TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE FILMS OF DON DOHLER

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THE FILMS OF DON DOHLER

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Don Dohler and ‘friends’ circa the early 80s

Don Dohler was an ultra low budget filmmaker from the state of Maryland who churned out a number of cheesy horror and Sci-fi flicks in his home state during the 70s, 80s and again in the first decade of the 2000s, before he passed away in 2006. Dohler started out publishing Cinemagic, a magazine for amateur filmmakers, before becoming one himself with his first film The Alien Factor in 1976. His films were very small budget and charmingly amateur with Dohler himself multi-tasking as director, writer, editor, cinematographer, producer and even working on the FX as well…a kind of Maryland Ed Wood! He worked with many of the same actors in his flicks, such as regulars Don Leifert, Richard Dyszel, Ann Firth and George Stover…with Firth and Stover starring in all six of his solo directorial efforts. Dohler took a break from filmmaking at the end of the 80s, while his films got some attention and notoriety via TV, VHS and exposure in Famous Monsters of Filmland and Starlog magazines. Don also gave a few famous names their start as SPFX legend Ernest D. Farino worked on a few of his flicks, before moving out to the West Coast and finding his success and a 16 year-old J.J. Abrams wrote the score for Nightbeast! Don returned to filmmaking with one last directorial effort in 2001 before turning the reins for future productions over to his new collaborator Joe Ripple, sticking with writing, cinematography and post-production. Sadly, after producing a few more direct to video films, Don passed away of cancer in December of 2006 at the age of 60. His films still have a following to this day and a charm that many bigger productions don’t have.

As all of Don Dohler’s films were extremely low budget and delightfully amateur, it would be unfair to rate them on the same scale as one would healthier budgeted productions, so here the rating is simply as a Don Dohler film and these are only the films that Dohler himself directed…

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THE ALIEN FACTOR (1976)

alien factorDohler’s first film cost a mere $3,500 and told the story of an alien ship that crashes near the small rural town of Perry Hall, Maryland…where Dohler himself lived until his untimely death…unleashing three hostile extraterrestrial creatures upon the hapless town. The local sheriff (Tom Griffith) and a scientist (Don Leifert) work to track them down, before they decimate the town’s population. The FX are crude, the dialog is awful and the acting is incredibly wooden, but there is a sense of fun in this Sci-fi/horror. Future FX legend Ernest D. Farino did some stop motion animation for one of the critters, though the rest look delightfully like papier-mâché. The flick has heart and can be fun in it’s epic badness, if you just go with it. Overall, one of his best efforts.

3 star rating

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FIEND (1980)

fiendCo-written with the film’s star Don Leifert, this might be Dohler’s worst movie entertainment-wise. Story tells of a malicious supernatural entity which resurrects the body of a recently dead man (Leifert) to inhabit. It must, however, regenerate itself each day by killing and draining the life-force of a living person. As the bodies pile up and Leifert’s undead music teacher Longfellow is the weirdest new face on the block, it doesn’t take long before nosey neighbor Gary (Richard Nelson) begins to suspect somethings afoot. The movie is incredibly boring, so we are far less tolerant of the awful acting, crude make-up, terrible dialogue and the cheesy glowing effects when the ‘fiend’ kills. Dohler’s usually moderate pace just makes it worse. The least of his six solo directorial films.

2 star rating

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NIGHTBEAST (1982)

NightbeastNightbeast is an odd film as it appears to be a sort of sequel/remake to Alien Factor. It tales place in Perry Hill, has the same actors playing the same characters, such as Griffith returning as Sheriff Jack Cinder, but also includes ones who died in that film such as Mayor Wicker (Richard Dyszel). It again has an alien ship crash-landing in the nearby woods, though it’s only one nasty and heavily armed being that begins to stalk and attack the townsfolk. The events of the first film are never mentioned, so…remake, maybe? It may have 12x the budget of Alien Factor, but still features rubbery monsters, cheesy visual effects and the expected bad dialog and wooden acting. Unlike Fiend, it isn’t boring and there is fun to be had for those who like a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie with their beers.

