Friday, June 05, 2009

One of these days you're gonna take a trip and never come back.

When B-movie director Al Adamson quit filmmaking in the 1980s to start a career in real estate, it may not have been as dramatic a career change as it would seem. While Adamson, like fellow low-budget directors Ed Wood and Roger Corman, was extremely prolific and worked in a wide variety of genres, his meat-and-potatoes exploitation movies show little of the passion for cinema that one can usually find in Wood's or Corman's films. But it's precisely this artlessness that gives Satan's Sadists an amoral charge; a drive-in hit in the same that Easy Rider was changing the way Hollywood regarded the youth market, it's not nearly as good as that film. But it's also a good deal less pretentious and, thanks to Adamson's eagerness to both cater to the counterculture and exploit anti-hippie attitudes, it's a good deal of crude, go-for-broke fun.

The title song informs us that the Sadists, led by the stoic Anchor (Russ Tamblyn), were "born mean," and the movie wastes no time convincing us of this. From the opening scene, as the Sadists intimidate a wholesome young couple necking in the woods and rape the girl, it's clear that we're in for 86 minutes of mayhem as the Sadists terrorize the good, decent normals they encounter. While Easy Rider was squarely on the side of the bikers and had nothing but contempt for blue-collar America, Adamson tries to have it both ways; audience members who would nod in approval at a line about how the world needs more decent young men could regard Satan's Sadists as a horror movie, while the heads in the audience could take it as an existential bummer.

Before killing a hostage, Anchor explains that, while he's got a lot of hate inside, there are a lot of kids out there who have nothing but love in their hearts getting thrown behind bars for smoking grass. The rest of Adamson's attempts at countercultural relevance are just as heavyhanded (the acidhead character is named Acid, for Pete's sake), and I don't think Adamson thought much about the generational divide beyond its profit potential - the trailer even tries to capitalize on interest in the Manson killings! Still, in some of the more brutal moments between the Sadists and their prey, Satan's Sadists captures the uneasy feelings Manson and Altamont inspired and foreshadows the equally crude but more intelligent Last House on the Left.

But whether or not Satan's Sadists works as social commentary, it's a great buds-n-suds movie - even if the references to Vietnam and the peace movement are window dressing for the mayhem, the blood is bright red, the sex is abundant (if frequently underlit) and the trippy imagery is a hoot. Plus, it probably served Russ Tamblyn as the perfect audition reel for Twin Peaks' Dr. Jacoby. I don't mean to sound dismissive of Satan's Sadists - it is what it is and doesn't make any apologies, which is sort of refreshing in a time when B-movies can be hard to distinguish from A-movies. In its willingness to shock its audience to provoke a response, Satan's Sadists aligns itself with the freaks; in his desire to entertain the whole audience, Adamson is a blue-collar filmmaker through and through.