If you’re a serious film geek, then you’ve played the “what if?” game on more than one occasion in your life. Seriously — whether you knew it or not, whether you called it that (or even called it anything at all for that matter) or not, you’ve done it. Here’s how it works — you’re spacing out at work and your mind wanders onto the subject of movies. Or you’re spacing out in front of a movie and your mind wanders onto the subject of other movies. Or you’re spacing out while you’re supposed to be watching your kid and making sure he doesn’t put his head inside that plastic bag you’ve left laying on the floor and — you get the idea. Anyway, while your brain is occupied with cinematic side-thoughts at a time when you should be attending to your actual responsibilities in life, you start formulating hypotheticals that go something like this : “gosh, what if (insert name of a director who didn’t helm the movie your thinking of) had directed (insert name of the movie you’re thinking of) instead of (insert name of director who actually did make the movie you’re thinking of). Wouldn’t that be a trip?” Really. You’ve done this. Admit it. You do it a lot. All the time, in fact. Or at least every once in awhile.
Or maybe it’s just me. In any case, once you’ve exhausted all the waaaaayyyy furthest-out non-possibilities, like “What if Abel Ferrara had directed The Wizard Of Oz?,” and “What if Billy Wilder had directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?,” you move into the frankly-even-more-interesting realm of match-ups that actually could, at least in theory, have happened, like “What if Tobe Hooper had directed Halloween?’ and “What if George Romero had directed Zombieland?” The potential end results of these type of directorial swap-outs are admittedly less hilarious than the first ones I’d mentioned, but actually quite intriguing to consider because you can sort of see these folks making these films and fantasize about how they might have been different in more subtle ways.
Or, again, maybe it’s just me. And maybe my use of the term “fantasize” tells you that I need a hell of a lot more interesting fantasy life. In any case, somewhere in-between those earlier “no way this shit could ever happen” unrealities I mentioned at the outset and the “hey, ya know, I could sorta see this” choices presented afterwards is a murky middle ground — “what if?” directorial scenarios that, at least chronologically speaking, could have taken place, but just don’t seem all that likely for any number of reasons —and somewhere in that “murky middle” might be “What if Don Dohler had directed The Last House On The Left?”Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that you needn’t wonder any longer, because in 1987 Baltimore’s backyard monster-movie king did, indeed, unleash upon an unsuspecting viewing public his own take on Wes Craven’s horror classic (which was itself a take-off on Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, but we needn’t go too far down that particular road for the purposes of this review). He called his typically no-budget opus Blood Massacre — and Don, if you’re looking down on us mere mortals from your lofty perch in wherever it is visionaries go to when they die, huge props for that title, since nobody buys a ticket (or in this case picks a copy up from the rental shelves since this was a DTV effort) for something called Blood Massacre expecting anything less than a movie that delivers the fucking goods. When you’re as upfront about your product as that, you’ve boxed yourself into a corner where you absolutely have to cater to our most base expectations, with no pretense whatsoever. Not that pretnese was ever a Dohler strong suit by any means.
I’m pleased to report that Blood Massacre does exactly that — if you can get over some shit that sounds seriously absrud on paper first, like baby-faced Dohler regular George Stover playing a shellshocked Viet Nam vet who leads his pals on a cross-state murder and robbery spree essentially for , near as I can tell, the hell of it and ends pretty much every sentence aimed at a member of the opposite sex with the word “bitch;” and “point-and-shoot” Don trying to adopt a Michael Mann-esque visul style (Miami Vice being pretty big at the time) with the film’s opening kill scene in a bar; and beheadings, sawblade-shooting improvised weapons, and slapdash, right-outta-the-Mekong-Delta homemade explosions all handled in Dohler’s signature “geez, that sure looks pretty phony but here’s an ‘A’ for effort” style. In other words, it’s bloody and gory — way bloodier and gorier than you’d expect a Don Dohler film to be — but it’s executed in such an ultra-cheap, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants manner that there’s still no doubt that only one man could be behind it all.
Still, it is a bit of a trip to consider that the guy who gave us The Alien Factor could also give us this splatterfest. Sure, Dohler had wandered into sci-fi/horror hybrid territory before with flicks like Nightbeast and Fiend, but there’s no space aliens to be found here — just a carload of violent psychopaths who are on a tear and find themselves out of gas and subsequently wander into a country home (the last one on the left side of the road, naturally) occupied by a family who are even crazier than they are — and happen to be cannibals, to boot.
