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Retro Review: SATAN'S SADISTS (1969) and HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS (1970)


(US - 1969)

Directed by Al Adamson. Written by Dennis Wayne (Greydon Clark). Cast: Russ Tamblyn, Scott Brady, Kent Taylor, John "Bud" Cardos, Robert Dix, Gary Kent, Greydon Clark, Regina Carrol, Evelyn Frank, Jackie Taylor, William Bonner, Randee Lynn, Bambi Allen. (R, 87 mins)

Last year, Quentin Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD renewed interest in the history of Spahn Ranch, the old western movie set where Charles Manson and his followers were squatting around the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders in August 1969. Severin's exhaustive, 14-disc, 32-movie mega-box set of the films of Z-list exploitation auteur Al Adamson (1929-1995) was secretly in the works before the Tarantino film was released (because physical media is dead), but it's an interesting supplement in many ways, as several of Adamson's schlocky drive-in hits of the late '60s into the early '70s were shot at Spahn Ranch, where Manson as well as his followers were often present during some shoots. Additionally, according to WEST SIDE STORY and THE HAUNTING co-star Russ Tamblyn in David Gregory's feature-length 2019 documentary BLOOD & FLESH: THE REEL LIFE & GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON (also in the box), Manson was a disruptive enough presence during the making of THE FEMALE BUNCH (shot in 1969, unreleased until 1971) that Adamson's co-director John "Bud" Cardos had to physically remove him from the set. Tamblyn, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominee for 1957's PEYTON PLACE (he lost to Red Buttons in SAYONARA) was in enough of a career slump by the late '60s that he wound up becoming a member of the Adamson stock company. His truly repugnant performance is one of the most memorable aspects of 1969's lurid biker shocker SATAN'S SADISTS, one of the key titles in Adamson's dubious body of work and one of the very few times when the director came within striking distance of technical competence and achieving the almost-professional appearance of a real movie.

It probably helped that SATAN'S SADISTS was one of the few Adamson joints from that period that wasn't a patchwork of several other already-released or long-shelved projects. It's not by any means a "good" movie, but relative to almost everything he did up to that point, it was fairly polished and the story was coherent. Scripted under the pseudonym "Dennis Wayne" by future B-movie director Greydon Clark (who would go on to direct SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS, WITHOUT WARNING, and THE FORBIDDEN DANCE, one of two competing "lambada" movies in the spring of 1990), who also co-stars as the partially deaf Acid, one of the titular outlaw bikers, SATAN'S SADISTS' opening half hour brings a disparate cast together at a roadside diner in the middle of nowhere in the California desert. There's vacationing Pittsburgh cop Charlie (Scott Brady) and his wife Nora (Evelyn Frank), picking up hitchhiker and Vietnam vet Johnny (Gary Kent), because he reminds them of their son, who's currently serving ("It's rough over there," Johnny gloomily says before adding, "eh, but he'll be fine!"). There's also waitress Tracy (Jackie Taylor) and diner owner Lew (Kent Taylor), and they're all soon terrorized by the Sadists, led by the appropriately sadistic Anchor (Tamblyn), who start with general obnoxiousness which soon escalates to violence when a fight breaks out. Johnny and Tracy run out the back after Johnny slashes one Sadist's throat in self-defense and drowns another in the men's room toilet. Meanwhile, the other Sadists take Charlie, Nora and Lew outside, where Anchor rapes Nora and informs Charlie "Hey, she's not bad!" before shooting all three of the hostages in the head.

Al Adamson (1929-1995)

That's just the first half hour of SATAN'S SADISTS. After that, it slows down significantly as Johnny and Tracy flee in her dune buggy, with the Sadists in pursuit once they realize they're gone (they took off while everyone was cheering on Anchor's rape of Nora). While Johnny and Tracy try to hide, the Sadists encounter Tracy's three friends, who happen to be in the area collecting rocks for their geology class (!), but end up getting high and having a desert orgy with Anchor and some of the other bikers. A notable exception is the level-headed Firewater (Cardos, in cancellable brownface with a mohawk/bald cap that keeps peeling loose around his ears), who wants to find the two witnesses and is getting tired of Anchor's psychotic behavior. Tamblyn really sinks his teeth into this character (his mother thought this film would end his career), even writing much of his own dialogue himself, which gets pretty rough when he constantly treats his clingy, needy "old lady" Gina (Regina Carrol, billed as "The Freak-Out Girl" in the advertising and soon to be Adamson's wife) like shit, telling her "Go back to where belong before I replace ya, you dumb bitch," and "You're nothin' but a piece of dead meat" before before stuffing stew in her mouth and punching her in the stomach. But much of the last 50 or so minutes is a long waiting game, with characters more or less hanging out until Adamson has enough footage for a feature film. It's a scuzzy production, shot in 16mm in just 12 days, and it's still got some rough edges (at one point during what's become a tense scene in the diner, Brady and Frank can be seen breaking character and laughing at Carrol's maniacal dancing), but it gets the job done if you're looking for a really mean and nasty exploitationer. Audiences thought so, as SATAN'S SADISTS became a big hit at drive-ins and put Independent-International, a company formed by Adamson and producer Sam Sherman, on the map. With that success, the pair used the revenue generated by SATAN'S SADISTS to tweak and/or finish existing Adamson films that had been languishing in limbo for some time due to a variety of reasons, and to that end, SATAN'S SADISTS is a major turning point in establishing the legend (?) that is Al Adamson.

