In the 1960’s and 70’s, there have been innumerous directors making movies especially for the drive-in and grindhouse circuit, and the vast majority of the films they were churning out could be described as cheap, cheesy, trashy, sleazy and outright bad. In this respect, Al Adamson is almost the epitomy of a drive-in/grindhouse director, as these qualities would apply to pretty much all of his movies … and yet, most of his films somehow stick out of the crowd, and in all their badness, they have a certain flair to it only very few other directors of his ilk could ever hope to achieve.
During his career as a director, Adamson tangled pretty much every genre that would promise him and his producers a few bucks, be it horror, science fiction, the biker genre, softcore sex, blaxploitation, martial arts, Western or whatever else one could think of, but your typical Adamson film often had a borderline-mad quality to it, a quality that is expressed in choppy editing, rudimentary scripts, over-the-top plot elements and outrageous ideas not necessarily suported by the films’ chronically rather tight budgets, a quality that is firmly rooted in pulp heritage. Add to this a cast blending fresh actors of often only moderate talent and genre stars of yesteryear in the twilight of their careers, and you might be able to grasp to imagine what a typical Al Adamson film looks like – and why to this day and despite the rather questionable quality of his movies, the man has a large cult following.
Still, it would be wrong to call Al Adamson a bad director as such. He might not have been an inspired enough filmmaker to transcend his B-movie roots, but on a technical level – choppy editing aside, which mostly had other reasons – Adamson’s films look much more competently made than those of many of his competitors, and his films’ roughness, which one just can’t deny, actually works for his movies more often than not, given their topics.
Early Life, Early Career
Al Adamson was born Albert Victor Adamson jr in Hollywood (rather fitting for a future filmmaker) in 1929, and he was born right into the film business – but not the high end big budget major (or even minor) studio side of the film business, rather the independent made-on-a-shoestring variety … because you see, Al’s father was Victor Adamson alias Denver Dixon, an entrepreneur who has been active in the movie business since the 1910’s independently producing films – almost exclusively Westerns – on almost non-existent budgets.
Victor Adamson, despite being a full-blooded American, was actually raised in New Zealand, where he also produced/directed his first film, Stockman Joe (1910), which he somehow managed to get distributed in the USA upon his return to the States. Subsequently he tried to make it as a cowboy actor (he had learrned quite a few useful skills in New Zealand), but never quite made it as a leading man.
However, he had learned enough about filmmaking to churn out B-Western after B-Western on his own – Westerns because they could be cheaply made and sets (ghost towns) and scenery could easily be found -, usually starring one Art Mix, who was actually George Kesterson, whose name was just changed so it sounded suspiciously like Tom Mix, then the biggest cowboy star there was. To add some confusion to the story, Victor Adamson appeared as Art Mix himself in several films, while during a time he had a fall-out with Kesterson, a certain rodeo champion called Bob Roberts appeared under the monicker. According to reports, even a man really named Art Mix appeared as, well, Art Mix, in one of Adamson’s films just because he wanted to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit by Tom Mix – and succeeded, actually.
(By the way, besides appearing as Denver Dixon and Art Mix, Victor Adamson also occasionally appeared as Al Mix, Al James and Robert Charles – as if he only wanted to add more to the confusion.)
Besides producing and often directing his own films, Victor Adamson was also a supporting/bit actor on many a B-Western from bigger production houses (and back then almost everyone was bigger than Adamson), supposedly to fund his own projects and his family. He actually only rarely received on-screen credits on those films.
Anyways, Victor Adamson’s films can – within the limitations of the Western genre – be seen as perfect precursors of Al Adamson’s output: they were cheaply made, didn’t necessarily feature great acting, were pretty much in-your-face, not always coherently scripted and dida t least sometimes feature outrageous plot-elements. And the films never managed to fully obscure their shoestring-budget roots … and they are by today seen as prime examples of bad Western movie-making by snobbish wannabe-critics.
