Starring: Linnea Quigley, Edwin Neal, Michael LiCastri, Yvelisse Cedrez, David Plowden, Keith Surplus
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
For those who have been following “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” for the past couple years, there are times where I will do special reviews and/or lists to change the format up. The next few weeks you will be seeing these types of writings. I have planned two separate movie rankings, one based on a filmography of a specific director and the other is a list of movies that have been shown on a particular show that is my current favorite show. For this week’s “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I wanted to share with you a review of a film I had an invite to watch. This film is the first full length feature from Writer/Director/Actor Michael LiCastri whom up to that point has made several short films including The Great Pineapple Debacle, When Tarantino Met Shakespeare and October 31st to name a few. The film is titled The Best Laid Plans.
Released in 2019, The Best Laid Plans stars LiCastri as Kevin. He along with his friends Allen (David Plowden) and John (Keith Surplus) are all college graduates who are struggling to find jobs. Kevin finds out that he and his family are about to be evicted from their home, so the three of them are trying to come up with a quick way to raise the money to prevent them from being homeless. They find out that a former classmate of theirs named Tommy (Brian Ballance) won the lottery, they decide to kidnap him to shake out just enough of his winnings to keep Kevin and his family in their home.
The Best Laid Plans is a relatable situational comedy filled with quick wit and dark humor. LiCasri creates a visual story of what many college graduates are going through during these harsh times while pointing out the newer generation’s desire to make some fast money with very little effort. You see it today with everyone wanting to be internet sensations or creating profiles on provocative sites where consumers pay money to view explicit content. In this case The Best Laid Plans takes the old fashion concept of a kidnap for ransom scheme.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of the three buddies. Their chemistry is the backbone of the movie and I chuckled at the banter between them. Each character is relatable and come from different backgrounds not just from family and economics, but educational as well. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite comedies Airheads where the three leads would rip each other to pieces over the situation they were in when they took over their local radio station. The Best Laid features small appearances from Scream Queen legend herself Linnea Quigley and the Hitchhiker from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre Edwin Neal which will make horror fans jump with glee.
In terms of the technical aspects of The Best Laid Plans, the locations are minimal as LiCastri focuses on the development of the characters rather than shooting various spots for viewers to look at. There’s no fancy angle shots or shaky first person view. Instead LiCastri keeps the camerawork simple by making sure the essential characters in the scene are all showed in frame. LiCastri can create a lot with very little and those are signs of a good competent filmmaker.
If you’re looking for a good laugh that doesn’t require fart jokes or physical comedy, The Best Laid Plans is for you. Those who are first time filmmakers can watch this movie as a template to how to make a compelling indie film with little to no money. All you need is a great script, relatable characters, and a realistic situation to put them in. At a run time of 73 minutes, it is well paced to keep your attention.
The Best Laid Plans is available to watch now on Amazon Prime.
TRIVA (Per Writer/Director/Star Michael LiCastri)
The film was shot on digital and on a RED Dragon camera.
The inspiration for the film came from LiCastri as he was frustrated on not finding work shortly after graduating from film school in 2011. The Script was written in 2012.
Disclaimer: The rankings are based on my personal viewings, thoughts and opinions. I have not been influenced by outside parties as to where to place certain movies in these rankings.
Most of you readers may have never heard of Al Adamson. You will be familiar with him after this posting. Al Adamson was the son of early Australian film actors. He joined his father, actor Victor Adamson’s (known professionally as Denver Dixon) production company to learn the business. Eventually, Adamson would go on to make his own movies starting his own independent production company where the only person he answered to was himself. Adamson’s films were based on trending genres in the movie world. His eclectic filmography includes Westerns, Horror, Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, Martial Arts and even two Children’s films that spanned three decades. Adamson was known for making his films fast and cheap with very little money and allowing only two takes per scene. He would have his friends and collaborators play multiple roles from acting to set design, performing their own stunts, etc. While his movies aren’t anything revolutionary, they did find an audience. Adamson saw the Drive-In theater trend as a marketing opportunity and took every advantage of it. He along with his producer pal Sam Sherman would re-release their own movies under different titles based on what was hot at the Drive-In. Adamson’s career would come to an end near the mid 80s. Tragically his life would be cut short as he was murdered in 1995 by a contractor working on his home in Indio, California. While Adamson may not be remembered as a great nor influential filmmaker, his works continue to live on thanks to a devoted fanbase along with a new generation of viewers thanks to a recent box set that was released.
Last April Severin Films released the most comprehensive Blu-Ray box set dedicated to Adamson. Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection features all thiry-one of Adamson’s films inlduing the critically acclaimed documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson. Severin released the movies based on the available prints they could find through original negatives, 16mm prints or VHS prints. The box set included Commentary Tracks for each movie, Trailers, Promo Reels and Early Interviews. The Box Set was completed with a one hundred twenty six page booklet chronicling Adamson’s career and information on which version of film you would be watching. The Box Set sold out quickly as it was a limited print.
I acquired the Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection in late January and spent the past month watching all of his films. For this special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I decided to rank all of Al Adamson’s movies based on my viewings and impressions. I started at the bottom listing my least enjoyable viewings all the way to the one film I found to be my favorite. For this list I excluded the Blood & Flesh documentary. This is strictly on Adamson’s films. For those who are familiar with Al Adamson’s filmography, you may be shocked as where I have certain movies listed. So without further rambling, let’s get the rankings started:
30. Hell’s Bloody Devils
The worst movie on this list happens to be a previously released Adamson film with new footage and this will not be the last movie on this list with this cut and paste concept. Hell’s Bloody Devils takes the previously released film The Fakers, which is about a government agent who infiltrates a Neo Nazi organization in California in hopes of retrieving some counterfeit plates from Germany the Nazis plan on using for a counterfeit scheme and adds a biker gang to the mix. There are only a few scenes of these bikers in Nazi garb and they add nothing to the plot of the film. What’s worse is that this film is shorter than The Fakers. The question that I keep asking in my head while watching these films is why didn’t Adamson turn these concepts into stand alone films? I’m sure he would’ve been able to secure the money to do so. Hell’s Bloody Devils is an example of a filmmaker and a studio trying to capitalize on a merging trend and doing it in the laziest way possible.
29. Nurses For Sale
From the opening scene you would think this is another Al Adamson skin flick, but then it goes downhill from there. Nurses For Sale is a culmination of two films smooshed together. The essential plot of the movie deals with a stolen drug cargo that was supposed to arrive in West Germany. The nurses’ involvement is not very clear as they seem to be helping out with the shipments thinking that they’re medical supplies. Nurses For Sale is one hot mess (no pun intended). This was originally a German film made by Rolf Olsen and then Adamson somehow got the rights to it and added some nude scenes to try to pass it off as a Sexploitation movie. The story is incoherent, and the characters are laughably dumb. Thank goodness this movie clocked in at 67 minutes, otherwise I’d be pulling my hair out in frustration until I became bald. Easily the worst movie of Al Adamson’s filmography, if you would even consider crediting this to him. I had to flip a coin to see whether this film or Hell’s Bloody Devils would be placed at #30. Obviously, this squeaked out…barely.
