I can only imagine, in the annals of fearful films, how many times the words ‘Horror’, ‘Blood’, and ‘Monster’ have been used to title one; or in the case of a lot of independent movies, retitle. And then retitle again. Such was the way to milk more money out of the drive-in masses a few summers in a row; what were we supposed to do, Google it? Anyway, here’s Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970)...and Astro-Vampire, Creatures of the Prehistoric Planet, Creatures of the Red Planet, Vampire Men of the Lost Planet, The Flesh Creatures, and Space Mission of the Prehistoric Planet. Sure, it has a lot of titles, but it also has a lot of movies in it too. That’s the Al Adamson way.
That’s right, I’m back on the Adamson beat, and as usual, the story behind the film is as interesting as what happens on the screen; take one Filipino caveman movie, Tagani (1956), throw in some footage from One Million B.C. (1940), and wrap it in a story of Adamson’s design - intergalactic vampires, colorfast, belching machines, cardboard spaceships, and John Carradine. (The last item is a prerequisite.) Mix it all together and what do you get? A big old mess, that’s what; but a fun one nevertheless. I get a lot of joy from watching the seams.
Let’s pretend this is all a coherent and compelling narrative, shall we? We open on earth, in a darkened warehouse, when rambling narration from a booming Brother Theodore (The Burbs) informs us of a vampire invasion that’s taken over earth; this we know because in said warehouse we find Adamson and his cronies stumbling around in the dark with poorly fitted fangs. (Sometimes with Adamson you just have to go with it.) Naturally, this leads the U.S.A. to put together a group of scientists, astronauts, and Carradine as our Emeritus Expositionus, and they all head off for a far away galaxy (that takes 20 minutes to reach) to eradicate the source of the vampiric plague.
Once they arrive on a planet in the correct galaxy (they’re unsure where they’re going, and we’re even less certain), they encounter the normal things one would on any other remote planet: Dinosaurs with an uncanny resemblance to lizards, cavemen with fangs, atmosphere that changes colour to easier “hide” switching from one film to the other. (A pretty far out return on your NASA tax dollars, if you ask me.) Our intrepid travelers come across a beautiful cavewoman, zap her so she can speak and understand English (haltingly; surprisingly strong grammar though for someone who learned the language 12 seconds prior), and then allow her to retell the tale to the awestruck earthlings.
For us that means a solid block of Tagani, which threatens to grow tiresome except for activities back at the earth base; our head scientists spend most of their screen time in the sack, surrounded by coloured TV tubes that blink and flash and serve no purpose other than reminding us of Adamson’s William Castlepalooza: Spectrum - X!
You see, Spectrum - X! is a cinematic “process” of putting film through “colour filters” to make the audience think “thematic change”, or “paint swatches”. It achieves what Adamson set out to do, except it makes all the footage look chintzy, even Vilmos Zsigmond’s (Blow Out). Personally, I’m a fan of the process. (Although most shiny objects have this effect on me.)
Besides the gimmick, Adamson and writer Sue McNair do the best they can to make pies out of mud, and yet you’re never unaware of their efforts; but here’s a secret - big or small, a seam is a seam. Theirs is no more egregious than knowing when an actor has been digitally replaced in a blockbuster; illusion is illusion, no matter the scale.
But Adamson’s sheer output alone (36 director credits in the space of 34 years) gives him a certain cache, a romanticized figure of independent glory days. But even B-movie cowboys have to show some talent to last that long; either that, or be incredibly lucky. I don’t believe Adamson was very lucky at all.
There is an allergy that some people have towards assumed incompetence; a feeling of repulsion if the film isn’t slickly made or convincingly acted, without consideration for what should be placed above all other concerns: Is it entertaining? This seemed to be Adamson’s Modus Operandi; whether he succeeded becomes rear view fodder the longer he is celebrated.
Horror of the Blood Monsters offers up the same cheap chills and thrifty sets of many other drive-in programmers, but there are reasons Adamson’s films live on, even thrive: They have an energy that many others of their ilk do not possess, with a sense of the absurd either peppered on or slathered in. He made them fast, and he wants you to enjoy them fast. Sometimes quantity does match up with quality.
Horror of the Blood Monsters is available on Blu-ray as part of Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection from Severin Films.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE STRANGLER (1964)