Archive for December, 2011

In 2001, nearing, sadly, the end of his way-too-short life, Don Dohler went back to the well a little more explicitly than usual and, rather than simply reworking the plot of 1978’s The Alien Factor for the umpteenth time, decided to make what would be billed as the film’s official sequel, Alien Factor 2 : The Alien Rampage. And while you could make a pretty strong argument that movies like Nightbeast and The Galaxy Invader had more in common with the original Alien Factor than this thing does, that’s really neither here nor there since, as we’ve already established, pretty much every Dohler flick tells a variation of the exact same story anyway.

This time around the escaped alien baddie (headed for some type of intergalactic zoo, as in the first film) is an evil invader that traps an entire suburban Maryland town within it’s insidious time-warping forcefield (a concept Dohler must have thought was pretty neat since he named his at-the-time straight-to-video production company Timewarp Films). Backwoods locales are traded in for more sorta-urban environs like warehouses and the like, 16mm is swapped out for videotape, and while there are still some garage-level makeup and other FX on display, it’s worth noting that, sadly, poorly-done CGI has replaced a good chunk of that, as well.

In short, Alien Factor 2 is Don Dohler getting with the times, to the best extent that his $35,000 budget allowed him to do so. Venerable members of his “acting” stable are gone,replaced with more youthful (though no more talented) replacements (although watch for the bag lady in this flick for a whole new definition of fourth-wall-smashing pantomime self-parody — and yes, never fear, George Stover is still on hand), and frankly a lot of the cram from those earlier, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-and-just-shoot-the-damn-thing’s efforts are lost io translation to the video age.

But it’s still about as far from a “professional” (whatever that even means anymore) filmmaking effort as you’re likely to find in this blighted 21st century we live in, and Dohler’s love for the DIY ethos can’t be completely buried under all that newfangled technology. You get the sense of a guy adapting to survive, but not quite comfortable with his new environs. And that’s a shame given that he was, unbeknownst to himself at the time, nearing the end of his rather remarkable run. But hey, we don’t always get to go out on a high note, I guess, and it would be unfair to say that Alien Factor 2 is no fun at all, because frankly it still is. I like to consider this one guy’s struggle to retain the essential characteristics of his work in the face of long odds and changing tastes, but in truth Dohler’s work appealed to such a small segment of the public that he probably didn’t actually need to bend with the times as much as he did apart from the fact that things like 16mm film stock were getting too expensive for him to utilize anymore and what have you. As always, the day-to-day practicalities of micro-budget moviemaking take precedence over all other considerations in Dohler’s work.

Alien Factor 2 : The Alien Rampage is available on DVD from Image Entertainment and actually features a smattering of honest-to-goodness extras including a “making-of” featurette and a cast-and-crew commentary. It’s presented full frame with 2.0 stereo (yes, you read that correctly) sound. It’s probably of interest only to hard-core (or pathetically sad, depending on how you look at these things) Dohler completists, but I still consider it 75 minutes of my life well-enough spent.

And that’s probably going to do it for our little Don Dohler wrap-up here at TFG for the time being. I’ve got several grindhouse goodies I’ve been meaning to review for ages now and I’ll start in with those in earnest shortly after the new year arrives. In the meantime, to anyone and everyone reading this, have a happy and safe New Year’s holiday, and I’ll see you again either a couple or a few days on the other side of the turn of the calendar.

