). Ash is tasked with an important mission, and that's to bring in a bad dude named Joe "The Pig" Santamassino (Harold "Odd Job" Sakata) who has gotten his greedy little mitts on some blueprints for a device, which he stole from a scientist named Dr. Mason (T.E. Foreman). This device will allow “The Pig” to basically control the weather and, should he so desire, bring the temperature of a sprawling metropolis such as L.A. to below zero, making it a 'freeze bomb' of sorts. Remember that episode of G.I. Joe where Cobra Commander got his hands on 'The Weather Dominator?' This is kind of like that.

    Anyway, Pig intends to cash in on this and sell it to whichever terrorist wants to shell out for it. Somehow the information wound up on a microchip implanted under the skin of Mason's assistant, Felicia (Patch McKenzie), which complicates things a bit. Pig, on the other hand, is in talks with Verde (Aldo Ray) to sell all of this to him, with no regard for the fact that Verde could and likely will use it against America! Felicia winds up being held captive and Pig at one point threatens to have a snapping turtle, which he dangles perilously close to her breasts, “bite your tits off!” When Ash's wife gets killed, he speeds up his mission to catch the bad guys, leading to a bit of a chase and some martial arts scenes and, at the very end, a pretty bad ass freeze frame. Along the way he gets some help from Li (credited as Myron Bruce Lee) and he drinks some malt liquor (which he refers to as 'the black man's beer' at one point).

    Also known as Kill Factor and The Freeze Bomb, this one is as choppy as anything else Adamson made around this period. Stock footage inserts, poorly choreographed fight scenes, a chase or two (one that uses boats - pay attention for an editing error in this that is actually pretty impressive in how obvious it is!), some T&A, and, well, that snapping turtle are all here for your amusement and, occasionally, amazement as well. The movie benefits from a pretty solid cast. Kelly is his typical self here, effortlessly cool and as suave as they come. He handles himself well in the fight scenes even if his opponents usually don't. It's fun to see Lazenby slumming it here, even if he doesn't get all that much to do, while Sakata, intentionally or not, completely hams it up as the bad guy. Oh, and Aldo Ray, he's here too. Don't forget about Aldo Ray if you know what's good for you!

    The movie doesn't have much in the way of style going for it but it's got some gratuitous Reno footage spliced into it and if that weren't enough for you, the movie features footage shot inside the real Mustang Ranch! This sequence adds nothing to the story, Ash shows up and greets the lady running the place, then just sort of wanders around and leaves without having accomplished much - but it's cool to get a look inside the legendary Nevada house of ill repute.

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

    All four movies are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Mean Mother is framed at 1.85.1 and takes up 22GBs of space on the 50GB disc. It looks quite good, with excellent color reproduction and good black levels as well as nice detail and depth to the image. Uncle Tom's Cabin is framed at 2.35.1 and it gets 24GBs of space on the disc. This one was clearly taken from lesser elements, obviously, as the colors are very flat and faded and detail is less than amazing. It also shows a fair bit more print damage than Mean Mother does, the first movie is pretty clean looking. Neither film shows any issues with compression and there are no problems with any edge enhancement or noise reduction issues - it always looks like you're watching something sourced from film.

    Black Samurai is framed at 1.85.1 and takes up just over 24GBs of space while Death Dimension (which uses a German title card) is also framed at 1.851 and gets a transfer that uses up just under 24GBs of space. Both of these features look very nice, again taken from elements that were in nice shape. Colors look good, there's impressive detail and texture here, and we get nice black levels too. No problems with compression or any noticeable digital tinkering. Skin tones look good. Fans should be quite happy with how both of those movies look in high definition. Like Mean Mother, they look wayyyyy better than the old DVD releases. Some scenes in Death Dimension show mild to moderate print damage, but then other scenes look pristine.

    All four films on these two discs get 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks with subtitles provided in English only. Again, Uncle Tom's Cabin is the weakest link here, the audio has noticeable sibilance and a fair bit of hiss which would, again, seem to stem back to the elements that were available. The other three movies sound fine, no problems to not, and with a reasonable amount of depth to their respective scores.

    Extras for discs eleven and twelve are as follows:

    Disc Eleven - Mean Mother/Uncle Tom's Cabin:

    Extras for Mean Mother include the partial archival audio commentary with Samuel M. Sherman carried over from the old DVD release. It's a great track that covers how and why Dobey Grey was credited as Clifton Brown in the film and the importance of his casting to the picture, how they came to acquire the European film that was used in the movie and how they felt that it had no commercial value (which is why Adamson came in to spice it up), where they got some of the ideas for that were used in the story, the marketing and success of the film when it played theaters and how no one really noticed that it was a chop job, doubling a field in California for the jungles of Vietnam, some of the editing tricks that were used in the film, which scenes Adamson shot specifically for the movie (as well as Adamson's real estate career) and his love of the film business - and loads more.

    This disc also includes a seventeen-minute featurette entitled The Joy Of Marilyn Joi which is an interview with the actress. She speaks about taking a job in Kentucky as a dancer before moving up that ladder a bit. She speaks about what it was like working in that business as a black woman, the importance of putting on a show and having the right outfits, what the club scene was like back in the day, working comedy into her act at one point and then how he met Adamson and got into working with him. She notes that having his wife, Regina Carrol, around when she first met him help put her at ease around him until she learned how sweet and patient he was. She then shares some interesting stories about the different movies that they made together and what it was like working with Adamson.

    A trailer for Mean Mother is also included.

    Extras for Uncle Tom's Cabin are limited to a few radio spots and TV spots.

    Disc Twelve - Black Samurai/Death Dimension:

    Extras on this disc are limited to a trailer a piece for the two features and some alternate French opening credits for Death Dimension.

    Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection - The Final Word:

    Discs eleven and twelve of Severin Films' Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection offer an interesting mix of genres and subjects. Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't presented in the best of shape but the other three films are all pretty massive upgrades over their old DVD counterparts, especially Black Samurai (which now appears to be uncut). Lots of entertainment value to be had here!

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

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

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