However, Victor Adamson’s productions were more than just sloppy Westerns, the prime example being The Rawhide Terror (1934, Bruce M.Mitchell, Jack Nelson), which admittedly features some poor acting and an incoherent script – but also a very exciting and well staged fistfight upon a speeding wagon (with a camera actually mounted on the wagon), some very gruseome murders and a mad killer in a leather mask, preceding Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface by some 40 years.
It is interesting to note in this respect that even though Victor Adamson’s films were almost perfect blueprints for his son Al’s movies, he did in fact discontinue producing and directing films in 1935, when Al was a mere 6 years old … but not before giving young Al his first role in a movie, Desert Mesa (1935, Victor Adamson), starring B-Western bitplayer Wally Wales in the lead, plus Al Adamson’s real life mother Dolores Booth, who occasionally did pop up in Victor Adamson’s films. It might even by that Al was in more of his father’s films, but there is no actual proof supporting that …
Anyways, Victor Adamson played small roles and bit parts in any number of films – mainly westerns because he was an expert horseman and roper – for the next 3 decades or so, until he, together with son Al, produced another movie, Half Way to Hell (1961), which was directed by the older Adamson and was a Western of course. The film would be the last one Victor Adamson would ever direct, but it was something of a career boost for his son Al, who was by then 32 years old, and who not only co-produced it but also had written the story and had an acting part in it …
Rise to Fame: The 1960’s
Half Way to Hell must have been some sort of slow-burning inspiration for Al Adamson, as it took him 4 years to come back to the film business to direct his first feature film of his own, Psycho a Go-Go/Echo of Terror (1965) – on which Al’s father by the way worked as production manager.
Taken by its own terms, Psycho a Go-Go was less than memorable, a very straightforward thriller about a gangster desperately trying to track down the loot from his last heist (which is hidden in a little girl’s doll), done the B-movie way – and somehow the film has a certain a-dime-a-dozen feel to it … and the film wasn’t too well-received either – not as it was that is: Fact is, Al Adamson, always a very economical man who wouldn’t shy away from re-using footage if it fitted his cause (or give abandoned film project a second lease of life in totally different films, for that matter) would ultimately cut much of Psycho a Go-Go’s footage into another film of his, Blood of Ghastly Horror, in 1972 – but more about the whole story of that movie later on.
By the way, cinematography on Psycho a Go-Go was handled by a young Vilmos Zsigmond, who would collaborate with Adamson on various future projects before shooting to fame and eventually winning an Oscar for Steven Spielberg’s vastly overrated kitschfest Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
After the relative failure of Psycho a Go-Go, it took Al Adamson another four years to make another film … but The Female Bunch (1969) proved to be much more in tune with drive-in audience’s expectations than the previous film. In this one, a film about a bunch of females (hence the title) raising hell as they participate in all sorts of criminal activities, Al delivers not only just about the right amount of sex and crime for audiences of the time, he also presents the viewer with Russ Tamblyn and Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio – click here], two actors definitely on the decline of their careers but still carried at least some marquee value.
Macabre detail: The Female Bunch, as well as some of Al Adamson’s later features, was partly shot at the Spahn Ranch, Charles Manson’s favourite hangout – though it’s not quite clear if Al used any of Manson’s followers as exttras or even knew the man.
Oh, and by the way, The Female Bunch was the first collaboration between Adamson and actress/dancer Regina Caroll, who would not only soon become a regular in Adamson’s films, but also his wife in 1972.
Plus, later B-movie director John Bud Cardos was responsible for directing some action sequences on this film as well as doing the stunts and playing a small, uncredited part. He would collaborate with Adamson more often on future projects in various functions.
Al Adamson’s career however didn’t really take off until he met with Sam Sherman, a young wannabe-producer who had previously worked for Hemisphere Pictures – the company that introduced the Filipino Blood Island-films to American auciences among other things -, and who was hungry to produce and distribute films himself – and thus, Sherman and Adamson formed Independent International, a company in which Adamson would handle direction while Sherman was responsible for distrbution and administrative matters, while the two would often share production duties. To an extent, the pairing of Sherman and Adamson was a match made in heaven, since Sherman knew about the drive-in business and knew what audiences wanted, and Adamson was a director who could always deliver. And even though their partnership eventually ended in the early 1980’s, Sherman would always praise Adamson’s professionalism and craftmanship, even in interviews given long after his former partner’s death.
