For the casual genre fan, the name Al Adamson may not ring a bell. As for me, I have always known about the prolific B filmmaker, but have only seen one of his films (that would be Nurse Sherri) - thus far. Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (2019), a fantastic new documentary directed by Severin Film’s David Gregory and released on Blu-ray from Severin Films, is going to open up a lot of eyes to not only his vast filmography, but to his inspiring life and tragic death.
Now it should be noted that Adamson’s films were never held in high regard while he was alive; the common perception was they were cheap, ludicrous, and incompetent. What the documentary attempts to do - and succeeds - is show the kind man behind the work, therefore softening any discord towards his films, all while telling the compelling story of his murder. A tricky feat, yet you’ll never find a more entertaining true crime doc than this one - a celebration of his life and work, and a testimony to his passing.
The doc is bookended by Adamson’s murder in 1995 at the hands of his live-in contractor, Fred Fulford; TV footage is interspersed with interviews of friends and associates who weren’t completely blindsided given Fulford’s obsession with Adamson. But this isn’t some lurid expose on Fulford - his image and text are given the minimum needed to convey the story - or Adamson, for that matter. He is viewed by all who knew him as a sweet and generous man (even if he was fond of getting people cheap or free to work), and Blood & Flesh gives a very good impression of what he meant to others.
More importantly to film lovers, it shows a man infatuated with movies from an early age; his dad was an Australian actor who made silent oaters before bringing the family to the U.S., and after helping out on his dad’s movies, he ventured out on his own due to an aversion to being told what to do. It should be noted that Adamson didn’t just make horror films; Westerns, Biker flicks, and salacious sex comedies were also on the docket, with Adamson and his producing partner Samuel M. Sherman cranking them out with zeal and tidy drive-in profits.
But it’s all in the pudding-like proof, as scenes are trotted out from several of his films; Adamson was smart in that he always used a fair chunk of his budget to obtain name actors, such as John Carradine and Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story), who enjoyed the artistic latitude given and ended up doing five films with him.
The doc is flooded with enthusiasm and care for the sheer joy of filmmaking; Blood & Flesh shows that a strong will, determination, and some basic equipment are the tools necessary to splash images across a darkened field or an indoor sanctuary.
Having some talent never hurts; and Adamson, not unlike Corman, had a way of catching folks on the way up: Gary Graver, the cinematographer who worked with Orson Welles in his later days, and Vilmos Zsigmond, who shot Deliverance and Close Encounters of the Third Kind among many other films, learned their craft under Adamson’s fast and loose leadership.
I can lay no claim to being an Adamson expert, but watching Blood & Flesh has made me an enthusiast, which I think is the biggest takeaway; for his fans and newbies alike, it offers a comprehensive view of a creative who had a wonderful life before the flood lights were dimmed. Takeaway 2: follow and live out your dreams as best you can, because one never knows when the curtain is coming down.
As for Special Features, Severin has provided several deleted scenes/interviews that offer more insights into the man; good stuff to be sure, but like some twisted Ronco sales pitch from the late night abyss, they also give you an Adamson feature, The Female Bunch. But it turns out that Ronco salesperson is actually a down and dirty physical media dealer, because Severin also has Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection, a massive set with 32 films including the documentary we’re talking about. So for many, including myself, Blood & Flesh is a mere introduction to a world filled with monsters, stewardesses, cowboys, bikers, and every manner of misfit under the sun. And in uncertain times, I’ll always hang with the misfits.
Movie Score: 4.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5