DEATH OF A SCHLOCK MERCHANT

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dvfalLegendary exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson was found cemented into his own jacuzzi! Could his brush with the Charles Manson gang have had anything to do with it?

Al Adamson was an unsung hero of the exploitation business, servicing the redneck drive-in crowd with a host of lurid, low-budget shockers such as Vampire Men Of The Lost Planet, Horror Of The Blood Monsters and Blood Of Ghastly Horror, and building a minor cult reputation in the process. By the mid-90s he had more or less retired from the movie biz, but he planned a comeback. In an interview with an American horror fanzine, he explained that he had a new project in mind, one that he was sure would make headlines.

Adamson made the front page all right, but not in the way he would have wished!

In August, 1995, police were called to his home in Indio, about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles, where they made a grim discovery. The 66-year-old director hadn’t been seen around for five weeks, and after interviewing witnesses and examining recent construction work, cops and forensic specialists took up the flooring in the bathroom. The director’s corpse was buried there under four tons of cement. It had been dumped in a hole from which a Jacuzzi had been removed. His skull had been bashed in with a heavy object.

The tabloid newspapers made much Al’s macabre demise. Looking into his colourful background they discovered links to organised crime and even the Charles Manson gang. Was he the victim of a contract “hit,” or had one of Charlie’s psychotic followers done a Sharon Tate on him?

KENTUCKY FRIED CARNAGE

Albert Victor Adamson was born in 1929, the son of silent western star Denver Dixon, who  gave young Al a movie camera and set him off on a two decade career of churning out schlock. His first movie was a no-budget shocker called Psycho-A-Go-Go. Realising this made no sense whatsoever, he added new scenes featuring old horror stager John Carradine and the film was let loose on drive-in audiences as The Fiend With The Electronic Brain. It still made no sense.

Not long after this, Adamson fell into partnership with a would-be-tycoon named Rex Carlton, who stumped up the budget for Blood Of Dracula’s Castle. Featuring a cut-price Drac who drinks the blood of young girls drained in syringes and served up in cocktail glasses, it was a modest success, but Carlton and Adamson were ripped off by the distributors. It turned out that Carlton had “borrowed” mob money” to finance the movie, and when he couldn’t make the repayments he took a gun and blew his brains out. “He knew they’d have killed him anyway,” said Adamson philosophically.

The following year he found safer funding for Hell’s Bloody Devils, a violent biker flick that was one of several shot at the Spahn Ranch, where Charles Manson and his followers hung out before embarking on their late 60s murder spree. George Spahn was a friend of Adamson’s father. Now he was blind, and Manson’s hippies were looking after him. Always astute at finding ways to reduce a movie’s budget, Adamson arranged for the cast and crew of Hell’s Bloody Devils to gorge themselves on free Kentucky Fried Chicken – by the simple expedient of offering a cameo role to KFC boss Colonel Harlan Sanders!

Though Al could never have been accused of making a good film, he came closest with Satan’s Sadists, a brutal 1969 biker flick that made big bucks on the grindhouse circuit. Booze-ridden West Side Story star Russ Tamblyn played the leader of the grime-stained title bunch, raping, pillaging and sampling prohibited substances in their search for ever greater kicks. The film’s theme song went, “By the time I was twelve I was killing, killing for Satan…”

While it was good to see former family entertainment icon Tamblyn debasing himself in so enthusiastic a fashion, a more significant bit of casting was that of busty blonde Regina Carroll as “The Freak Out Girl,” the proverbial good time had by all. Regina first came to Al’s attention when she spilled coffee over him in the restaurant where she was working as a waitress, and she later went on to do it at the breakfast table as well, becoming his wife.

A BRUSH WITH MANSON

Adamson returned to the Spahn Ranch in 1968 to make Lash Of Lust, an adults-only sex western that concerned women being kidnapped and abused. This time he actually came into contact with the bearded, Christ-like Manson, as Al reported in a later interview. “We were shooting a scene and Manson came over with three or four of his girls. I don’t know if they were the ones that did the murders or not. Manson and his followers were ogling the naked actresses. His women were all taking their tops off and being a bit of a nuisance. In the end we had to physically throw them off the set. It’s hard for me to understand how people can follow a guy like that…”

Adamson was developing quite a following himself by now, and Satan’s Sadists had proven a box office bonanza, grossing some $20 million back when tickets were a dollar and a half! Going into partnership with old friend Sam Sherman, Adamson formed Independent International Productions and began churning out low-budget horror movies such as Brain Of Blood, Horror Of The Blood Monsters and Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, the latter featuring veteran horror actor (and boozer) Lon Chaney Jr in one of his final roles. Said Adamson, “Lon was very ill, and between every scene he’d do his vomiting and come right back to work. It wasn’t drinking. He had cancer and he was fighting to stay alive.”

Charles Manson was safely behind bars by the time Adamson made Angels’ Wild Women in 1972. This movie was a deliberate attempt to capitalise on the Manson killings, and featured a brutal confrontation between bikers and psychotic hippies filmed where else but the Spahn Ranch. The bikers won, of course. Other Adamson exploiters from around this time include Blazing Stewardesses, a western comedy rip-off of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, and I Spit On Your Corpse, a prison camp picture featuring porno actress Georgina Spelvin, who left the movie early after refusing to wade into a desert pool. “I don’t mind being fucked on camera,” she said, “but I’m damned if I’m gonna get myself dirty!”

SOMETHING OUT OF A HORROR SCRIPT!

By the mid-70s the decline of the drive-in market caused Adamson to slow down and diversify his career. He shot a few black action movies and a sexy musical called Cinderella 2000. In 1981 he made his final movie, a misguided kiddie fantasy entitled Carnival Magic. The story of a ‘cute’ talking chimp, the film also marked the final screen appearance of Regina Carroll, who died of lung cancer in 1993 at the untimely age of 49. Having dabbled in the property business and opened successful restaurants in Utah and Santa Monica, Al was just on the verge of making a comeback, directing a UFO-themed sci-fi movie, when he was found murdered.

It didn’t take the police long to track down Adamson’s killer. It wasn’t a berserk biker, one of Charles Manson’s old cronies, or even a disgruntled viewer of one of  the director’s films. The culprit turned out to be beefy 50-year-old builder Fred Fulford, who had been working as a general contractor helping Adamson remodel his home, and was actually living there at the time of the murder.

It seems that the two had a dispute over money which ended with Fulford bashing Al’s head in with a piece of pipe. After the killing, Fulford went to Florida and tried to sell several of Adamson’s cars, at which point he was apprehended. Sentencing Fulford to 25 years to life in prison, Judge Graham Cribbs called the crime “cold-hearted and callous,” going on to say, “It was like something out of a horror movie script.” Very true, but there’s also no denying the fact that it was a fitting end for a man who made so many truly weird films!