The first Independent International production would already be a drive-in classic, Satan’s Sadists (1969). On the surface, the film might be nothing more than your typical biker flick, but it’s quite remarkable in its relentlessness and its audacity to provide to its audience’s hunger for sex and violence. The story is of course quickly told: On the one hand, there’s a particularly brutal and homicidal biker gang led by Russ Tamblyn, on the other there’s Vietnam vet Gary Kent, who might just be able to take the whole gang out on his own – and of course, these two parties are just bound to clash eventually – and on the way to this clash, theres mucho rape, murder, sex and crime … and pretty much, Satan’s Sadists is carried by its rape, murder, sex and crime much more than by its actual story, which serves as little more than a coathanger for the film’s sleazy setpieces.
And that, believe it or not, is the beauty of Satan’s Sadists, it’s just so amazingly direct in its approach and so amazingly free of redeeming values, that one just can’t help loving or hating it for what it is.
By the way, future B-movie and porn-director Gary Graver and an uncredited Vilmos Zsigmond handled the cinematography on this one, while John Bud Cardos (who also handled the stunts), veteran actors Scott Brady and Kent Taylor, Richard Dix’s son Robert and sex film starlet Bambi Allen all had roles in the film.
Satan’s Sadists was quickly followed by Adamson’s first horror film, Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969).
The film as such is about Count and Countess Dracula (Alexander D’Arcy, Paula Raymond) not wanting to lose their castle, where they only live on rent – and now the new owner (Gene Otis Shayne) wants to turn it into a hotel … now this sounds like a silly comedy, and indeed severral comedies were made with a very similar plotline, however, Al Adamson played it straight and threw all sorts of things into the stew, like escaped convicts, sadism, vampirism and all that jazz, and the film comes out as a wild potpourri of genre elements that might not frighten you for one moment (as horror movies should, right?) but might be able to put a smile on the face of every horror movie fan with a sense for unintentional humour.
By the way, master cinematographer László Kovács handled cinematography – the same year he also lensed Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper) – while John Carradine [John Carradine bio – click here] played the Draculas’ butler – the only Dracula-film in which he didn’t play his signature role. Over the years Carradine, whose career was on the decline, would become a frequent gueststar in Adamson’s films. Others appearing in the movie are Robert Dix (again), Vicki Volante, whose first film this was but who soon would become a regular in Adamson’s films (and only his films, for some reason), and John Bud Cardos, who also did double duty as production manager.
Horror, Bikers and Westerns: The Early 1970’s
Hell’s Bloody Devils from 1970 would become Al Adamson’s first cut-and-paste job, a technique Adamson would become (in)famous for in later years. The film was begun as another biker movie, but eventually abandoned. At a later time, Adamson must have remembered his old footage and added some new footage about (Neo-)Nazis starring John Carradine [John Carradine bio – click here]. which makes at best little sense in the context of the old footage. One can actually realize that quite a bit of time has passed between the old and the new footage because many of the actors suddenly turn up with different hairstyles that change back again as the film switches between original and newly shot material. Of course, the film as a whole makes little sense, but is fun to watch at nevertheless.
In terms of cut-and-paste techniques, Adamson’s next film, Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970), was even bolder though: The film starts out as a modern vampire tale, but within minutes goes into outer space and finally to another planet populated by cavemen – that have nothing whatsoever to do with the vampires from the beginning of the film. Fact is, Adamson and Sam Sherman have ripped all the cavemen footage from a 1965 Filipino film, Tagani (Rolf Bayer), and somehow they saw it fit to furnish the vampire footage around it – probably for no other reason than to use up some vampire footage they shot earlier. Anyways, Adamson regulars John Carradine, Vicki Volante and Robert Dix try to make sense of the film, but the film’s actual charm is that it totally refuses to make any sense whatsoever. And to add to the film’s utter absurdity, the Filipino footage was all black and white – not an option anymore for a commercial film from 1970, so it was tinted in various colours and the effect explained away (over and over again) as some sort of special radiation. How can you not love a film like this?