Now, wait — before you cry foul and bitch at me for giving away too much, I should point out in my own defense that, Dohler being Dohler and subtlety and surprise being two words that don’t even come within sniffing distance of his vocabulary, this could-have-been-a-nifty-little-surprise is given away well before Krug — err, Stover and company arrive at the scene because Dohler has already taken the liberty of showing us the family’s patriarch, one Howard Parker (fellow Dohler regular Richard Ruxton — and for those who like to keep an eye out for other member’s of Don’s happy troupe, look for a cameo from Don Leifert as a video store clerk early on) butchering up some dime-store simulated human remains in his shed about five minutes into the film. To his credit, when the first body (that they’re not responsible for) is found by a couple of our kill-happy interlopers in the trunk of one of the Parker family vehiles, a (very) slight frisson of dramatic tension pierces the hermetically-sealed Dohlerverse for the briefest of instances, but fear not — it dissipates quickly and we’re soon back in the familiar territory of knowing well in advance how all of this is going to play out, but still wanting to see how they manage to do it on such a miniscule budget and with such lovably crummy actors.
And that’s sort of the beauty of Blood Massacre in a nutshell — if you’re unfamiliar with previous Dohler efforts it’s really just going to come across as an ultra-cheap, ultra-short , subpar Last House rip-off with gore aplenty, none of it terribly well-realized, and an ending that comes out of left field and makes no fucking rational sense whatsoever yet still somehow feels utterly and hopelessly predictable. But if you’re already a veteran viewer of the somehow wholesomely-constructed and, dare I even say it, innocent little runarounds than our guy Don made with his friends, family, and neighbors, then it’s an almost surreal affair, as we watch him try his best to get his arms around a genre with which he’s clearly less than comfortable, but game enough to, pun fully intended, take a stab at. Whether it’s George Stover’s bloody “love” scene with the craziest of the Parker girls, or Richard Ruxton taking a sawblade to the guts, or the wannabe-trippy zombified ending that adds an element of the incongruously supernatural to a film that frankly has no place for it, you’re in a constant state of disbelief here — accentuated by the rotten film stock used and poorly-executed outdoor lighting at night that renders much of the flick well-nigh unwatchable — that the same guy we know and love from such damn-near-family-friendly Z-grade exploitation fare as The Galaxy Invader ever thought he could transfer his same basic filmmaking approach (namely keep it cheap no matter what and get it in the can in one take because we don’t have any more blasting caps/cow guts/red food coloring) to the realm of (at least wannabe) hard-core psycho ultraviolent horror. As with all things Dohler, only a guy blissfully unaware of, or unconcerned with, his own limitations would even attempt anything like this, which is why I’ve always said that, quiet and unassuming exterior appearances and mannerisms aside, Don Dohler had more balls than just about any other filmmaker you’d care to mention.Unfortunately, the experience of making Blood Massacre wasn’t a happy one for Don, given that when he completed the film back in ’87 the guys who had “bankrolled” his effort were displeased with the initial print he delivered and demanded, for reasons I seriously can’t fathom, that he go back and re-shoot the whole thing on cheaper filmstock and with some filler material added in to pad out the runtime — which still only came to a whopping 73 minutes. Dohler re-shot it as instructed but was displeased with final result, yanked his name off it, and never much gave it another thought until he learned in 1991 that his financial backers had gone ahead and inked a video distribution deal for it anyway, at which point he agreed to begrudingly give the effort his blessing by re-inserting his name on the credits since, as he said, at that point he was in no mood to shoot the thing a third time just to have a finished product he might have been marginally more pleased with. The whole thing left such a sour taste in his mouth that he swore off movies for a good number of years until starting up Timewarp Films in the late 1990s.Still, if you’re interested — and you should be — Blood Massacre is available on DVD as part of the six-movie, two-disc “Serial Psychos” set from Pendulum Pictures. Pendulum is a Mill Creek sub-label, so you know what to expect — a rotten-looking direct-from VHS picture transfer with no remastering done and a mono soundtrack that’s likewise untouched . And while the soundtrack in particular might have really stood to benefit from some tender lovin’ care of some sort, what with many of the murder scenes having been obviously recorded at a much higher level than most of the “talky” scenes, somehow a jarringly-assembled audio track and a picture that makes you squint to make out just what the fuck is exactly happening in many instances only adds to the overall otherworldly “quality” of what this flick is all about. It’s only fitting for a movie this awkward to look and sound awkward, and given the bullshit that Dohler had to go through getting this thing in the can and out to the public in a form that he was far less than satisfied with, it’s nice to see his one and only attempt at a more “straightforward” horror flick get some justice — ironically by getting none at all. Blood Massacre is best viewed, and appreciated, as what it is — a cheap, gory, unwatchable-to-all-but-the-most-masochistic-of- Dohler-diehards mess. No wonder I love it so.