In terms of the Dohler-verse, this is where it all began — 1978’s classic (for some)The Alien Factor, the story of a doomed spacecraft containing specimens bound for an intergalactic zoo that crash-lands in the suburban Baltimore woods, thus freeing three creatures of varying degrees of evil savagery, all out to kill as many local rednecks as they can before either getting killed themselves by the enraged and frightened townsfolk or else somehow escaping and either surviving on this unfamiliar new planet or, somehow, making it back to their home in the stars. Basically the baseline Don Dohler plot is Frankenstein minus the mad creator, and he would only tinker at the margins with the basic formula laid down here in all of his subsequent backyard epics.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because warts and all — and yes, the warts here are plentiful — The Alien Factor is, as the kids once said, more fun than a barrel o’ monkeys.  Sure, it’s hokey beyond belief, but you’ve got to put conventional definitions of “good” and “bad” filmmaking aside when you’re considering a Don Dohler production. For instance, the average low-budget (or no-budget, as is probably the more apt description here) moviemaker, when realizing that his “alien” costumes and effects look like shit, is going to do all he or she can to minimize their on-screen appearance and obfuscate them with shadows, tricky camera angles and the like so as not to embarrass him or herself. But that’s not Dohler thinking — our guy Don shows you his first savage beastie attacking a couple parked in lover’s lane (or on lover’s hill, or in lover’s field, or whatever) in full, clear, broad daylight right off the bat. That’s because displaying his garage-made makeup and costumes and effects was the whole point of these films. Dohler himself admitted quite publicly on numerous occasions that he didn’t give much of a fuck about directing actors, staging effective-looking shots, writing believable dialogue, etc. — he just wanted to show off his effects work and prove to the readers of his small-circulation (but, as it would turn out, highly influential, given that kids-at-the-time like J.J. Abrams were reading it) Cinemagic DIY-special-effects magazine that, hey, you really can do all this shit at home with duct tape and bailing wire.

Seminal Dohler regulars like George Stover and Don Leifert make their first appearances here, and standard plot devices like the scientist-from-out-of-town-whose-goofy-theories-just-might-explain-everything (reminiscent of the setup in Ed Wood’s Bride Of The Monster, amongst others) pop up for the first time in a Dohler feature as well, and basically the whole film feels on first viewing like the laying down of a template which can be followed time and time again even though there’s no way ol’ Don could have known that at the time he was making the film, since he often said that he figured his career as a filmmaker would strictly be a one-and-done proposition.

While that, thankfully (by our standards here at TFG, at any rate) didn’t turn out to be the case, it is interesting to watch The Alien Factor with a keen eye for the elements used that Dohler would not go back to — like the stop-motion-animation monster “battle” at the end  (let’s just say Harryhausen it ain’t). So Don didn’t go back to the well for every single element of every one of his films after this, despite overwhelming appearances to the contrary. If something didn’t work, he was the first to realize it and wasn’t afraid to scrap the less-than-successful stuff he tried and move on. Practicality trumps inspiration every time, my friends.

Beyond that there’s really nothing of specific import worth pointing out when it comes to this film — it’s a solid Dohler effort (and the one I probably should have reviewed first, but I’m writing about these in the order they’ve made it into the DVD player lately rather than in the order they were made) that is of special interest to his small-but-loyal legion of fans simply for the fact that it came first and pretty much set the blueprint for all that was to follow, minus a small handful of tricks that he decided not to try again. It’s 80-or-so entertaining minutes of homemade- monster-movie nonsense, and around these parts that is hardly a derogatory description.

The Alien Factor is available on DVD from RetroMedia as part of its Alien Fiend Dohler double-feature release (the other flick included being, of course, Fiend)  — the 16mm print is presented full-frame, and while it’s been remastered it still has its glitchy moments (plenty of them, truth be told), the sound is remastered mono, and there are no real extras to speak of apart from a George Stover interview that makes for some fun watching. If you’re on the Don Dohler wavelength, it’s an essential purchase, but if you’re a more casual fan of low-grade cinematic trash (and this flick has, incidentally, received the “riff” treatment from Joel Hodgson and the Cinematic Titanic crew), you can get by with adding it to your Netflix queue, kicking back, enjoying the ride as a one-off, and forever wondering what all the fuss is about amongst the rest of us.