With Five Bloody Graves (1970), Adamson made his first Western as a director, a genre his father felt more at home at. However, despite sticking to genre conventions, Al Adamson managed to include just enough sleaze and violence to remain popular with his drive-in audiences and in tune with his other films. Robert Dix, who stars, also wrote the movie. Others in this film are John Carradine (once again), Scott Brady, Jim Davis, Vicki Volante and John Bud Cardos, who also had his hands in production, second unit direction as well as stunts.
While Five Bloody Graves seems to be carved out of one piece, Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971) unfortunately (or fortunately, depends on which way you see it) feels like another cut-and-paste job, though it’s at least a little more coherent than Adamson’s previous efforts: Initially this was supposed to be a biker movie and a sequel to Adamson’s earlier success Satan’s Sadists, with Russ Tamblyn again playing a mean-as-hell biker, but then Adamson added another subplot about a girl (Regina Carrol) and her boyfriend (Anthony Eisley) looking for her brother and bumping into a mad scientist (J.Carrol Naish) and his mute servant (Lon Chaney jr [Lon Chaney jr bio – click here]). Still not content, at some point Adamson also added footage about Dracula (Zandor Vorkov) and the Frankenstein monster (John Bloom), that makes little sense in the context of the rest of the film (which seems utterly heterogenous to begin with), and you’re left with – well, utter hilarity.
By the way, this film marks the first collaboration between Adamson and veteran midget actor Angelo Rossitto, who would soon become a regular in his films, while it also marks the last film of both J.Carrol Naish and Lon Chaney jr. Also in the cast are future director Greydon Clark, Jim Davis of later Dallas-fame (1978 – 81) and Famous Monsters of Filmland’s own Forrest J.Ackerman.
With Brain of Blood (1972), Adamson and Sam Sherman tried to jump onto the bandwagon of the then popular Blood Island films from the Phillipines by hooking up with the films’ co-producer and US-distributor Hemisphere Pictures, even reusing Brides of Blood’s (1966, Eddie Romero, Gerardo De Leon) Kent Taylor (who over the years had also become a regular in Adamson’s films) and Mad Doctor of Blood Island’s (1968, Eddie Romero, Gerardo De Leon) music … but Brain of Blood was shot entirely in the USA and entirely lacks the exotic feel and at times poetic creepiness of the Blood Island films – instead, Adamson presents his audience with a not entirely thought through story about brain transplantations, political intrigue, a mad monster and a bit of sleaze – in other words, perfect (and quite enjoyable in its lack of sense) drive-in fodder.
TV actor Grant Williams plays the lead in this one, while Regina Carrol, Angelo Rossitto, Vicki Volante, John Bloom (as the monster), Zandor Vorkov and veteran Reed Hadley also star.
Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972) is probably Al Adamson’s ultimate cut-and-paste job: He went ant took his own very first movie, Psycho a Go-Go from 1965, which was a down-to-earth crime drama, and gave it a horror/sci-fi treatment, adding a plot about a mad sciencist (John Carradine [John Carradine bio – click here]) who has apparently turned Psycho a Go-Go’s lead Roy Morton into a madman and is killed by him as a thankyou. This film was to be called The Fiend with the Electronic Brain, but it was most probably never finished … until Adamson added a new subplot about Regina Carrol as Carradine’s daughter trying to make sense of her father’s death and police inspector Tommy Kirk (who also was in the Fiend with the Electronic Brain-footage) trying to explain everything by adding yet another subplot, that of Roy Morton’s father Kent Taylor practicing voodoo … confused?
No matter, that’s part of Blood of Ghastly Horror’s charm, with its choppy storyline and its very heterogeneous footage only adding to the enjoyment of the film that can actually be seen as a highly entertaining guessing-game – as in, guess at which stage of the film this footage was shot, the Psycho a Go-Go-stage, the Fiend with the Electronic Brain-stage or the final Blood of Ghastly Horror-stage … try it, it’s fun!
