“You’ve turned loose a homicidal maniac with an artificial brain whose every action is completely unpredictable!”
If there is a film in our collection that has more titles, I can’t think of it. One of the most incoherent of cult director Al Adamson’s films, the superbly named Blood of Ghastly Horror (following on from the director’s other “Blood” films – Blood of Dracula’s Castle, Five Bloody Grave, Brain of Blood, Horror of the Blood Monsters) was initially released in 1964 as Echo of Terror, a serious crime drama. Unable to sell the film, Adamson changed the title to Psycho A Go-Go in 1965, capitalising on the “go-go” craze of the time (similar to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s decision to retitle Terror at Half Day as Monster A-go Go). Despite adding some musical numbers, Psycho A Go-Go‘s popularity quickly declined, along with the go-go fad. In 1967 John Carradine was enlisted for some new horror scenes; in 1971 even more new scenes were shot, attempting to bring a coherence to the random assortment of genres, plots, and dates. The film was, in this eight year period, also titled Two Tickets to Terror, The Man with the Synthetic Brain and, my personal favourite, Fiend with the Electronic Brain. Part crime drama, part zombie movie, part mad scientist film, part revenge epic, it’s utter gibberish with a distinctive Adamson flair for shoddy framing and lurid colours – I wrote thirteen pages of notes, almost all of which are plot, and can still barely establish a timeline.
The DVD version I watched, released in association with Troma (The Toxic Avenger, A Nymphoid Barbarian in a Dinosaur Hell) comes with a special introduction from Adamson’s long time associate, the film’s producer Sam Sherman. Sherman doesn’t try to conceal Blood of Ghastly Horror‘s hotchpotch nature, emphatically stating that they were only ever trying to make a profitable movie for a niche drive-in audience, which they generally succeeded in doing. He is happy to admit the film’s incoherence – speaking as only a producer might, David Konow’s excellent book Schlock-O-Rama: The Films of Al Adamson reports him saying “We ruined the original film that made sense and made a film that didn’t make sense! But you ought to be aware of one thing: the idea was to market a movie, play it and make some money.” And the reason for the film’s final, best known title? “It had blood, it was ghastly and it was horrible.”
Bear with me now, while I try to explain the plot as briefly as possible. The film opens with a zombie killing a bunch of people in an alleyway, then introduces Lieutenant Cross and his partner, who receive a severed head in a box with a message referring to a man called Corey. A poorly signposted flashback traces poor Joe Corey’s life of crime – a Vietnam vet turned diamond thief, whose fingerprints were found at the scene of a heist, despite him having died several years earlier.
Still with me? Okay – there’s a lot more. Another cop, Sgt Ward, locates Dr Vanard (Carradine), who signed Joe’s death certificate; later Bernard admits that he conducted experiments on Joe, saving his life but turning him psychotic in the process (we learn this through a flashback in a flashback). Meanwhile, Joe’s hunting for the diamonds, which have ended up in the hands of the Clark family. He kills some women, then turns up at Vanard’s lab, having inexplicably just remembered what was done to him. He kills Vanard, signalling the end of the first lengthy flashback.
Cross then gets a visit from Vanard’s daughter Susan (Adamson’s wife Regina Carroll), who says she was told to return by a disembodied voodoo zombie jungle voice, through telepathy. Coincidentally, Cross remembers that Joe’s father was researching voodoo telepathy in the Jamaican jungles! Yes, Elton Corey is planning his dastardly revenge for his son’s untimely death, and it involves Susan. At some point, everyone then ends up at Lake Tahoe, where Joe captures Mrs Clark and her daughter, who claim to know nothing about the diamonds. A lengthy woodland chase follows, with Joe pursuing Mrs Clark through the snow, resulting in a shock twist and Joe’s (second) death. The film finishes by returning from this flashback to “present day”, with Elton and his new zombie bride. All I was left wondering was, whose head was in the box at the very beginning?!
Blood of Ghastly Horror is easily one of the most narratively incoherent films I’ve seen; most of its plot is flashback, but they’re so long (as a result of the cut-and-paste nature of the movie) that it’s almost impossible to keep up – characters disappear then reappear ages later, time lines are jumbled and confused, and the attempts to combine all the elements result in an uncomfortably muddled narrative. Parts of the movie was evidently filmed without sound (the whole final chase, for example), and I’m sure astute viewers will recognise changing styles from the various filming schedules. While the musical numbers added for one of the film’s early incarnations is absent, the lab equipment features in other Adamson movies, becoming a sex machine in Horror of the Blood Monsters, and the action is poorly captured in “Chill-o-rama in Metrocolor,” whatever that is. However, Morton brings an impressively deranged quality to the role; a sinister sneer and manic expression reminiscent of a young Jack Nicholson, which works well. Carradine is underused and elderly but solid as always, and the (recycled) score – a jazzy cop-drama soundtrack – is simple but effective. That’s not to say it’s a good film – it isn’t. The action is sloppy, characters are repeatedly either shot in restrictive extreme close ups, or are inexplicably cut out of the frame. Adamson should be commended for having the audacity to attempt to sell this cop-heist-zombie-revenge-drama-horror-thriller, but inevitably it hasn’t worked. And seriously, whose head is in the box?!?