Director: Al Adamson
Retro Shock-O-Rama

With the recent fascination in the long-lost drive-in theater days still in full force, EI Independent Cinema’s Retro Shock-O-Rama line has paired two efforts from cult director Al Adamson, both previously available on DVD. It’s enough of a nice two-disc package for those who never picked them up before, though most of the extras are recycled, that is except for one surprise.

According to Sam Sherman, two of Al Adamson's biggest passions were making westerns and shooting in outdoor locations. With FIVE BLOODY GRAVES, the director gets to fulfill that aspiration with this seldom scene drive-in epic. Robert Dix (who starred in such Adamson flicks as BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE and SATAN'S SADISTS) plays the "hero" and also wrote the screenplay.

Dix stars as Ben Thompson, a lone gunman who is also exalted as some sort of "Messenger of Death." His actions are interpreted by a narrator (Gene Raymond) who is Death, but his words come off like some sort of fourth rate voice-over that you'd hear in films like BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS and THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER. Ben's enemy is Satago (John "Bud" Cardos), a fierce Apache who has a nasty habit of scalping women (well, at least cutting off the lower part of their wig). Satago killed Ben's wife, so that explains his bloody trail of vengeance.

Cardos (who did the stunts as well) also appears as Joe Lightfoot, Satago's half-breed brother who is fighting to keep his wife (Maria Polo) away from him. Adamson discovery Vicki Volante (BRAIN OF BLOOD) is a frontier woman who is nearly slaughtered by an Indian (the director wearing heavy red makeup and a long black wig), but soon ends up with an arrow in the back anyway. Later, our hero Ben allies with a wagon trail full of assorted misfits (on their way to stake a gold claim or something), and that's when the film becomes a B-movie Hall of Fame. Scott Brady plays a tough, slaphappy gambler whose death scene is so hammy, he threatens to haunt anyone who attempts to bury him. John Carradine is a nutty minister who ogles at women and shoots people from behind his Bible. There's also Paula Raymond (THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) as a Madam, Darlene Lucht (THE HAUNTED PALACE) as a hooker, and Jim Davis (MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL) as a scummy outlaw.

Filmed entirely in the scenic valleys of Utah, and loaded with inappropriate stock music that you've heard in dozens of other films, FIVE BLOODY GRAVES is a semi violent western that's somewhat entertaining (at least for loyal Adamson fans) but not nearly as fun or outrageous as something like SATAN'S SADISTS. Despite the violence-reassuring title and the presence of Carradine, this of course is no horror film. However, it was once billed with Adamson's HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS, at which time a gimmick to receive a "fresh frozen stiff corpse" was carried out (in actuality, theater patrons were handed a coupon to go to a deli and collect a frozen chicken!).

The problem with properly assessing FIVE BLOODY GRAVES is that the film has been presented here full frame, the same as what was previously released by Brentwood as a single disc. This distracts from Oscar winner Vilmos Sigmond's cinematography, as it should really be seen at 2.35:1. There doesn't appear to be any panning and scanning going on, but rather, a stationary cropping that confines the action to the center area and removes much picture information all around. This causes some grain, but colors still look pleasing enough, with blues skies being most impressive. The mono sound is passable with a few glitches. It looks to be culled from a transfer that was most likely meant for TV airings (where it was often shown as "The Gun Riders"), but at least it's much brighter and sharper then any of its previous VHS releases.

A second audio track contains a commentary by producer Sam Sherman and actor/screenwriter Richard Dix. Sherman's commences the commentary, and then cuts to (on two separate occasions) a recording made by Dix at an earlier time (he wasn't screening the film while making it). Dix shares his experiences on the set, and also discusses independent filmmaking and his father, the late actor Richard Dix (one of the founders of "United Artists"). Sherman obviously didn't have much direct involvement with this film (it wasn't originally produced for Independent International, but later distributed by the company), so he talks about how Adamson's father (who also has a bit part) discovered the film's location, the troubles of shooting "day for night," and tells a nice story about brothers Scott Brady and Lawrence Tierney. The commentary ends a little more than halfway through the movie.