28. Five Bloody Graves
If Social Justice Warriors created a list of Culturally Inappropriate Films, Five Bloody Graves would be on the very top. Of course, you have to remember this was filmed in the sixties and during a period where white actors would be cast as different ethnic characters. You would think that the filmmakers would do some research about Native Americans and their history rather than choosing the default of all of them being savages and if they’re supposed to be performing as savages, they would learn the correct way of scalping someone. Nevertheless, Five Bloody Graves is a pretty bad Western film. The plot goes in various directions, the action is laughably inept, and the editing is poor. There is a shot of John “Bud” Cardos, who plays the tribal leader raising his spear and screaming that is shown several times including one scene where it’s completely misplaced. There’s also back and forth shots that are mismatched with some missing the sound. The acting leaves a lot to be desired with the exception of John Carradine who plays a preacher. Like the veteran professional he is, Carradine makes a consolidated effort and has a few humours moments as well. The only thing I liked about Five Bloody Graves was that it was shot in Utah with its beautiful countryside. I was in awe as to how clean the rivers were, the gorgeous mountains and Marigold blossoming everywhere. Five Bloody Graves is a prime example of how Al Adamson shot movies cheap and on the fly with little to no effort or care as to the art they are making. I wouldn’t watch this movie again even if it did end up on a Banned Movies List. It belongs in that vault never to see the light of day again.
27. Blazing Stewardesses
The Naughty Stewardesses was a surprise success at Drive In Theaters that Adamson rushed a sequel titled Blazing Stewardesses. Taking inspiration from Blazing Saddles, Blazing Stewardesses brings back the characters from its predecessor and puts them in a crazy story where they stay at a resort of their wealthy friend again from the last movie and then mixes in a western heist element to it. Blazing Stewardesses is a skin flick that never gets started There’s really nothing to like about this movie. except for seeing Lilly Munster Yvonne De Carlo appear in the movie. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense and there’s too many scenes involving the surviving Ritz Brothers doing their schtick that would only make people the same age as them laugh so hard that they collapse a lung. This is a movie that will be collecting dust inside my Al Adamson Collection until I pass it on to someone else and it will be their decision whether to watch this salty garbage.
26. Mean Mother
Mean Mother is Al Adamson’s first foray into the Blaxploitation genre. This is another patch job as Adamson takes a previously released film, this case Leon Klimovsky’s Run For Your Life from 1971 and adds his own footage. The plot of the movie is two US Soldiers who deserted their platoon during the Vietnam War, go their separate ways and both enter the European Criminal Underworld. The film stars Dobie Gray and Luciana Paluzzi of Thunderball fame. The acting is campy which is what you would expect from a sandwiched film. The Vietnam scenes look like they were shot in a Midwestern location with bare trees, hay, and all kinds of weeds. What little action that Adamson injects in this movie is fun is a nice rush of entertainment before it falls back to the dull, messy plot. Mean Mother is unquestionably the worst Blaxploitation film Al Adamson has done, and this is a genre that seems to be his strongest as you will see quite a few of these films rank higher up on the list.
25. Nurse Sherri
Nurse Sherri is another Al Adamson film combing two film genres into one. The film starts with a cult trying to resurrect one of their members who’s dead and then his spirit somehow enters a nurse named Sherri who then proceeds to go on a murderous rampage in the hospital she works at. Nurse Sherri is a film where the story goes nowhere fast. You see the cult in the beginning of the film, and they don’t return. There’s no explanation as to how Sherri gets chosen to be possessed. The hand drawn animation during the possession scene is so bad it would make the guys in Monty Python laugh. Nurse Sherri includes some outrageous characters including a professional football player who goes blind and suddenly becomes an expert in demonic possessions. Only good thing Nurse Sherri has is the traditional sex scenes in Al Adamson movies and some quality kill scenes. The version in the Al Adamson collection is scanned from the original 16mm print so it’s grainy with some fogginess. Nurse Sherri may appeal to those who love cheese and sleaze, otherwise this would be a candidate for assisted film suicide.
The final completed film of Al Adamson’s career, Lost is about a little girl and her dog getting lost in the desert wilderness of Utah and work together to find their way back home. Lost reminds me of a Hallmark Channel film. It’s a story about friendship and how strong the bond is that they can overcome anything. While the title and premise sounds like this is going to be a sad and depressing film, it’s a painfully frustrating ninety minutes of a poorly written script, characters who don’t seem to know their shoelaces are always untied and moments that make you want to sink your teeth into the skin of your hand. The dog is cute but is useless as all it does is follow the little girl around and be her companion. Lost is a forgettable film and in an ironic way is Al Adamson’s filmmaking career coming full circle.
23. Angels’ Wild Women
Just from one look at the cover of Angels’ Wild Women one would assume that Al Adamson wanted to make his own version of Charlie’s Angels. Only problem with that is that the popular television series would not air until four years after this film was released. The lead women in this film have some flashes of being able to handle themselves against their masculine counterparts, but then they abruptly become vulnerable to the situations they get it. Except for the beautiful women which include Adamson regulars Vicki Volante and Regina Carrol Angels’ Wild Women is another film that doesn’t go anywhere quickly. The story is muddled and falls further deep into the rabbit hole with random subplots added and the characters in the movie are stupid including a naïve farmhand who gets raped by the women in the movie that is sequenced like it came from a bad porno flick. It’s the first movie I’ve seen where a man gets raped by a woman. The bad guy in the movie is some zealous cult leader who allows the women to stay at his ranch only for them to be sickened or killed by the cult. Speaking of cults, Angels’ Wild Women is notable for being shot at the Spahn Ranch where Charles Manson and his family were held up before and after their murder spree. The ranch is where most of the film would take place including a hilarious fight sequence where men are holding onto their beers as they wrestle on the dirt road outside. Again, another film that could have had potential but was poorly executed in the end.
22. Half Way To Hell
Released in 1960, Half Way To Hell is technically regarded as Al Adamson’s directorial debut. He took over for his dad, actor/director Victor Adamson who was known professionally as Denver Dixon (Dixon is shown as director in the opening credits). Half Way To Hell is a simple western shot in black and white. The plot regards a woman Maria San Carlos, the daughter of a wealthy landowner who is an arranged marriage with a Mexican revolutionary general named Escobar. Maria believes in marriage for love, escapes and travels to the US border. She is intercepted by some American outlaws hired by Escobar to bring her back. It’s up to an American cowboy who teams up with Maria’s servant boy and protector also looking for her to save her. The film looks like it was made ten years prior to its actual release. The film is notable for featuring Adamson in a key role as one of the cutthroat cowboys. There’s very little in terms of shootouts or action sequences. The dialogue and performances are what you expect in a low budget film from this era. There is an attempted rape scene that was edgy for its time, but would also be a glimpse of what to expect of an Al Adamson film where taboos are broken in the name of art. Again, it’s a simple black and white western that allowed Adamson to dip his toes into directing and set the blueprint as to how he was going to tell stories through the lens of a camera.
21. Blood of Ghastly Horror
Blood of Ghastly Horror is another film that was previously released as one title and then re-released with a newer title and newly filmed footage. In this case it takes clips from the movies Psycho A Go Go and The Fiend With The Electronic Brain and adds a plot about a mad scientist who experiments on dead bodies and creates zombies in order to find a way to revive his son who was perished in a fall. This film was billed as a quasi-sequel to Fiend, but really makes no sense especially given the ending to both films (which is shown for the third time in this feature). The only thing I liked about this movie is the cheap makeup of the zombies and the appearance of Regina Carroll, the buxom blonde who was Al Adamson’s wife in real life and would appear in the majority of his films. I would not be surprised if Blood of Ghastly Horror was the inspiration for the concept and presentation of Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 as they took a large chunk of the previous movie and added a new story and newly filmed scenes to make it appealing to viewers.
