18th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘Blood & Flesh’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Features: Al Adamson, Ken Adamson, Stevee Ashlock, Ewing ‘Lucky’ Brown, John ‘Bud’ Cardos, Greydon Clark, Robert Dix, Guadalupe Garcia, Gary Graver, Marilyn Joi, Gary Kent, Samuel M. Sherman, Russ Tamblyn, Zandor Vorkov, Vilmos Zsigmond | Written and Directed by David Gregory

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Documentaries chronicling cinemas past are nothing new, but it seems that since the debut of Best Worst Movie there has been something of a renaissance for documentaries focusing on the fringes of cinema, focussing on genre fare that had a cult following – films like Not Quiet Hollywood, You’re So Cool Brewster, Machete Maidens Unleashed, and Wolfman’s Got Nards. And thanks to the success of those films and the huge growth in crowd-funding, the documentary genre itself has boomed, with both filmmakers and fans making movies on their favourite subject and documentaries on “cult” subjects now regularly playing the festival circuit each and every year.

Last years Fantasia Fest featured the eye-opening Trial of Mike Diana documentary, a subject I knew a little about but s film that really dug into the story of one of the biggest censorship storie of modern times. This year’s festival featured a number of docs including Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, on the life of tthe titular filmmaker whose exploitation films were ultimately as wild as his sensational demise.

The son of a silent-era screen cowboy, Al Adamson existed in a period of American cinema unimaginable to today’s emerging talents. A time when you could shoot just about anything and have a good chance at getting it into a number of major theatres playing opposite mainstream studio fare. If you talked a good talk and delivered things others didn’t — or at least, if you promised to. Adamson and his lifelong friend and producing partner Sam Sherman did just that, releasing such exploitation fare as Psycho a Go-Go, Naughty Stewardesses, Satan’s Sadists, Dracula vs Frankenstein and Nurse Sherri.

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson comes from writer/director David Gregory, the man behind boutique label Severin Films and the director of fantastic documentaries such as Lost Soul and Master of Dark Shadows; plus special features for a myriad of Blu-ray and DVD releases. And like his previous documentary Lost Soul which explored the disaster that was Richard Stanley’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, Gregory has chosen yet another fascinating subject for his latest opus – one that is rife with wild stories, even wilder films and a conclusion that is both at once deeply troubling but also completely bizarre. In some ways Blood & Flesh is also the antithesis of Lost Soul – the latter focused on the man behind the story, here we get the story of the films made by the man; how they shaped careers (such as that of Vilmos Zsigmond worked with Al Adamson on Psycho A Go-Go and Satan’s Sadists and ended up being the cinematographer on classics such as The Deer Hunter and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind!)

Blood & Flesh is also packed to the rafters with footage from Adamson’s extensive career and even highlights a few that, even in this day and age of information at our fingertips, have remained remarkably obscure such as Black Samurai and Cinderella 2000; hell this doc even touches upon Adamson’s last film Beyond This Earth – at which point in the documentary things get a little weird and bizarrely conspiratorial. And that’s BEFORE even telling the story of Adamson’s insane murder!

Brought to life through archival material, including an old interview with Al Adamson himself; and interviews with many of Adamson’s peers, colleagues, friends, fans and even the cops who investigated his 1995 murder, Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson is a fascinating exploration of a fascinating man and a fascinating period in American movie-making history. And the true sign of a great movie documentary? You’ll want to check out Adamson’s oeuvre at the end of it. Whether you should remains in question though!

***½  3.5/5

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson screened on July 16th as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

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