Next up in on our Don Dohler radar screen is 1982’s Nightbeast, considered by many aficionados of his work to be the pinnacle of his cinematic career, and not entirely without good reason. From the flashier (relatively speaking, mind you) opening credits to the downright acceptable prosthetic work on the titular beast itself to the numerous laser-beam “special” effects to the generous helpings of gore and inconsequential (and completely untitillating, unless you’ve got a thing for bog-standard average-looking women — honestly even ugly would’ve been more interesting) nudity, it’s obvious that this is our guy Don going for the commercial gusto to whatever extent that he’s even physically capable of doing so. Dohler came into a little money for this one — the total budget was $42,00, a king’s ransom by his standards — and the result is the nearest thing to a genuinely polished cinematic effort he ever came up with. Which, admittedly, isn’t saying a whole lot, because this is still very much a DIY effort — and that’s a good thing, because the DIY nature of these films is the best thing about them, by far.

Apparently Dohler was going for a straight-up reworking of his first film, The Alien Factor, with Nightbeast, albeit with a bit more money to play with this time, and smartly deciding to simplify the intergalactic menace from three creatures down to one. Apart from that, the story remains exactly the same, with many of the same actors even playing the same parts (and yes, since he’s the only Dohler “star” with anything like a fan base, I’ll drop a mention at this point that George Stover turns up in this one, as well). So anyway at this point you know the drill —space monster crash-lands in the suburban Maryland woods, goes on a killing spree, the local sheriff rounds up a posse to try to bring the creature in, and the closest thing Dohler could approximate to “chaos” given his limited financial resources ensues.

There are a few subplots of absolutely no consequence going on here, such as the aforementioned sheriff bedding down every female in sight and some interpersonal conflict(ish) dynamics within a biker gang, but if you want to truly enjoy this flick, it’s best to just push all that aside since little things like dialogue between characters aren’t exactly a Dohler strong suit. Just focus your attention on the main story, which shouldn’t be too difficult since it’s a straight line from A to Z, and you’ll be fine.

Yup, this is more standard, turn-off-the-brain-and-enjoy-the-dime-store-ride stuff. To be sure, the fact that a lot of it was shot at night — hence the name — sometimes makes the “action,” as it were, a bit difficult to follow given the grainy, half-assed 16mm film stock Dohler used, but as I’ve mentioned in previous Dohler reviews, if you’re on the guy’s wavelength, technical imperfections like that just add to the charm.

Anyway, the main twist spice added into the Dohler stew here is the gore and the nudity, and when the monster from the stars starts tearing shit up, it actually looks pretty good. I mean, these ain’t Tom Savini effects or anything, but they’re not an embarrassment by any means. Our guy Don, as always, delivers more than by any rights he should be able to, and the difference between a $10,000 Dohler production and a $42,000 Dohler production is pretty amazingly apparent — not in terms of plot, dialogue, or acting, mind you, but in every other respect, particularly on the technical side, it’s stark and obvious.

Nightbeast is available on DVD from Troma, which is appropriate enough, either as a stand-alone release or in a two-disc set that finds it paired up with the fine documentary on Dohler’s life and work,  Blood, Boobs And Beast. It’s presented full-frame, the picture has been remastered a bit (although the quality is still iffy in numerous spots), the sound is remastered mono, and the extras are the usual Lloyd Kaufman ego-fest crap. It’s not my personal favorite Dohler film by any stretch, I like ’em a bit more raw and unpolished (again, relatively speaking) myself, but it’s still a perfectly enjoyable diversion and a terrific example of how a guy can achieve an awful lot on willpower, “Junkyard Wars”-style technical ingenuity, and a little bit of money. Definitely worth the measly 80 minutes of your life that it takes to watch.

First off, my apologies for the lack of new reviews on this page lately — in addition to the usual holiday season madness (and I hope everyone’s — or should that be anyone’s –are going splendidly, wonderfully, joyously, etc.) we had something of a tragedy strike the TFG household when, on Christmas morning, we had to put one of our cats, barely-five-years-old Marty, to sleep. I won’t go into details suffice to say he was a loving little furball who spent most of his life purring away in a state of contentment that you honestly had to see to believe, and was hit by a short-fast-acting illness that made his last hours on earth way more unbearably painful than he could have possibly deserved even if he had been truly evil — which he wasn’t in any way, shape, or form. Anyway, corny and absolutely impossible as it is, I like to think of him now purring away on a giant version of his favorite black-and-white Ikea throw blanket somewhere up in the sky.