With Angels’ Wild Women (1972), Al Adamson returns to the biker genre, though at one point, he must have figured that the time for biker movies was over, so he shifted the focus of the film from male biker Ross Hagen to Regina Carrol, leader of a female biker gang, and to a religious fanatic (William Bonner) taking our female bikers hostage. Parallels to Charles Manson in this film are quite deliberate, and actually it was in parts once more shot on Manson’s Spahn Ranch (as mentioned above, not the first of Al’s films shot there).
Though lensed by the relatively unknown Louis Horvath (at least compared to Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond), Angels’ Wild Women is actually one of Adamson’s best-looking pictures, as it’s beautifully filmed, makes perfect use of the landscape, and for once, the film’s ambitions don’t vastly outdo its budget. Still of course, it’s perfect drive-in fodder with its violence and sleaze in all the right places.
With the by now largely forgotten Lash of Lust (1972), Adamson made another Western, but as the word lust in the title and the film’s star Bambi Allen might suggest, the film was less of an oater and more of a sexfilm – it would however take a few more years before Adamson really shifted to sexploitation …
Blaxploitation, Sexploitation … and a Little Bit of Horror: The Mid- to Late 1970’s
In 1974, Al Adamson decided to try his hands on all-out action movies with two films, both of the blaxploitation variety, Dynamite Brothers and Mean Mother. The blaxploitation genre at that point might have been past its prime for sure, but there were still a few bucks to be squeezed out of it, and these movies were easy enough to sell to a drive-in crowd (it should in this context also be noted that Adamson produced another blaxploitation flick in 1972, Hammer directed by Bruce D.Clark and starring Fred Williamson).
Of Adamson’s two 1974 blaxploitation efforts, Dynamite Brothers was the much more ambitious film, as it was an effort to blend the blaxploitation genre with the then popular martial arts genre, and Al Adamson and producer Sam Sherman really put in an effort by flying in veteran Hong Kong fight choreographer and actor (and later Mr. Vampire) Lam Ching-Ying himself plus several Chinese stunt people … however the end result is less than satisfying, a tired story about a Chinaman (Alan Tang) looking for his brother (James Hong) in LA with the help of a black guy (Timothy Brown), not at all helped by rather poor timing, underwhelming action sequences, and even the fights suffer from too many American stuntmen involved not versed in martial arts. Somehow, Adamson’s directorial style that worked so well for the biker and the horror genre (even if in other ways than intended) just didn’t do the same to action films.
By the way, Aldo Ray has a supporting role – a corrupt cop who starts to have second thoughts – in this one, but he does nothing to save the film.
Even more disappointing than Dynamite Brothers was Mean Mother, one of Adamson’s cut-and-paste jobs. This time around he and Sherman took the Spanish adventure film El Hombre que vino del Odio/Run for your Life (1971) by León Klimovsky, shot some scenes starring black Dobie Gray aka Clifton Brown and sold it as a genuine blaxploitation film – not all that convincingly, one might have to add.
Adamson actually found himself more at home with his next film, Girls for Rent/I Spit on Your Corpse (1974), a crime drama about a pair of hitwomen (Georgina Spelvin, Rosalind Miles) with an extremely high sleaze factor. Shot on the cheap, this was a film that for its trash value alone was worth every Dollar of its budget, and it showed Adamson at the height of his game.
The film by the way also stars Adamson-regulars Kent Taylor and Regina Carrol (in only a small role), plus former B-Western star Robert Livingston, who would stay with Adamson for some more films.
By the mid-1970’s it had pretty much become obvious that sex cinema had become a goldmine, and obviously inspired by the success of the Swiss import Die Stewardessen/Swinging Stewardesses (1971, Erwin C.Dietrich) – a slightly episodic softsex comedy about, you guessed it, stewardesses -, Sherman and Adamson decided to make Naughty Stewardesses (1975) – a slightly episodic softsex comedy about, you guessed it, stewardesses (Connie Hoffman, Marilyn Joi, Sydney Jordan, Donna Young). The film, which also features (once more) former silver screen cowboy Robert Livingston (having probably his first sex scene in his long career), actually is almost a little too blunt in its execution and has also remarkably little to do with stewardesses – but it became one of Adamson’s and Sherman’s production company Independent International’s biggest hits.