20. Cinderella 2000
Billed as an out of this world musical sex comedy, Cinderella 2000 doesn’t deliver much on the musical or comedy part but has an overabundance of softcore pornography that will get men googly eyed. Al Adamson out weirds himself by taking a loose version of the fabled fairy tale and setting it in a cyber-Orwellian future where sex is outlawed, and Bid Brother decides who are allowed to participate in this adult activity. The story of Cinderella is the same one we all know and love, but this time the woman who is chosen by the “prince” of the film will have the opportunity to join him in consummating the union. The movie is a trip from beginning to end. Adamson throws so many strange characters and ideas into the plot that make you wonder what kind of grass he was smoking when he made this. A form of punishment for a woman who was caught having sexual relations in violation of the law was she was shrunk down into a miniature sized doll. The characters are boisterous, but don’t have much personality other than they’re all as horny as a three-ball cat. Some dialog made me chuckle especially with the stepmother’s two children taking her for help telling the doctor, “She’s got a case of the hornies!” One of the central characters that is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie is a robot who is programmed to uphold the fornication laws and goes berserk if it catches couples in the act. The robot is so annoying in the movie that surpasses the robot from Lost in Space as the most annoying robot ever shown on film or television. There’s very little musical numbers which is a good thing because the singing is cringeworthy. Again, men will find this movie appealing with the plentiful abundance of T&A in the movie. Cinderella2000 features a fourth wall moment with Snow White wishing she were getting lucky only for her wish to come true thanks to the help of the seven dwarfs…. that’s all I’ll say on that matter. Cinderella2000 is a movie that you could watch in a late-night viewing, but for the most part it will appeal to drunken frat boys looking for cheap thrills or prepubescent boys looking to get their rocks off.
19. Sunset Cove
Sunset Cove is Al Adamson’s first and only attempt at a raunchy teen sex comedy. The film is about a group of teenagers who band together to keep their beach from being bulldozed to make way for a developer to build condominiums. Sunset Cove features the stereotypical characters you would see in these type of teen comedies including an overweight character cleverly named “Chubby,” but are likable for the most part thanks in part to the decent performances from the cast of the movie. They’re working together for a common goal not just for themselves but for their community. There’s a surprise cameo from the great John Carradine who plays the town judge at the climax of the movie. This would be Carradine’s seventh and final appearance in an Al Adamson movie. The film features many tropes you’ll find in a beach movie: jocks, girls in bikinis, bumbling law enforcement officers and a corrupt mayor. Sunset Cove features the most lighthearted fun you’ll see in an Al Adamson movie. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Al Adamson movie if there weren’t any sex or topless women. The film does suffer from a listless plot and some of the locations are left to be desired. Sunset Cove may not be a memorable film of this genre but is one of the pleasantly surprising viewings of this filmography.
18. The Naughty Stewardesses
The Naughty Stewardesses is your typical T & A softcore skin flick. Think of Sex and The City on an airplane. The film wastes no time with the hanky panky between a pilot and a stewardess. Eventually the plot starts to form as the veteran stewardess crew show new hire Debbie the ropes and talk about their sexual fantasies. This leads to them staying with a wealthy man who gets to act out his fantasies with the nymphomaniac bunch while Debbie gets romantically involved with an amateur photographer who uses her to take pictures and start an affair that seems to go back and forth all throughout the movie. The Naughty Stewardesses was another attempt by Adamson to make money and exploit a growing trend. The acting doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination and the plot seems to stray away from its heading. The only good thing about the movie is of course the stewardesses although it’s gross that they are getting themselves involved with a man that thirty years older than them. The kinky happy fantasies of the women take a dark turn at the climax of the movie that gets utterly ridiculous. The Naughty Stewardesses doesn’t hold up today considering the volume of sex and pornography that is found today in film, television and of course the internet. Only the hardcore devotees of B Movies and Drive In Culture would be able to bring this film back from its involuntary celibacy.
17. Black Heat
Black Heat was Al Adamson’s first foray into the merging Blaxploitation genre that emerged during the early seventies. It’s a simple story of a Las Vegas cop, played by Timothy Brown in his first, but not last Adamson films who is out to shut down an upscale hotel that is being used a front for numerous illegal activities including loan sharking, gun running and prostitution. He is supported by his partner Tony, played by Geoffrey Land arrive to diffuse the situation and a TV camerawoman named Stephanie, played by Tanya Boyd whom he strikes a romantic relationship with. The film includes Adamson regular Russ Tamblyn as Ziggy who is the middle man for all the criminal activity going on in the hotel and Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol as a musical performer of the said hotel. The storyline is nothing that we haven’t seen before, but it has a decent cast of characters to keep the film moving. There’s a little more effort into the technical side of the film with a good chase scene and some shootouts. The romance element of the film between Brown and Boyd is humorous and playful. Unfortunately, there are some bizarre moments in Black Heat, most notably a horrendous sexual assault scene involving a woman who is a degenerate gambler who loses everything and is forced into a gang-bang to cover her debts. Finally, Black Heat starts to run out of gas during the third act and drags to where you start to lose interest. After watching this film, I felt this was a learning process for Adamson in this genre as he would continue making more Blaxploitation films and correcting the flaws that are in this.
16. Horror of the Blood Monsters
What do you get when you take footage from three separate films and then add your own footage with a different plot, edit them together and then flood them with various color tints? You get Horror of the Blood Monsters. The film opens with a narration sequence from late legendary actor Brother Theodore about a virus that is turning humans into vampires. From there a space crew travels the farthest reaches of the galaxy hoping to find help to stop the virus. They land on a planet that is filled with every kind of danger from dinosaurs to lobster people to a cannibalistic tribe. Not to mention the planet is filled with heavy radiation (the reason for the shades of colors throughout the film). Horror of the Blood Monsters looks like it was made during a bad acid trip. The opening sequence features several crew members including Adamson dressed as vampires biting the necks of unsuspecting victims. From there it morphs into a Sci-Fi film using footage from an untiled unfinished Filipino film, and an unfinished stop motion prehistoric film (One Million B.C.) with some cheap spaceship sequences and a mission control sequence where the screen is in freeze frame during the broadcasts from the spaceship. The cast includes Adamson regulars Robert Dix and Vici Volante with a special appearance from John Carradine as the ship doctor. There is a moment in the movie where Robert Dix explains to Vicki Volante about how the Spectrum Radiation works and how it changes color, followed by them engaging in a long love making sequence. The color of the film changes based on the time of day in the movie and vary from red, yellow, green and blue. It may not be pretty to look at, but that’s the justification Adamson used as cover to the black and white movies he cut and pasted. Horror of the Blood Monsters would’ve been a great film if they stuck with creating a film based on the opening sequence and could’ve used the jumbled movies and release it as a separate title. Then again, what do I know about cheap filmmaking?
