Blood of Ghastly Horror (1965-1972)

JUNE 14, 2020


When I got Severin's Al Adamson set, I was stoked to discover new favorites and get a better sense of the guy, as I had only seen one of his films before (that would be Blood of Dracula's Castle, an ancient HMAD entry). But after only a few hours with the massive set I discovered that the movies themselves were sometimes less interesting than their production histories, and there's no better example than Blood of Ghastly Horror, aka Fiend with the Electronic Brain, aka Psycho A Go Go, aka Echo of Terror. And no, those aren't mere alternate titles - they are all different versions of the same movie about a jewelry heist gone wrong.

The basic plot is present in all four movies: a trio of men rob a jeweler, but a triggered alarm on their way out sends them into a panic, prompting one of them to toss the jewels over a railing, where it lands in a guy's truck. The guy drives off unaware, and the robbers track him down, only to discover the jewels are missing. So they kidnap the guy's family as ransom to get him to give up the location of the jewels, while the robbers start turning on each other. Echo of Terror was the first version of this story, and it was deemed "fine" by potential distributors but they all passed because there weren't any stars or exploitative elements for them to market. So Adamson and partner Sam Sherman decided, since it was popular at the time, to add some go-go dancing sequences in the film by expanding the role of the truck-owner's wife, seen performing a few times before being taken by the kidnappers. Hence the new title: Psycho A Go Go.

But that one didn't get picked up either, so Adamson and Sherman decided to give it some horror/sci-fi flair by adding in a few scenes with John Carradine as a standard movie mad scientist (test tubes filled with colored liquids, Jacob's ladder, the whole shebang), with new backstory establishing that the reason the most violent of the robbers, a guy named Joe (Roy Morton), was so crazy was because Carradine experimented on his brain. These scenes are noticeably detached from the rest of the movie, and for some reason Adamson didn't opt to cut much (if anything) of the Psycho A Go Go version out, making it basically an extended cut thanks to the Carradine scenes. This one was the version known as Fiend with the Electronic Brain, and can basically be skipped entirely since Blood of Ghastly Horror kept all that stuff but excised some of the earlier version's flab.

The Ghastly Horror version came along a couple years later, during Adamson's very prolific 1971. As I mentioned, this time he did overhaul the original footage to make room for his new material, which frames everything as flashbacks to a story about the daughter of Carradine's character, who is now a target of the father of the Joe character as he wishes to exact revenge for what Carradine did to his son (you follow that?). Since this story is more complicated and has many new characters, lots of the post-robbery stuff fell by the wayside, as did the go-go scenes, keeping the runtime more or less the same with Psycho A Go Go (and 15 minutes shorter than Fiend). So it's probably the most action packed version of the movie, for sure, but it's also the most jumbled and patched together, as even a child could probably detect the difference between the two productions (I don't think any characters appear in both timelines).

(Fun side note, there's actually a fifth version titled The Man With The Synthetic Brain, but it was basically just a TV edit that excised one violent scene. No new footage for that one.)

Oddly - considering my personal tastes, that is - the Psycho A Go Go version is probably the best (I should note that the Echo of Terror version does not appear on the set), even though it's horror-free. I mean it makes sense that it'd be the easiest to digest, since it was mostly designed as one movie from the beginning, with the go-go scenes coming off more as padding than something shoehorned in much later (also, since it just gives the wife character more development, it's easier to get more invested in her predicament in the film's second half). Apart from some clunky edits and performances (what I came to learn was an Adamson "staple"), it really is a pretty solid little B thriller, with some excellent photography by Vilmos Zsigmond - particularly in the snowbound climax, where the psychotic Joe chases the family around as the father and his brother (a cop) close in on him.

However that chase does go on too long, and it's baffling Adamson didn't think to fix it or any of the other pacing issues for the Synthetic Brain version, as it seems like it would have been an excellent excuse to do so. Again, the Ghastly Horror footage added too much plot for him to keep everything from the older cut (whereas Electronic only added the Carradine scenes, which amount to about 10 minutes or so), but it feels more like he was forced to finally cut some stuff to keep the runtime manageable, as opposed to thinking "Hey, the reason we have to keep fixing this movie is because it's not exciting enough, shouldn't we make some trims?" I had to laugh that a particularly awkward and unnecessary insert of the three robbers on an elevator during the jewelry robbery is present in all three versions; when I saw it in Psycho A Go Go I assumed it'd be the first thing to go when he recut the movie, but nope. It survived both of its future incarnations, somehow.

Luckily, no version of the movie is exactly long, and watching them in rapid succession proved to be an interesting viewing experience, seeing how the movie kept getting further and further away from its original form while using a majority of the same footage. The closest modern equivalent would be the two versions of the final Exorcist sequel (Dominion and The Beginning), but since Adamson himself kept reshaping his own movie, even that doesn't really fit the bill (also, Renny Harlin only kept like ten minutes of Paul Schrader's footage, if memory serves). Adamson certainly made better movies, but in terms of curiosity, it's been the highlight of the set for me thus far.

What say you?


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