Considering the success of Naughty Stewardesses, it is not too much of a surprise that Adamson and Sherman soon came up with a sequel, Blazing Stewardesses (1975), however, the way the film turned out came as a little bit of a surprise, as for whatever reason, Adamson and Sherman decided to not go the safe and easy way and make nothing more than a rehash of the earlier film but to instead turn the film into a loving hommage/parody of B-Westerns and serials of the 1930’s. The film to this end features very little in terms of sex (only two scenes at the beginning) and – besides the stewardesses (Connie Hoffman, Marilyn Joi, Regine Carrol) of course, who do next to no flying in this one – quite a bunch of veteran actors from the 1930’s and 40’s, B-movie cowboys Robert Livingston (again) and Don ‘Red’ Barry, Yvonne De Carlo and the two surviving Ritz Brothers. Plus, the film used old incidental music by Lee Zahler that was actually used in serials and B-westerns of the 1930’s.
This all sounds pretty exciting of course (at least to a lover of vintage B’s like me), the end result is less so though, since Adamson is not a versatile enough director to capture the spirit of the B’s of old, and too blunt a director to really get across the film’s parodistic elements. Still, if nothing else, Blazing Stewardesses was a valiant try, and became quite a success for its production company Independent International – maybe also because its title resembled Mel Brooks’ Western-parody success Blazing Saddles (1974) quite remarkably …
In between the Stewardesses-movies, Al Adamson made another film, Jessi’s Girls/Wanted Women (1975), a regular Western (as opposed to Blazing Stewardesses, which only was a kind-of-Western) – but of course, Adamson could not help but add a sleazy touch to the whole thing. In the film, Sondra Currie is raped and vows revenge – to which end she breaks three women (Regina Carrol, Jennifer Bishop, Ellyn Stern) from prison to give her support.
By the way, veteran silver screen cowboy Rod Cameron co-stars in this one, a film that was pretty much the blueprint for the disappointing 1994 cowgirl effort Bad Girls (Jonathan Kaplan) starring Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowall, Drew Barrymore.
With Black Heat (1976) starring Timothy Brown with Russ Tamblyn as the bad guy, Black Samurai/Black Terminator (1977) and Death Dimension/Black Eliminator (1978), both starring Jim Kelly, the latter also featuring George Lazenby, Harold Sakata (Odd Job) and Aldo Ray, Al Adamson tried to revive the blaxploitation movie, a genre by now in its death throes, but as with his earlier efforts, Adamson’s action-oriented flicks aren’t half as interesting as his other stuff.
In 1978, Al Adamson tried his hands on yet another genre, the beach party-movie, with Sunset Cove/Save Our Beach (1978), in which a group of youngsters try to save their beach from a construction company … yet the time for beach party movies was of course long over, and Adamson’s rather blunt approach to filmmaking did not do much to revive it – not that anyone was too keen on seeing the genre revived in the first place.
By the way, this film features another cameo appearance by John Carradine [John Carradine bio – click here].
Much more fun than this is actually Cinderella 2000 (1977), a decidedly silly sci-fi softcore sex rendition of Cinderella and other fairy tales, but with a definite 1984-spin to it. The end result of course refuses to make any sense, but that’s part of the charm of the film, as are its cheap retro-futuristic sets and its absurd excuses to unrobe its actresses. By the way, Catharine Erhardt aka Catherine Burgess plays the title role in the film, while veteran midget actor Angelo Rossitto plays one of the dwarves in a Snow White-inspired sex scene – which American prints of the film seem to be oddly missing.