15. The Fiend With The Electronic Brain
The Fiend With The Electronic Brain is essentially Psycho A Go Go with a few added scenes explaining why the killer in the movie acts the way he acts to give it a Science Fiction twist. The added scenes feature John Carradine as Dr. Howard Vanard who talks to a detective looking into the murders committed by the killer. Vanard explains that the killer was a soldier who returned from fighting in Vietnam with a traumatic brain injury and Vanard experimented with him by implanting an electronic device for him to recover and live a normal life. Instead, it turned him psychotic. Roy Morton who played the killer in Psycho A Go Go areturns in the added scenes to take care of Vanard from further talking to the police. Carradine’s death scene is hilarious when you watch the performance. While it does give a plausible reasoning for the killer, in the end it wasn’t necessary to make Psycho A Go Go any better than it already was.
14. Carnival Magic
Carnival Magic has the honor of being the only film of Al Adamson’s to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and found its audience through the hilarious riffs and commentary from Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow. Carnival Magic marked a turn for Al Adamson as his first 80s film would not only be his second to last, but his first attempt at making a children’s family film. The story is about a carnival that is trying to keep from going under. A magician that has been the main attraction of the carnival reveals that he has been keeping a talking chimpanzee under his roof named Alex. Alex becomes a part of the magician’s act and becomes an instant crowd pleaser. His popularity catches the attention of a scientist who wants to take Alex and experiment with him to see if he’s the true missing link of human evolution. Carnival Magic in its original non MST3K version is dated for a children’s film but has enough going on to be entertaining. The antics of Alex are funny including him stealing a car and taking a joyride on it. The power of this movie comes from the bond of the magician and Alex as kind of a father/son relationship. Alex makes friends with some of the other carnival workers who look after his well-being especially when he does go missing. It reminded me of another film I liked in my mouth called Dunston Checks In where a monkey escaped his abusive master and made friends with a lonely boy who looks after him. Carnival Magic is a movie that may get the attention of children under 6 but may not be appealing to the other ages. You’re better off watching the MST3K version for a laugh out loud good time.
13. Death Dimension
Jim Kelly returns in another Al Adamson Martial Arts film that while not a direct sequel to Black Samurai but has a lot of familiar elements. Death Dimension is essentially the same storyline as Black Samurai with Kelly trying to find the daughter of a scientist who has a microchip surgically implanted in her forehead that contains instructions on how to create a destructive freeze bomb. She is being pursued by a world-renowned gangster named “The Pig” who is looking to acquire the plans so he can use it to hold the world at ransom. Death Dimension is an odd title considering there’s extraordinarily little in terms of Science Fiction. The film ratches up the Bond elements by adding Oddjob himself Harold Sakata as “The Pig” and one time James Bond George Lazenby as one of Kelly’s contacts which was great to see. The action scenes are fun to watch most notably a boat chase scene with Kelly fighting and knocking his adversaries into the beautiful blue water. While the story of Death Dimension is nothing new, it’s easy to follow along and doesn’t have any twists or things to turn your brain into a pretzel. The film quality of this version is grainy due to the print that Severin Films was able to acquire, but you can still see what’s going on in the frame. Finally, the music is decent with a laughable track during the final chase scene as it sounds like the composer was mashing on a synthesizer. Death Dimension is another fun Martial Arts film that fits in Al Adamson’s Kung Fu Trilogy along with Black Samurai and The Dynamite Brothers.
12. The Fakers
As previously stated in my review for Hell’s Bloody Devils, The Fakers is about a government agent who infiltrates a Neo Nazi organization in California in hopes of retrieving some counterfeit plates from Germany the Nazis plan on using for a counterfeit scheme. Adamson wanted to seize on the success of the James Bond movies by creating a spy thriller of his own. The Fakers has a nice blend of action, story, characters, and music. In traditional James Bond fashion, The Fakers features a romantic sub plot where the protagonist encounters a beautiful young woman caught in middle of the events that are unfolding. Best scene in the movie is where the main character and his love interest are eating at KFC and Colonel Sanders appears in the flesh asking them, “Isn’t that the most wonderful chicken you ever ate?” He refused to say the original scripted line, “Ain’t that chicken finger lickin’ good?” which caused the crew to shoot several takes, which in an Al Adamson movie is a no-no
11. Blood of Dracula’s Castle
Blood of Dracula’s Castle was one of many good concepts from Adamson that doesn’t quite hit their mark. Starring Alexandar D’Arcy as a fangless mustached Dracula he resides in a castle in the middle of the California desert along with his wife the Coutness played by Paula Raymond and their loyal butler George played by John Carrandine. With the use of a henchman named Mango, they kidnap young women who wonder into their property and hold them in the basement to take their blood. Their lives get turned upside down when the original owner of the property passes away and gives the deed to his nephew. He along with his fiancé travel to the castle and meet the squatters. They soon realize that there is something wrong with their new inheritance. There are many things to like about Blood of Dracula’s Castle. The cinematography was good for being an Adamson film apart from a few cuts and scratches from the film translation itself due to it being old and recovered for the box set. I loved the setting and set decorations of the film. While the castle is in the desert, the inside still has that vintage look of Dracula’s original layer settled in Transylvania. John Carradine is the standout performance as George the Butler. Surrounded by amateurs, Carradine’s veteran professionalism and seriousness of the part sticks out. While the story is cohesive, it could’ve been fleshed out more. The biggest thing I didn’t get was why Dracula and the Countess chose to drink blood from a glass rather than bite the necks of their victims the old-fashioned way. One of those mysteries that may never be solved. Blood of Dracula’s Castle may stack at the bottom as a forgettable Dracula movie, but it has enough going on for it to be a decent late night B movie.
10. Psycho A Go Go
Al Adamson’s second feature film Psycho A Go Go is about a jewel heist that goes wrong with one of the burglars tossing the bag of jewels into the back of a pick-up truck driven by an ordinary pedestrian who’s on his way home to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday. The thieves track him down and hold his family hostage until they get their stolen loot back. Psycho A Go Go has plenty of zany moments, most notably one of the henchmen who abruptly becomes the main antagonist near the end of the film. The acting is cheesy which includes a doll that sings like Alvin the Chipmunk. There’s enough going on in the film to keep your attention span, most notably the opening heist and the final act. The climax features a long chase scene that starts with the killer stealing a car and going after the wife and daughter of the innocent man and ends up in a snowy mountainside where the final standoff ensures. The cinematography was done by Vilmos Zsigmond who would go on later in his career to win the Academy Award for Cinematography for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This was his first Director of Photography job and you could see the talent that he had for lighting and framing as his later works would continue to give him much praise and success.
9. Brain of Blood
Brain of Blood is the story of a dictator from a fictional Middle Eastern country who is dying of cancer and arranges with his aides and future bride for his body to be flown to America where a scientist is preparing to transfer his brain into another human body in order for him to continuing living. What he’s not aware is that the Scientist is planning on putting his brain into the body of his acid scarred servant. This is the most comprehensive film from Al Adamson. While not an original idea, it’s well executed. The story is easy to follow along and has some decent performances, most notable Angelo Rossitto in his first Al Adamson film playing the Scientists’ assistant. You could tell he was having fun with his character especially when checking up on the women who are chained in the Scientists’ basement. There’s also a well-choreographed fight scene and a car chase sequenced to keep the film from being too dialogue heavy. Of course, Brain of Blood couldn’t be a horror film without seeing blood and a brain. The surgical sequence is long, but the effects are gruesome. Kudos to the props and effects department for making a realistic looking brain drowned in blood. Brain of Blood is a movie I would watch again and even draw a little inspiration into writing a script with this subject matter.