Which rather leads us,in a much less roundabout way than it would initially appear, to our subject here today — namely, comfort movies. Mrs. TFG and I are having a heck of a time adjusting to coming home to only one kitty greeting us, and taking our mind off the new emptiness in our household is of paramount importance around here lately. As you can probably guess, traditional “feel-good” Hollywood crap doesn’t do much for me, but something simple, predictable, and straightforward-as-all-get-go makes fora damn fine distraction these days, and they don’t come much more simple, predictable, and straight-forward-as-all-get-go than Don Dohler flicks, do they?

I’ve sung the praises of suburban Baltimore’s premier backyard-monster-epic-maker before on these virtual “pages,” but honestly never could have predicted just how mind-numbingly reassuring films like the one we’ll take a quick look at today, 1985’s straight-to-video The Galaxy Invader, could be until now.

As with almost any Dohler film, the plot here revolves around an alien invader who crash-lands in the Maryland woods and for some reason decides to wander around rather aimlessly instead of sending out a distress signal or trying to fix his ship or anything that would actually, you know, make sense. If said alien is truly evil (not so much the case here), then he might kill somebody, thereby attracting the attention of the local yokels, and if he’s not, then he might just be seen by somebody and that’s good enough to get the country bumpkins to form a search party and head out looking for blood. In this particular instance, evidence the guy-in-a-rubber-suit’s passing is stumbled upon by a backwoods redneck-type, who sets out to assemble a posse and find the “invader” and/or his craft in order to get rich quick.

Sure, there’s some pointless sidebar drama revolving around the daughter of the hillbillyish family at the center of the story dating some guy from a rival quite-likely-inbred clan that her dad, predictably enough, doesn’t approve of, but none of that bargain-basement Hatfields-and-McCoys stuff matters much here — the country folk are going to go out and find the alien, a cheaper-than-cheap “battle” is going to ensue that will allow Dohler to show off some of his homemade special effects quasi-wizardry, and it’ll all end with the spaceman either getting killed or leaving. I’ll refrain from saying exactly which ending transpires here so as not to give away the entire film in less than a hundred words.

Needless to say, the plot isn’t the only Dohler constant here — the cast is composed of the usual assemblage of family members, people who would never act in another film, and people who would only go on to act in other Dohler productions (including cult favorite George Stover). The shooting locales are all within a stone’s throw of the late, great Don’s house. And the dialogue is impossible tin-eared, to be generous about it.

But you know what? Sometimes none of that matters, and in fact, if you’re on the Dohler wavelength, it all just adds to the charm of the overall production. This ain’t no Cecil B. DeMille production — it’s a quick cheapie (the total budget here was less than $10,000) churned out by a guy who made monster movies for two reasons — because he loved them, and because he could. If you don’t respect that, get off this blog and go read Pauline Kael or something.

Being that the rights to The Galaxy Invader have lapsed into the public domain, it’s available on multiple DVD releases(heck, it’s even received the MST3K treatment), none of them, I’m willing to bet, treating it to any sort of sound or picture remastering, much less going to the extent of including any extras or anything. The version is my possession, a pressed-to-order DVD-R from an outfit called Synergy Entertainment, serves just fine. Shot in 16mm, it’s presented full-frame, warts-and-all, and features mono sound. Works just fine for me. Nothing about The Galaxy Invader is supposed to be great, after all — it just is what it is (and truth be told, as far as Dohler films go, it’s even more routine and frankly uninspired than usual — it’s pure Don-by-the-numbers fare), and when you’re trying to take your mind off other matters, it does the job quite nicely without taxing one iota of your mental energy. So thank you, Don, and if I believed in heaven, I’d ask you to go on over and keep my cat company.