SATAN'S SADISTS opening in Toledo, OH on 9/3/1969

(US - 1970)

Directed by Al Adamson. Written by Jerry Evans. Cast: Broderick Crawford, Scott Brady, Kent Taylor, Keith Andes, John Carradine, John Gabriel, Robert Dix, Erin O'Donnell, Vicki Volante, Anne Randall, Jack Starrett, Emily Banks, Dan Kemp, Jerry Mills, Bambi Allen, Jill Woelfel, Carol Brewster, Leslie McCrea, Gene Otis Shane, Greydon Clark, Gary Kent, John "Bud" Cardos, Kent Osborne, Alice Wong, Colonel Harland Sanders. (PG, 90 mins)

HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS, on the other hand, is a typical Adamson cut-and-paste patchwork that began life in 1967 as a spy thriller called OPERATION M, which became THE FAKERS at some point during production. John Gabriel starred as Mark Adams, a loyal underling to Vegas mob boss Joe Brimante (Keith Andes), who's brokering a shady deal for a syndicate partnership with Count Otto von Delberg (Kent Taylor), a wealthy German looking to create the "New Nazi Party" and finish what Hitler started. This alliance involves working with von Delberg associate Carol Bechtel (Vicki Volante), the go-between for Brimante to acquire some WWII-era counterfeit plates for phony $20 bills and to funnel other contraband through the Vegas syndicate. It turns out Adams is actually an undercover Fed, installed by FBI bureau chief Gavin (Broderick Crawford), who's also got agents Brand (Scott Brady) and rookie Jill (Emily Banks) on the case.

That was THE FAKERS, which was largely finished but abandoned during post-production in 1968 when Adamson moved on to other projects following the suicide of producer Rex Carlton--via self-inflicted gunshot wound--when he couldn't secure a distribution deal and was therefore unable to repay a loan he'd taken from alleged mob-connected financiers. Once SATAN'S SADISTS became a hit and biker movies were all the exploitation rage, Adamson and Independent-International partner Sam Sherman decided in 1969 to shoot a new subplot involving a neo-Nazi biker gang called the Bloody Devils, with Adamson regular Robert Dix as their leader Cunk. The Bloody Devils are being funded by von Delberg for unspecified mayhem and told to "keep up the good work" by Carol, with Vicki Volante the only cast member brought back to provide some connection with the two-year-old footage from THE FAKERS, even though it doesn't match with the new footage since she's got a completely different hairstyle and wardrobe. Cunk drops some far-out lingo like "What's a groovy chick like you doing in the spy racket?" but other than periodic cutaways to the Bloody Devils riding around and engaging in some random acts of violence, the new scenes serve no purpose other than pandering to the then in-vogue biker craze.

Obviously, HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS is a jumbled mess, filled with mismatched film stock and scenes where people stare at each other waiting for Adamson to yell "Cut." It's got a great title track by Nelson Riddle (he didn't work on the movie; it was an existing cue that Carlton and Adamson licensed), and the end result ends up strangely watchable. That's due in large part to the curio value of its bizarre cast, including a cameo by Colonel Harland Sanders inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a trade-off when he supplied the cast & crew with KFC during the shoot. In addition, you get the usual motley crew of slumming Hollywood vets who've fallen on hard times: John Carradine drops by for about 45 seconds as a syndicate-connected pet store owner (!); Taylor, a sort-of third-string Clark Gable/Errol Flynn-type in the '30s and '40s, found a lot of work in Adamson movies, as did JOHNNY GUITAR co-star Brady, whose fortunes would improve with appearances in films like 1979's THE CHINA SYNDROME and 1984's GREMLINS, his last before his death in 1985; and Crawford, a Best Actor Oscar-winner for 1949's ALL THE KING'S MEN, was mainly doing B-movies and TV guest spots by 1967, and Adamson managed to get his scenes shot in one day. Other than a visit to see a hospitalized Agent Adams, all of Crawford's scenes take place in an office that Adamson probably commandeered during a used car salesman buddy's lunch hour. Crawford participates in the climactic showdown from afar, standing in front of a map of Los Angeles county, marking on it with a pencil as he barks "Car 1, proceed to point 9...Car 2, proceed to point 27" into a dispatch mic in a competely-disconnected-from-the-action-but-still-appearing-to-be-the-star kind-of way that probably inspires Bruce Willis to this day. According to the exhaustively-researched, 116-page booklet in Severin's Adamson set, written by Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes, THE FAKERS (also included in the set) did eventually surface on syndicated TV in 1972 as SMASHING THE CRIME SYNDICATE, apparently without the biker subplot unique to the HELL'S BLOODY DEVIL'S cut.

HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS: Al Adamson conquering Toledo, OH's
drive-ins on 10/25/1972 (along with FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY
TERROR, another Independent-International release)

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