8. Jessi’s Girls
Starring Sondra Currie in the eponymous role, Jessi’s Girls is a movie about vengeance and female empowerment. Jessi and her husband, who are devout Mormons are attacked by a group of outlaws. Jessi is raped several times and her husband is killed. With very little strength she finds safe haven in a hut of a hermit who nurses her back to health and teaches her how to use a gun. Jessi then goes out in the world to seek revenge on the outlaws. She frees several female prisoners and starts a gang. Jessi’s Girls is a rare film where it feels Al Adamson took his time on and focuses on character development and emotion rather than fast loose gimmicks. The metamorphism of Sondra Currie is amazing how she went from an innocent devout Mormon woman to a vengeance seeking vigilante with a deep hatred for men. The torture scenes are brutal, and the music heightens the tension and pain being inflicted. There’s enough action and shootouts to keep the film from being too preachy on the morals and ethics of what they are doing. Great supporting cast including Regina Carrol, Jennifer Bishop and Ellyn Stern as Jessi’s partners who slowly infight among themselves in the film and it’s up to Jessi to keep her girls in line. Unfortunately, Jessi’s Girls suffers from having an abrupt ending where the credits roll immediately after the climax. It felt like a slap in the face to what was turning into making Al Adamson a mainstream filmmaker. Jessi’s Girls is still a good film on the merits and worthy of a top ten slot.
7. The Dynamite Brothers
Continuing the trend of making movies featuring trending genres, Al Adamson jumped on the success of Bruce Lee’s final film Enter The Dragon by making a Kung Fu film of his own. Released in 1974, The Dynamite Brothers star Alan Tang as Larry Chin, who arrives in America via Hong Kong searching for his brother. While at a stop in San Francisco, he meets Stud Brown, played by Timothy Brown via being handcuffed to each other by a racist corrupt cop named Burke, played by Aldo Ray. After escaping custody, Larry and Stud head to Los Angeles with the help of a driver by named Betty, played by Clare Torao. I loved this movie. The action starts right at the beginning and doesn’t wear out. The fights are perfectly choreographed and the chemistry between Alan Tang and Timothy Brown remind me of the relationship between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. The Dynamite Brothers also features legendary actor James Hong as the antagonist who is quiet, but brutal as you will see in the film where he kills a henchman using a single acupuncture needle. The story is simple and flows easily with an intriguing twist during the final act of the movie. The flaws are little, but rather noticeable especially during a shootout scene where a car flips over and bursts into flames. Nevertheless R. Michael Stringer does a great job with the cinematography with shots overlooking the San Francisco Bay to the mean streets of Los Angeles. Quentin Tarantino has talked in length about The Dynamite Brothers and I could easily see why. It is truly a fun B movie watch for fans of the Martial Arts genre.
6. Satan’s Sadists
Biker films are known for their honest brutality and Satan’s Sadists pulls no punches. Starring Russ Tamblyn as Anchor who leads his gang the Satan’s Sadists on a venture of rape, murder, and revenge. After terrorizing a group of people at a local diner in the desert, a man fresh out of the Marines fights back to defend the waitress against the gang which leads to a chase in the desert where they attempt to hide from the gang finding them. During the search, the gang comes across a trio of college girls working on a project and slowly being to unravel as the day falls into night. The overall presentation of Satan’s Sadists looks like something Quentin Tarantino would’ve made (I believe he mentioned in an interview about really liking this film, but I can’t find the source). The story is easy to follow. The cinematography is gritty and captures the wastelands of the desert along with the long straight roads where the bikers ride in formation. There’s great sixties music that fits the feel and themes of the movie. The performances are solid with Tamblyn being the standout as the quiet but sociopath Anchor and Bud Cardos as the Native American member of the gang Firewater who gets into a power struggle with Anchor. The rest of the gang act like despicable little children due to their antics throughout. The film also marks the feature debut of Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol who would appear in all his films going forward. She has many notable scenes in this including dancing on top of a diner table. It’s something you would see in a Tarantino film. There are some scenes that are hard to watch, most notably the rape scenes involving two women, one at the beginning of the film and one during the middle. It reminded me of the rape scenes in The Last House on the Left. Finally, a biker film wouldn’t be one if it didn’t have any fights. There’s plenty of fights including a great scene where the protagonist takes a snake and hurls it at a biker who gets bitten on the neck and slowly succumbs to the snake’s venom. Satan’s Sadists is without a doubt one of the best films Al Adamson has made and one that was not afraid of pushing the boundaries. It’s the perfect Drive In B movie.
5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
We’re now down to the final five in the Al Adamson movie rankings. We start with Adamson’s film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immortal novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Released in 1977, the film was originally a German production that ran quite long until Adamson bought the film, trimmed it down and added a few of his touches, most notably nude scenes, and a lovemaking scene between the character of Napoleon and the nurse that heals him after he escapes from a riverboat. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the novel so I can’t testify as to how accurate the film is from the novel. The production and filming of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is quite astounding. While Adamson may have not shot the film in its entirety, he took with great care editing and matching the film to create a cohesive narrative to present a dignified film adaptation about the changing attitudes of slavery which would lead to the Civil War. There’s a real authenticity to this film from the settings to the clothes and the music. The performances are top notch, with German actor Herbert Lom playing Simon Legree. He is shown having half of his face scarred reminiscent of the Batman villain Two-Face. There are violent moments in the film that are hard to watch. I had to close my eyes on a few scenes, but you must remember that Adamson put these scenes as context as to how African American slaves were treated. Not as human beings but property. There are not many film adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin out there, but this was the most driven and emotional version I’ve seen that sticks out among Al Adamson’s filmography.
4. Girls For Rent
Starring Adult Film legend Georgina Spelvin, Girls For Rent starts with Spelvin as the role of Sandra escaping from a prison work detail and rendezvous with a woman named Erica, played by Rosalind Miles. There she meets Chuck, played by Preston Price and gets involved in his prostitution business by managing the girls. One of the newer clients named Donna, played by Susie Ewing freaks out and leaves after her client dies of a heart attack. On the lam, Donna hopes to escape from Sandra and Erica who are ordered to track her down and kill her. Girls For Rent is a surprisingly good cat and mouse film. Spelvin delivers a solid performance as the hard-nosed and sadistic Sandra and Susie Ewing as Donna who seems to find herself in one bad situation after another. There are some shocking moments in the film which show how these girls are not here to mess around and they will not let anyone stand in their way. There is a small romance that blossoms between Donna and a man who invites her to camp with him in the mountains and then take her to where she wants to go the next day, but it does not happen until the third act of the movie. Girls For Rent includes plenty of action, surprises and of course sex to keep you engaged and featured a great ending to wrap things up. Girls For Rent easily makes the top of this list for me.
