Judge Rafael Gamboa is ready for "an evening of pleasure and terror!"
"Fiendish & frightening slaughter of ghastly horror!"
This is drive-in B-cinema as you remember it: cheap, crappy, unintentionally amusing, and earnest in its attempt to shock you with its violence and sensuality. I'm not the kind of person who harbors a love for this kind of schlock, and anyone who's read some of my past reviews is well aware of how pretentious I am; however, despite this, I will confess that this DVD release is one of my favorites that I've ever reviewed. No, seriously, I'm not kidding. This is a damn fine DVD release, and I think the fact that it impressed someone like me speaks volumes for its quality. These movies weren't just tossed onto DVDs on the assumption that their guaranteed shlock fanbase would buy it. No, these DVDs were created by people whose love for the drive-in experience of yesteryear shaped the style and content of the DVDs to make them highly entertaining.
Facts of the Case
This DVD set contains two budget exploitation flicks by the productive and infamous (well, within B-movie circles, at any rate) director Al Adamson.
Five Bloody Graves (1970):
Nurse Sherri (1978):
The DVD also includes a "Lost Version" of Nurse Sherri, which is basically the same movie with all the sex scenes that had been (quite obviously) cut out of the other version of the flick.
These movies are exactly the kind of stuff that made drive-in theatre so enjoyable back in its day. Yes, of course they're silly, cliched, and amateurish. But unlike most schlock, these movies demonstrate a keen understanding of the genre, and a certain inventiveness and resourcefulness. They are well-balanced works that shift their constituent elements often enough to keep you from being bored, moving from a hilarious cheesy acting moment to an equally laughable cheesy action moment and so on, throwing in a well-timed sensual moment right when you begin to tire of the movies. And the cheese is just the right kind of cheese, earnest enough for it to be unintentionally funny, but without seeming like anyone in the project was deluded about their own abilities. These are movies made by people without any particularly demanding artistic ambitions, interested only in providing the kind of easily digestible, chuckle-inducing entertainment that doesn't require anyone to pay too much attention to them—precisely the kind of stuff that people who are watching from their parked cars would be hoping for. And on top of that, Al Adamson occasionally goes out of his way to create effects for his movies that, while far from mind-blowing, demonstrate his cleverness and dedication to the films.
Of the two, Five Bloody Graves is the weakest. While it starts strong with a ludicrous narration by Death Himself and some side-splitting action scenes—Ben Thompson's first knife fight comes to mind, where he attempts to spook and distract his opponent by waving his hat in his other hand—the movie eventually begins to slow down, and the schlock is no longer good enough to make you laugh. It gets a bit better towards the end, but it never reaches the heights of its start. Also, it's fairly obvious that this film had some potentially monotony-breaking sex/nude scenes chopped out (one of which is included as a special feature), and the movie's pace definitely suffers because of it. Nurse Sherri on the other hand is a much better guilty pleasure, with constant snicker-worthy silliness to keep the movie going strong from start to finish. The "Lost Version" is even better, for it includes the totally unnecessary nude sex scenes that had been cut out for American audiences, and are wonderfully entertaining both for their blatant shamelessness and the actors' hilarious inability to pretend to have sex.
So enough about the movies. It's time for me to wax poetic about the DVDs and why they rock. First of all, it's rare for these kind of movies to have deleted scenes included in the DVD set, and even rarer that (in the case of Nurse Sherri) the deleted scenes are presented in a second full-length version of the film. That's pretty awesome. Secondly, both DVDs include tons of intermission notices, previews, and advertisements from the time period complete with film scratches, jingles, and audio pops, all of which really helps with the whole drive-in/retro theatre experience the DVDs are trying to evoke in the audience. Each feature film has a commentary track recorded by producer Samuel M. Sherman and other people who were involved with the films. While the quality of the audio varies because different sections were recorded at different times with different equipment, the commentaries are nonetheless informative treats that these kinds of movies don't usually get. There's also an interview with Nurse Sherri's Marilyn Joi, which is a lightweight as far as interviews go, and short, but at least it's there. The set also comes with booklet with liner notes, which take the form of a dialogue between writer and Al Adamson fanatico Chris Poggliagli and David Konow, author of Schlock-o-Rama: The Films of Al Adamson, as they discuss trivia about the two films.
The image and sound quality are not that great, but then again if it looked or sounded any better, it wouldn't have the same nostalgic atmosphere that is essential to the experience of these movies. So in this case, I approve of the gritty, scratchy, washed out look and the crackling sound.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint is that there is no "play all" option on either of these DVDs for watching the films with the intermission previews and advertisements included, which is the only thing missing from the double-feature, twin-bill experience. As it is, if you want to watch everything, you'd have to watch the first film, then go back to the menu and watch the intermission, and then go back to the menu a third time and select the second film. Why this feature has been neglected baffles me.
Oh wait, there's another complaint: no subtitles. That's a big no-no in my book, and these two things are going to keep this DVD set from getting a higher score.
This DVD set is great. It provides three entertainingly awful MST3K-worthy films where the jokes write themselves, and treats them with admirable respect. For those who love nostalgic B-cinema, this DVD is a must-buy. Do it.
A not-guilty guilty pleasure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shock-O-Rama Cinema
• Audio Commentary with Producer Sam Sherman
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