The surprise extra (exclusive to this DVD release) is a deleted scene which was obviously shot a few years later and helped justify an R rating. It runs about four minutes and features Dix’s Ben Thompson bedding a cute topless woman, then feeling guilty for the memory of his late wife, all while electric guitar riffs pulsates in the background. Starting with the Independent International logo, it’s looks as though this was inserted into the opening of the film for drive-in showings, but the frustrating thing is, it’s shown in proper 2.35:1, giving us only a glimpse of what the whole picture would look like in its proper ratio.

Disc One also contains the feature NURSE SHERRI. Al Adamson couldn't escape the 1970s without making a film about nurses, and since JAWS was too pricey to imitate, why not try CARRIE? Mixing the sexy nurse genre with the then-popular possession genre, the film concerns Sherri (Jill Jacobson), a voluptuous young nurse working in a California hospital. Sherri easily becomes possessed by the spirit of a fallen cult leader who died on the operating table. Looking like an effect straight out of a Sid & Marty Croft kids' show, a green substance floats into her room and takes over her shapely body. Now possessed by a demented ghost, Sherri sets out to off the doctors responsible for the botched operation, starting with an old dude who gets a pitchfork in his back, while two friendly nurses (Marilyn Joi and Mary Kay Pass) dig up a corpse to try and save Sherri.

With lots of sharp flying objects about, wild car chases, people set on fire, and a suspenseful finale, NURSE SHERRI (the video-generated title reads THE POSSSESSION OF NURSE SHERRI, the way it was previously promoted by Shock-O-Rama) is typical but fun drive-in fodder. The budget limitations are sometimes painfully visible, and although she's nice to look at, the offbeat Jacobson isn't nearly as awesome as the bubbly Regina Carrol, Al's wife and frequent female star attraction (Carrol didn't star in too many of her husband's films after 1975). Jacobson (in her first feature) did manage to secure a more mainstream career, and she was once a regular on the popular 1980s series, "Falcon Crest."

The full frame presentation of the film doesn't look bad, taking into consideration that it was mostly shot in 16mm and later blown up to 35. Colors look stable, but there is some grain about and minor wear in the source print. The alternate cut (see below) does suffer from more frequent lines and scratches, and some of the unseen shots show color fading, but darker scenes (such as the climax in the graveyard) are much clearer and brighter then they are in the regular version. The mono audio is fine.

Sam Sherman's DVD commentaries are all essential chronicles of the drive-in era, and for NURSE SHERRI he delivers another enlightening listen. Sherman explains how he wanted to do a nurse film after the successful Roger Corman-produced THE STUDENT NURSES, while drawing inspiration from CARRIE, a big hit at the time. Sherman didn't like the original cut, so he added new scenes mainly concerning Adamson regular J.C. Wells (who looks a lot like comedian Damon Wayans) as the chief follower of the cult leader. The scenes show him as a hopeless drunk trying to warn others of the vengeful spirit who is after him as well.

Disc Two contains the ultimate extra for Adamson fanatics -- an alternate cut of NURSE SHERRI. Running a few minutes shorter, this is actually the original unreleased version, and it's balanced out by lots of sex, throwing away the subplot involving J.C. Wells' character entirely. Here, Jacobson makes love in the buff to her co-star (Geoffrey Land), and this titillating sight borders on softcore. Afterwards, the couple tells each other about their strangest sexual encounters. Land is shown being serviced under a podium while lecturing to students, and Jacobson is fondled by a blushing poolside lesbian. Toss in an extra scene of Marilyn Joi disrobing and hopping atop a blinded bed-ridden footballer, and you can easily detect the similarities to the Corman nurse pictures. The alternate version also has a longer, more visual end credit sequence and sports the original "Nurse Sherri" title.

Rounding out the extras are an array of original Al Adamson film trailers (including FIVE BLOODY GRAVES and NURSE SHERRI) which can be played with vintage drive-in concession stand films, two sets of which can be found on each disc. Disc Two also contains a fun video interview with actress Marilyn Joi which is actually recycled from RetroSeduction Cinema's BLAZING STEWARDESSES DVD. A booklet inside the DVD case has a conversation between David Konow (author of Schlock-O-Rama: The Films of Al Adamson) and exploitation film expert Chris Poggiali, and makes for a great read as they discuss the two titles on this disc, as well as other drive-in cinema related issues. (George R. Reis)