3. Black Samurai
Al Adamson teams up with iconic Martial Arts champion Jim Kelly of Enter The Dragon fame to create Black Samurai. Kelly plays Robert Sand, who is a secret agent for the group D.R.A.G.O.N (Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations) who is vacationing in Mexico is cut short when his superiors assign him to save the daughter of the ambassador of Hong Kong, who just happens to be Robert’s girlfriend. Black Samurai combines Martial Arts, Blaxploitation and Secret Agent genres to create a fast, fun and thrilling film. This is one of Kelly’s finest performances delivering humor, seriousness and of course his fast fists. Black Samurai has a James Bond feel to it featuring Kelly wearing a jetpack and flying around a perimeter, encountering a beautiful but deadly enchantress and stopping an over-the-top antagonist nicknamed “The Warlock.” Of course, there are traps Kelly must escape from most notably a jail cell filled with rattlesnakes. The fight scenes are furious and fun to watch. Kelly takes on all kinds of bad guys notably dwarven henchmen and a giant vulture looking to tear him to pieces. Kelly demonstrates why he is considered one of the greatest in his discipline, which was Shorin-Ryu Karate. The Martial Arts genre was the greatest strength for Adamson as he seemed to know how to frame an enjoyable action flick. Black Samurai easily makes the top three on this list. It is one long roller coaster from beginning to end.
2. Dracula vs. Frankenstein
Who would’ve thought it would be Al Adamson that would bring two iconic monsters in literature and early days of cinema to duke it out on the big screen? Dracula vs. Frankenstein is perhaps the most notable film of Al Adamson since it’s been played at Drive-Ins and on late night television. The major plot of the movie is Dracula uncovers the remains of the Frankenstein monster and convinces Dr. Durea, the last surviving member of the Frankenstein family to resurrect him. The B story of the movie involves Regina Carol who searches for her missing sister and encounters not only a biker gang, but a carnival where one of the attractions is a cover for Dr. Durea’s lab. The film is notable for many reasons. First, there is a veteran cast including J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Durea, Lon Cheney Jr. as his hulking assistant Groton, Angelo Rossitto as the shorter assistant Grazbo who pretends to be the tour guide of the attraction and Russ Tamblyn as biker gang leader Rico. The performances are good with the highlights being the forementioned actors. Roger Engel (credited as Zandor Vorkov) plays Dracula in a stiff monotonal way. Thanks to the bad editing, he appears at times without makeup and fangs and near the end of the film, he appears with fangs and wearing white clown makeup, which is cheesy but strangely appealing. John Bloom plays the Frankenstein Monster whose lips look like they were swollen due to an allergic reaction to a bee sting plays the monster somewhat clumsily with a few grunts here and there. I liked the cinematography in this as the settings of the movie are a mix a beachside carnival with the final sequence being shot in a church and the final battle taking place in the woods. The fight is more of a tug of war but gets entertaining at the end. I thought the cinematography was good for this type of movie with some funny still frame shots of Dracula using his powers to burn someone. For you gore hounds there’s an ample amount of gore including head rolls and an axe to the face that made me squirm. Dracula vs. Frankenstein is the most impressive film of Adamson’s library from a technical standpoint. It’s not as terrible as some people claim it is. I like to think of it as a good Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie that you could watch late at night with some friends and riff on it.
1. The Female Bunch
The first film I watched in the Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection turned out to be my overall favorite film of this list. It’s a movie I kept thinking back as I was watching the rest of the films and starting my rankings. Released in 1971, The Female Bunch starts with a woman named Sandy, played by Nesa Renet together with a man named Jim, played by Geoffrey Land who are hiding in the mountains from the female gang looking to apprehend them. The movie then goes into a flashback where Sandy goes into narration of the events leading up to this point. She was working as a waitress struggling to make ends meet. One night she tries to kill herself, but is saved by her Co-worker Libby, played by Adamson’s wife and regular contributor Regina Carrol. Libby takes Sandy to a ranch owned by a female gang. After going through an initiation test, Sandy becomes a member of the group. From there they travel to Mexico to party, get drunk and score drugs. As the film progresses, Sandy becomes unsure if this is the life she wants and questions the motives of its leaders Dennise (Leslie McCray) and strung out sexaholic Sharyn (Sharyn Wyntes).
The Female Bunch features an eclectic cast of newcomers and veterans including frequent Adamson collaborator Russ Tamblyn and Lon Cheney Jr. in his final film appearance. The Female Bunch starts with some great western music and aerial shots from a plan courtesy of Bud Cardos, another Adamson regular who had his own plane. From there it’s a cohesive story of a woman looking for something better in life and finding acceptance within a group which is something we’ve all be involved in at one point in our lives. The middle gets a little dull with the almost never-ending partying in Mexico but makes up with it with some hot sex and dancing. The performances are good. Most of the gang members were amateur actresses who didn’t know how to ride horses until they did this movie. For what its worth they did a valiant effort even though you can tell is some shots they did not look comfortable. There’s plenty to humor to cut through the seriousness of the plot. In Lon Cheney’s role as the Stable Keeper Monti, who gets teased by the women thinking he’s going to get laid by one of them. There’s quite a bit of gruesome violence including a scene where Tamblyn gets a permanent marking on his forehead because of his failed attempt to rape one of the women. There are some hiccups during the third act in which the ADR does not sync up with the actresses’ dialog (this is something you’ll see in most Adamson’s movies). The Female Bunch is a film of female empowerment and they show that they’re playing with the boys on their terms. In the end it was no contest that The Female Bunch was my favorite Al Adamson movie. It’s perhaps my favorite underrated Western film.
So what did you think of the rankings? Agree/Disagree with my list? What is your favorite Al Adamson film? Feel free to leave comments/feedback. I’d love to read your responses.
Starring: John Blyth Barrymore, Buddy Daniels Friedman, Beverly Washburn, Ann Robinson, Jim Tavare, Len Wein, T.J. Storm, Mel Novak
Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review
Hello, readers! Once again it’s time for another special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” This past Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to watch the latest release from author/writer/filmmaker Donald F. Glut. For those who may not have heard of the name Donald F. Glut before, let me give you a short biography on his career. Glut started his filmmaking career in 1953 making short unauthorized adaptations of characters such as Superman, Spider-Man and Dracula to name a few. He gained notoriety in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was a genre-specific film magazine that was started by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman in 1958. From there he went on to become a screenwriter, mostly writing for children’s television shows and cartoons from G.I. Joe to Land of the Lost, pretty much any 80s cartoon show you could think of, he wrote for. Glut is most notable for being an author as he has written around sixty five novels that have been published. His biggest work was writing the novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back (coincidentally, he and George Lucas were classmates at the University of Southern California). Today, Donald F. Glut continues to make movies based on his own writings. His latest release is an anthology tribute to Mary Shelly’s iconic novel Frankenstein entitled Tales of Frankenstein.
Tales of Frankenstein consists of four short stories based upon Donald F. Glut’s book of the same name. Each story takes place in a different time period and they revolve around descendants of the notorious doctor whom created a monster that is a legendary staple in the genre of horror. The introduction of the film shows Frankenstein’s monster roaming the outside only to discover a portrait of its creator. From there the portrait appears in each tale going in chronological order of the time piece. At the end of each story, the Frankenstein monster appears in the wraparound segments to transition to the next story and so on.
The first story presented in the film is titled “My Creation, My Beloved,” takes place in 1887 Bavaria, which stars Buddy Daniels Friedman as Dr. Gregore Frankenstein, a descendant of Victor. Furious over his family’s legacy over Victor’s original creation, Gregore hopes to restore the family name by successfully creating a male and female creation. This is a strong introductory story to the film as it pays homage to not only the original Frankenstein story but to the visual adaptations made by the legendary Hammer Films series. The performances are solid with Friedman able to carry the weight of the story as he is determined to succeed where his family tree had failed. His performance is filled with manic moments as well as some quirky moments. There are some nice visuals and the setting gives an authentic look and feel of 1887 Bavaria. The story has a nice twist ending that rivals those seen in the Tales From The Crypt television series.
