Archive for December 28, 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.