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.