The second story deviates from the Frankenstein story, but instead takes place in the Frankenstein universe. Taking place in Switzerland in 1910, “Crawler From The Grave” is a tale which involves Lenore Frankenstein (Tatiana DeKhtyar) who is grieving over the passing over her husband, Helmut Frankenstein (Len Wein in his final film roll). From there, Lenore receives a call from Helmut’s nemesis named Vincent (John Blyth Barrymore) asking about a ring that was buried with him wearing it. The rival sets out to acquire the ring from the grave of the deceased husband only to be followed by something that is not quite human which seems to be seeking the ring as well. Features a supporting cast including Beverly Washburn and Ann Robinson, “Crawler From The Grave” focuses on flashbacks to show the relationship between Vincent and Helmut and from there deals with Vincent acquiring the ring and the curse that comes with it. This story is dialogue heavy with Barrymore taking the mantle of screen time with not much in the way of scares until the very end. Len Wein also delivers a sobering performance in his final film role as Helmut Frankenstein which is a great send off to his incredible career. It’s a lengthy segment that could’ve been balanced out by trimming some of the backstory and including more of the aftermath of Vincent acquiring the ring. The effects at the climax of the story are decent and the music provides the dread that is about to come in the end.
The film-noir flavored “Madhouse of Death” is the third tale in this anthology which takes places in 1948 Los Angeles. The story follows private investigator Jack Anvill (Jamisin Matthews) whose Jalopy breaks down on a country road. From there he walks to the nearest house hoping to get access to a phone. He is greeted at the door by Mogambo (T.J. Storm) who instructs him to stay where he’s at while he asks permission from the homeowner. The owner is Dr. Mortality (Mel Novak) whom is experimenting with inserting a human brain into an ape. To make Jack comfortable he is attended to by three beautiful Chinese women who ensures that his focus is on them and not what Dr. Mortality is about to do to him. While it was great seeing Mel Novak in another villanous role as the determined Dr. Mortality, “Madhouse of Death” is the weakest story in this anthology. I understand Glut wanting to mix film noir with classic horror, which he does accomplish visually, it overall suffers from the tone of the story. I know this is supposed to be the comedic relief of the film, but the humor was amiss. In addition, the performance of the lead actor Matthews is flat as his narration sounds like he’s reading directly from the script which gives his character a boring tone. The portrayal of Jack Anvill doesn’t come off as likeable, but rather annoying. I honestly was hoping for a clever demise.
For the finale of Tales From Frankenstein, we get a reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story taking place in 1957 Transylvania. In “Dr. Karstein’s Creation,” Jim Tavare stars as the titular character as he moves into an abandoned castle in Transylvania in the hopes of creating a new life using various body parts of deceased human beings in order to duplicate the success Victor Frankenstein had with his monster. Karstein recruits teenage local Carl (Justin Hoffmeister) to be his assistant. From there they collect the parts they need to assemble their creature. This is my favorite story in Tales of Frankenstein as it gives a fresh take on the tale while paying homage to Mary Shelly. Tavare is great as the cunning and determined Dr. Karstein while Hoffmeister plays the somewhat oblivious Carl who thinks he’ll be riding on Karstein’s success only for him to learn a very hard lesson in the end. The story is filled with beautiful imagery, franctic action, just the right amount of blood and gore and plenty of humor. “Dr. Karstein’s Creation” is the perfect closer to the anthology.
Overall, Tales From Frankenstein is an acceptable anthology series that pays tribute to the classic monster. This movie is strictly for those horror fans who love the early era of stories and cinema. Those who aren’t keen with Frankenstein will likely pass on this. Despite the off balanced pacing, there is enough here to enjoy from the performances to the vintage settings and the reimagined tales. Donald F. Glut brings to life his novel in his own cinematic adaptation and you have to appreciate him for doing just that. Its what sets apart auteurs from the rest of the artists.
On March 23, 2019, the film industry lost a true auteur. Larry Cohen was the king of B-Movies. He started his career in the industry as a writer for television creating cult shows such as The Invaders, Coronet Blue and N.Y.P.D. Refusing to bow to Hollywood, Larry Cohen went out and created the movies he wanted to create. He wrote, produced, and directed numerous films of different genres. He was also known for giving up and coming African American actors and actresses their big break in the business as well as giving forgotten legends a second wind. His guerilla style of filmmaking was bold and risky. If Cohen were making movies without permits today, he would be arrested multiple times. I consider Larry Cohen my second favorite filmmaker only to John Carpenter. His movies are refreshing to watch for its originality, characters, and the reflection of the world during the particular time. Larry Cohen has claimed to be a writer first as it is notable through various scripts that have been produced into hits such as William Lustig’s Maniac Cop trilogy and the early 2000s suspense thrillers Phone Booth and Cellular. To celebrate his birthday today, I’m sharing with you my ten favorite movies from Larry Cohen’s filmography. These films are listed in order.
10. Original Gangstas
The first film in the list ends up being the last feature film directed by Larry Cohen and teaming up again with Fred Williamson who starred in the movies Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. Original Gangstas tells the story of John Bookman (Williamson) who returns to his hometown of Gary, Indiana upon hearing the news that his father got shot by some local gangsters. A former gang member himself, Bookman enlists the help of Jake Trevor (Jim Brown) and Laurie Thompson (Pam Grier) to bring a sense of order and justice to the one flourishing city that has been reduced to rubble, poverty and chaos. The film is notable for being shot on location in Gary during a time where there were more than three thousand crimes reported and hundreds of people murdered as well as Cohen hiring the local gangs to not only perform in the movie, but work alongside the crew. Original Gangstas is a tribute to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s filled with traditional action scenes of the era and a dramatic story. This film was a personal project for Williamson who was born and raised in Gary and wanted to show the audience that Gary is not the murder capital of America, rather it’s a city looking for it’s sense of place and there are hard working people who are trying to make a difference in improving the community. Original Gangstas is the perfect movie to watch especially during these divisive times in America and by watching should give a glimmer of hope that things can be turned around for the better.
Larry Cohen’s film debut was not a horror flick, but a strange dark comedy. Bone stars Yaphet Kotto as a criminal who breaks into the home of a wealthy couple who are having marital problems. He gets to know the couple and comes up with a resolution to their problems. The movie also stars Andrew Duggan and Joyce Van Patten as the married couple. The film is dialogue heavy with some good acting, early foreshadowing and surreal moments. The film was shot inside and outside Larry Cohen’s house to save money on the budget (he would use his home for scene locations in future movies). Many consider Bone part of the blaxploitation film library, but it really isn’t. Bone is essentially a social commentary piece about race relations along with the attitudes of upper-class society and their opposition to those who they feel are beneath them. The film features the first interracial sex scene shot on film involving an African American male and a white woman as Van Patten helps Kotto with his own sexual insecurities.
8. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
Spanning six decades and eight United States presidents, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is one of the first film biopics about America’s number one crime fighter. Cohen chronologically walks through Hoover’s career in law enforcement from recruit to establishing the FBI and his continual rise to power and influence while at the same time focusing on the dual nature of his morality. James Wainwright plays a young J. Edgar which then transitions to Broderick Crawford playing him in his formidable years. The film also features an ensemble cast including Michael Parks, Jose Ferrer, Dan Dailey and Rip Torn. The film notably known for Cohen and his crew shooting on location in Washington D.C. and notably at Hoover’s home without permits while getting permission to shoot at the FBI Training Center and inside the FBI building himself, thanks to the first lady at the time Betty Ford. Crawford is the highlight of the film as he portrays Hoover as stoic and stone faced and is determined to hold on to his power by any means necessary. It’s a reminder that power can corrupt a person. Compared to Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is more accurate account of his life and career.
7. Special Effects
Featuring a small cast including early roles for Zoe Lund and Eric Bogosian, Special Effects is a Hitchcockian style film that gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the process of a film being made. Bogosian plays filmmaker Christopher Neville whose career is in jeopardy after he is fired from a multimillion-dollar project. He has an unexpected visitor in Lund who is an aspiring actress. After an attempt to sleep with her to which she refuses his advances, Neville kills the actress. He uses this experience to make his comeback film. The cast of the film as well as the police are suspicious about the details he puts in while shooting the film. While the pacing of the film is slow and focuses on way too many behind the scenes details, Special Effects is a decent thriller with beautiful cinematography, a heavy synth score and very convincing performances from Bogosian and Lund, who actually plays two roles in the film as the victim and the leading actress of the movie. Special Effects also depicts the seedy side of the movie business as Cohen throws in numerous examples of how cast and crew are treated and how far someone will go to make sure that their vision is completed.
6. The Ambulance
Larry Cohen’s first movie in the 90s, The Ambulance is a quirky suspense thriller mixed with some unexpected comedy. The Ambulance stars Eric Roberts as a comic book artist is currently working on a project for none other than Marvel Comics (featuring a cameo from the late great Stan Lee) who meets a young woman on a New York City street named Cheryl (Janine Turner). Suddenly, Cheryl collapses on the street and within a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrives to take Cheryl to the hospital. Josh heads to the nearest hospital to check up on her. When he arrives at the front desk to find out what room Cheryl is in, the staff tell him that she was not admitted to the hospital. Now Josh is convinced there is something going on with the ambulance and the people who are associated with it. After asking for help from the local police department, specifically Lt. Frank Spencer (James Earl Jones) who is not convinced of his story, Josh continues his investigation hoping to find Cheryl before it’s too late. Larry Cohen based this movie on his own frightening experience involving an ambulance. The movie features great performances from Roberts who uses his skills as a comic book artist to his advantage in his finding of Cheryl. Jones plays a cynical meaty role as the rundown detective Spencer who is not convinced of Josh’s story. Legendary comic Red Buttons provides zingers and one liners throughout his screen time as New York Post reporter Elias Zacharai. One thing that struck out to me about The Ambulance was its cinematography. It was sharp, bright, and fit what films would look like in the 90s. The Ambulance itself is a character much like Stephen King’s Christine. Although it’s not a car that comes to life, but it comes to life from the look and the individuals who are driving it. Whenever the ambulance appears on screen, you know something is about to go down and not for good intentions. The Ambulance is a fast-paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
5. It’s Alive
Larry Cohen’s first take on a monster movie continues to be one of his scariest and iconic in the film world. It’s Alive tells the story of the Davis family who become parents of a killer mutant baby. From there local and government authorities attempt to track it down and kill it. However, the father hopes to find the child before they do. It’s Alive is the quintessential film for horror fans with plenty of scares and gore with a monster that lurks in the shadows. The first fifteen minutes of the film are the most tense and shocking moments captured on film. There are many things to love about It’s Alive from the pacing to the special effects and especially the music which was composed by longtime Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann. Cohen uses the techniques from Spielberg’s Jaws by showing little of the mutant baby and having the audience interpret what is happening to the victims of its murderous rampage. It’s Alive is also a social commentary about the behavior of newborns and the changes of habitat and effects of chemicals that can cause harm to those in the womb. It’s Alive became such a financial success in the United States and overseas that it spawned two sequels.
4. God Told Me To
Perhaps the strangest movie Larry Cohen ever made, God Told Me To stars Tony Lo Bianco as Detective Peter Nicholas who investigates a series of murders all around New York City with the suspect proclaiming that God told them to do it. His investigation leads to a cult leader and from there unleashes starting revelations about himself and his beliefs. God Told Me To is a cryptic and challenging film as Cohen creates a world that is focused on religion, cultism, the duality of mankind and the questioning of one’s existence. It’s a complexed than Cohen’s other movies, but provides enough in terms of action, suspense, and imagery to keep you focused. Besides Lo Bianco there are solid performances from respected character actors including Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sydney and Richard Lynch. The film is notable for Andy Kauffman’s appearance as a New York City police officer walking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade along with the rest of New York’s finest. You can see the different reactions from the officers when they recognize Kauffman, all thanks to Cohen’s trademark of stealing shots. God Told Me To is a venturous film with twists and turns that dig deep into the mystery of whether or not man is alone in the universe.
3. Black Caesar
One of the most underrated gangster films, Larry Cohen’s second feature Black Caesar is a jewel of the 70s blaxploitation cinema which launched Fred Williamson’s post NFL career as an actor. Black Caesar is a film that has a ton of attitude filled with charismatic characters, a cohesive storyline, violence that would make The Godfather jealous and a phenomenal soundtrack from the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Williamson owns the role of Tommy Gibbs as a man who grew up in poverty in Harlem harassed by racist cops to taking over his home territory and gradually building his own empire under the noses of his employers. At the rise of his power is when his past comes back to haunt him and becomes suspicions of those close to him. The film is the first to show off Cohen’s guerrilla style of film-making as it was shot in New York City and Harlem with zero permits. The reactions you see from the bystanders in the movie are unscripted. Black Caesar became Cohen’s first financially successful film that a sequel was immediately green-lit which was shot and released in the same year as Black Caesar titled Hell Up In Harlem. This film would become the blueprint to how Larry Cohen would create his future works.
2. The Stuff
Perhaps the most regarded and well-known film in Larry Cohen’s filmography, The Stuff is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties was the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling, and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits. The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects, and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. Featuring a cast which includes Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris and Paul Sorvino. Oh, there’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures. It even features a great tag line, “Is it eating it or is it eating you?”
1. Q: The Winged Serpent
Unquestionably my favorite Larry Cohen film of all time. Q: The Winged Serpent perfectly blends the genres of a monster flick with a crime noir filled with off beat characters and amazing performances by the actors that bring them to life including the memorable role of Jimmy Quinn played by Michael Moriarty in which has been described by many critics as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen for a small film. Larry Cohen wrote this film in six days and began shooting quickly after he was fired from directing I, The Jury. Like all his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture. Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun. Q continues to be a timeless classic for me that I can watch repeatedly. It’s a great homage to the monster movies of the past.
So what did you think of the list? Do you agree or disagree? What movie from Larry Cohen’s library would you replace? If you’re interested in learning more about Larry Cohen’s career and his films, check out the award-winning documentary King Cohen. It’s one of the best documentaries of a filmmaker I’ve seen in the past five years.