In 1978, Adamson returned to what he (arguably) did best, horror, with Nurse Sherri/The Possession of Nurse Sherri, and the movie isn’t half bad actually, a shocker about a nurse (Jill Jacobson) possessed by a demon somewhat reminiscent of Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma), but with the occasional sex scene and nurses uniforms tagged on. Of course, the film is no match for the original Carrie, but is fun to watch for its cheesiness, its not-so-special effects, and its occasional outbursts of sleaze, and ranks as one of Adamson’s more enjoyable films.
While Nurse Sherri was carved out of one piece, Adamson’s next (and last) horror effort marked a return to his cut-and-paste tactics: Doctor Dracula (presumably 1981) – which by the way features a few doctors but no Dracula. For this effort, producer Sherman handed Adamson a film called Svengali/Lucifer’s Women, which was shot but presumably never finished by Paul Aratow in 1975, and had him shoot some new stuff with John Carradine [John Carradine bio – click here], Don ‘Red’ Barry and Regina Carrol, among others. The outcome is of course the very hodgepodge you would expect it to be, but even for an Al Adamson cut-and-paste job it’s confusing – might be that Svengali was a confusing film to begin with – and Adamson makes even less of an effort than usual to blend in the new with the old footage.
To no one’s real surprise, the film flopped, and it’s probably only due to Adamson’s good name that it was at one point actually released on DVD …
A Long Good-bye and a Sudden Death
After Doctor Dracula, Sam Sherman and Al Adamson parted ways, and Adamson more or less retired from filmmaking – and it was probably for the best too, since in the latter part of the 1970’s, the movieworld has undergone a considerable shift towards the major studios: With films like Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg) and Star Wars (1977, George Lucas) – basically trashmovies with a biiiig budget – the blockbuster was born, a sort of cinematic behemoth intent on squashing its competition, especially from independent producers. Along with that, the major companies started buying up independently owned drive ins and the like to have more venues to show their movies, thus squeezing the independents out of their primary source of income.
So suddenly, there was no more room for a director like Al Adamson – apart from video, which started to gain ground in the early 1980’s but which many a veteran filmmaker looked down at -, and with his departure, Independent International also reduced its output considerably (though it should be mentioned here that in 1986, Sam Sherman himself directed his one and only movie for the company, the rather atrocious Raiders of the Living Death).
After his departure from the company, Adamson made two more films, trying to establish himself as a more serious director, the carnival-themed drama Carnival Magic (1981) and the family film Lost (1983). Both films unfortunately were utter failures at the box office and are by today largely forgotten even by Al Adamson fans.
While Adamson laid his film career to a rest though, he didn’t need to worry, because he managed to use the money he made from his movies quite wisely, investing it in real estate, which left him a fairly rich man.
However, not all was roses in Al Adamson’s post-movie life (far from it) as in 1992, Regina Carrol, his wife of 20 years, lost her long battle with cancer.
The 1990’s though were also the decade when his movies were rediscovered and re-issued on video (and later also DVD) – which prompted Adamson to hook up with Independent International once again and start work on a new film, a family film to be called The Happy Hobo, in 1995, when …
… when all of a sudden, Al Adamson seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. After nobody had heard from him for five weeks, his disappearance was reported to the police – who after searching for several days found that he had never even left his own LA home – he was found encased in concrete in his whirlpool which was later tiled over, the cause of death being a blow to the back of his head with a large blunt object. Eventually, police determined the killer to be a contractor, Fred Fulford, whom Al Adamson had hired to redo some of his house and who was living there for the duration of his work. Fulford was later apprehended in Miami and sentenced to a 25-year prison term for homicide.
Now it’s of course highly unlikely that The Happy Hobo would have reignited Adamson’s film career, too much water had gone down the river since his heyday, but Adamson’s untimely death at age 66 had taken one of the USA’s most archteypical drive-in moviemakers.
True, most of his pictures are considered bad not only by today’s standards, and most of his films actually are bad, but bad in such an enjoyable retro-way that at least for trashmovie lovers like myself, it’s increasingly hard to resist their charm, and for all their lack of quality (at least academically speaking), many of Adamson’s films are ripe to be viewed over and over again.