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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Satan's Sadists (1969) review



Russ Tamblyn (Anchor), Gary Kent (Johnny), Jackie Taylor (Tracy), John Cardos (Firewater), Greydon Clark (Acid), Kent Taylor (Lew), Regina Carrol (Gina), William Bonner (Muscle), Robert Dix (Willie), Bobby Clark (Romeo), Scott Brady (Charlie)

Directed by Al Adamson

The Short Version: Drenched in nihilism, this gritty, occasionally disturbing biker flick stands out as the cinematic outlaw of its genre. If LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) was a biker movie, it would look a lot like SATAN'S SADISTS. Schlock king Adamson is in unusually fine form, too. Rough around the edges, it benefits from its secluded desert locales and a rockin' score by Harley Hatcher. A connection to Charles Manson makes SATAN'S SADISTS even more fascinating and sordid among the exploitation canon.

The Satans, a murderous motorcycle gang, travel the California desert terrorizing, raping and killing anybody they come across. Upon laying siege to a diner out in the middle of nowhere, a Vietnam vet and a young waitress manage to escape. The Satans track them down leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

The first film released by Sam Sherman's Independent International is this violent, low budget biker number. One of the best of its genre to not star biker king William Smith, it's also among the best made films of schlock director Al Adamson. An early movie in Adamson's career, there are rough spots here and there, but overall, it's a strong, potent effort that's the gritty, hostile alternative to EASY RIDER (1969).

Shot for around $100,000, virtually everybody multi-tasked on the picture. The screenplay was a collaborative effort between Adamson (under a pseudonym as Dennis Wayne) and Greydon Clark (see insert pic). Clark plays the drugged out gang member, Acid. He went on to a directorial career of his own with films like BLACK SHAMPOO (1976) and WITHOUT WARNING (1980). Bud Cardos (John 'Bud' Cardos; see top pic) acted as the unit manager when he wasn't acting as Firewater, the Indian of the gang. He, too, became a director with such films as KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) and THE DARK (1979) among his credits. DP Gary Graver (later to go on to a very successful career in his field) served double duty as the film editor.

Easily the creepiest piece of info regarding the making of SATAN'S SADISTS is the production crew unexpectedly meeting up with Charles Manson and his Family while shooting scenes on the Spahn ranch. The actors and technicians mingled with Manson and his followers, who wandered around as the filming took place; and according to an interview with Adamson at the time, Manson even fixed their Dune Buggy that broke down during the shoot. Coincidentally, the onscreen gang and their murderous exploits mirrored the unspeakable brutality Manson's Family would perpetrate in the latter part of 1969. In a bit of a tasteless, if brilliant maneuver, the advertising campaign for SATAN'S SADISTS (1969) capitalized on the gruesome Manson murders by ballyhooing the film as one of those "ripped from the headlines" experiences.

Adamson's movie wastes no time letting you know just what sort of film it is. In the opening five minutes there's a rape and double murder moments before the bluesy, darkly gospel strains of Paul Wibier's 'Satan (Born Mean)' hits the scene. This first rape scene (there's more than one) is particularly grim because Gina (Carrol) reluctantly helps in getting the woman's clothes off while flaccidly attempting to comfort her by saying, "you'll get used to it".

The Satans do nothing to improve their social skills from there. Barely five minutes later, they're harassing a diner full of patrons including a retired cop, his family, and a Vietnam vet. This leads to the films most shocking scene of violence with another rape and a few people snuffed out in rapid succession. From there the chase is on to kill off the ex-Marine and the beautiful young waitress he saved from being raped and killed. At this point, SATAN'S SADISTS slows down a bit. We learn some things about the characters as the vile motorcyclists begin a downward spiral into self-destruction. The only mildly sane member is Firewater; and his moral center seems to rise from the mire the rest wallow in once the brutality gets further out of control. 

Russ Tamblyn is a loooooong way from up scale movies like SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), TOM THUMB (1958) and WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Tamblyn's lead in Jack Arnold's Juvenile Delinquent genre classic HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL! (1958) looks towards the sort of calamitous, counter-culture miasma the country would find itself ten years later when SATAN'S SADISTS would begin production. 

Adamson's movie touches on a lot of the pertinent topics of the day without actually sending the message; it's content with writing it instead. Basically, it's less interested in politics as opposed to using the atmosphere of the time period to tell its story.

In spite of the films familiarity with the Manson murders a few months after its release, Tamblyn doesn't resemble the frazzled, wild-eyed, ghoulish guru who commanded his followers to go out and kill. Tamblyn's Anchor is totally calm during his gangs humiliation and killing spree. It lends his character an unwholesome sense of unpredictability; you're never sure what his next move is going to be. The very catchy main theme, the aforementioned 'Satan (Born Mean)', is likely Anchor's life story. 

Regina Carrol makes the scene as Anchor's doting, hopelessly devoted "momma", Gina. She's arguably the most tragic character of the whole set, not counting the numerous victims. Like Manson's female followers, Gina is seemingly hypnotized by Anchor, yet he seldom acknowledges her presence, and often shows contempt for her. Her exit from the film during the last half is a highlight, and shocking, if a bit ambiguous.

Carrol ended up marrying Adamson a few years later, and ended up with some sizable roles in many of her husbands movies where her ample cleavage would get co-starring roles. Years later Rob Zombie would do the same with his wife, but highlight her rear end instead. However, Adamson made schlock that was worth watching. 

Coming at the tail end of an experimental decade in cinema, and the forefront of the biker boom, SATAN'S SADISTS (1969) was one of a handful of brutal exploitation movies that would usher in dozens of angrier, even more savage pictures in the 1970s. Surprisingly well written, the few rough spots, and some dodgy acting aren't enough to send this violent biker sleaze o'rama off the cliff. Adamson fans have likely already seen it, but fringe freaks and danger seekers might get a sick kick out of it.

This review is representative of the Alpha DVD.


Alvin Brickrock said...

Cool Post ! I love these little Al Adamson sleaze epics. The Alpha DVD looks better then my
Troma one.

The cute waitress was played by Jacqueline Cole, who was Greydon Clark's wife and appeared in several of his movies. I think she passed away fairly young. Always wished she had done more stuff as I think she's cute as hell. Looking forward to seeing you next mouth in Charlotte.


venoms5 said...

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, as I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it turned out.

Sherman talks about all the romances that blossomed off this movie on the commentary track, lol. She was very cute, as you said, Dick.

I actually thought I was buying the Troma disc, but didn't realize till I'd gotten it several months back it was the Alpha one. I assumed they were using the same print, but maybe not?

The main theme song was stuck in my head for days.

I'll be there, but unfortunately, I won't be able to make it till Saturday evening and Sunday.

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