3 star rating

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GALAXY INVADER (1985)

galaxy Invader posterDohler goes for a three-peat by having an alien creature once again crash-land in some rural woodland near a small remote town. This time the creature is benign and it’s the humans who are the villains, as a trio of rednecks want to capture the being and it’s hi-tech weapons to sell to the highest bidder. It’s a race against time as some good natured townsfolk try to outwit the greedy backwoods thugs. This film is less fun than the last two alien themed flicks and the use of the alien in the woods storyline is getting tiresome. The pace is a lot slower and it’s a lot smaller scaled, even for a Don Dohler movie. The alien costume is laughable, but so is the atrocious acting by our band of psychotic rednecks (including Dohler regular Don Leifert as lead ‘good ole boy’ Frank Custor). Once more the low budget FX and clumsily staged action is supported by bad dialog and worse acting. Not his best, but not the worst either.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BLOOD MASSACRE (1991)

blood massacreDohler gave aliens dropping into backwoods towns a rest, as well as, regular Don Leifert and decided to return to full-blown horror. The story has a group of delinquents trying to rob a convenience store and having the heist go awry, resulting in someone being shot. They head out of town, but run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and wind up taking a young woman hostage and forcing her to drive them to her family farmhouse to hide out. It soon turns out they picked the wrong family to take hostage, as the Parkers are cannibals and this band of would-be thieves are now in a fight for their lives. By far the goriest of Dohler’s films and also one of the better ones. Sure there is still, the bad dialogue, wooden acting, by-the-numbers direction and sub-par gore FX, but there is a sense of loony, off-the-wall fun when bad guys take on country psychopaths. Amateurish like all of Dohler’s films, but there is entertainment to be had in this goofy bloodbath.

3 star rating

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ALIEN FACTOR 2: THE ALIEN RAMPAGE (2001)

alien rampageThis flick, Don Dohler’s last solo directing effort, is a sequel to his original 1978 flick in name only. This time, an alien comes to Perry Hall, Maryland in pursuit of another alien that has stolen something it wants back. Meanwhile, the female alien thief is wounded and caught by the FBI after she steals some plutonium from a nearby nuclear facility. The reptilian creature in pursuit surrounds the small town in an impenetrable force field while it decimates everyone in it’s path as it looks for it’s quarry. It’s up to the sexy female sheriff (Donna Sherman) to save her town. Despite the availability of CGI at this point in time and more advance FX technology, Dohler’s $35,000 budget gave the filmmaker no option but to stick to cheap plastic models, rubber aliens and bargain basement visual FX. The film is slow paced as usual and we get the typical bad dialog and amateur acting, as in all of Dohler’s films. It still has it’s amusements, though and the film does try hard despite all the shortcomings. Not quite as charming as some of his earlier efforts, but still a few notches above Fiend or Galaxy Invader.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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After Alien Factor 2: The Alien Rampage, Dohler handed the director’s chair over to new collaborator Joe Ripple, keeping himself occupied with producing, writing, editing and cinematography on the remaining films in his filmography, Harvesters,  Stakes, Vampire Sisters, Crawler and Dead Hunt, the latter he co-directed with Ripple in 2006 before he passed away. An inspiration to the aspiring filmmaker, Dohler proved that you can still get your film made even with limited resources and get yourself noticed in the process!

Sam-Holden

Don Dohler 1946-2006 (photo by Sam Holden)

-MonsterZero NJ

sources: IMBD and Wikipedia

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3 thoughts on “TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE FILMS OF DON DOHLER

  1. I recognized the name and then realized that I have the Rifftrax version of Galaxy Invader. And that I recognized Galaxy Invader from the opening 5 minutes of the MST3K episode of Pod People. It’s awful in a delightful way.

  2. Pingback: TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WINTERBEAST (1992) | MonsterZero NJ's Movie Madhouse

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