Fantasia Review: Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson

A life in the grindhouse is not obscured by a tragic death

Al Adamson was a hack. He was a grindhouse schlock vendor who churned out movies designed to unspool while horny teens made out at the drive-in, or play on the VHS at pizza and beer parties. He was a nice guy, and he died a death that was as unbelievably gruesome as anything he filmed.

When the line between fiction and reality is so bloodily smeared, how does a documentary not cross the line into exploitation? In the case of Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, it's by being respectful of the source material, and the fact that Adamson was a real person, with friends and family, who happened to live an unusual life and then suffered a horrific, tragic death. It's a jaunty, well-researched, if by-the-numbers film history documentary for much of its length – and then it's a sad story of a man who murdered in bizarre circumstances.

Anyone interested in how the grindhouse scene really worked – of how films were reshot, rename, repackaged, and would sometimes turn up years after their initial release with a new poster and new ticket sales – will find the middle act fascinating. It's nothing that those with a deep knowledge of the shadier (if harmless) business practices won't know already. However, the time dedicated to the long, bizarre history of how a grimy L.A. crime thriller called Echo of Terror ended up as brain-swap slasher/zombie bank robbing starring an ailing John Carradine called Blood of Ghastly Horror (and that's after a brief run as the sexified Psycho-a-Go-Go) is a phenomenal case study. At the same time, it's a great examination of life on the fringes of Hollywood, where a director with a good eye could catch falling stars like Carradine, or Aldo Ray, or Yvonne De Carlo, and give them one last run, or find a rising young cinematographer before they start shooting for Oscars.

What's touching is that Adamson is shown to have cared about his films. With Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau and Master of Dark Shadows, director David Gregory has proven his compassion for cinema's forgotten masters and forgotten power players. While no one would ever claim Adamson reached those heights, in the interviews with his surviving peers and the snippets of conversational footage with the man himself, he comes across as a good man with ambition beyond his skills, and the instincts to occasionally create something truly special. After all, there are good reasons why Quentin Tarantino is a massive fan of biker flick Satan's Sadists, and it isn't just Russ Tamblyn's awesome hat.

Fantasia Festival in Montreal runs through Aug. 1. We'll be running reviews to give you a first glimpse at some of the underground and genre titles you'll be seeing in the months ahead.

Got opinions about movie theatres, video games, podcasts, and everything else good in Austin? Let your voice be heard in our annual Best of Austin ballot. Voting is open now!

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
Other Worlds Celebrates 40th Anniversary of <i>Time After Time</i>
Other Worlds Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Time After Time
Fest to honor Nicholas Meyer, director of the beloved chrono-romance

Aug. 15, 2019

The Angry Birds Movie 2
The birds are back, with an added subversive twist

Aug. 16, 2019


Fantasia 2019, Al Adamson, Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Grisly Death of Al Adamson, Grindhouse

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Time to vote! Best of Austin 2019 balloting is underway   VOTE NOW